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An American in Lod: On Land-Based Knowledge and Elections

This week's blog post is written by Skylar, a Yahel fellow living in Lod. Skylar's writing is the first of our weekly blog posts to be shared throughout the fellowship, giving you firsthand insight into our fellows, social change, issues we confront in our service, and more.

When I was 18, I moved from New York to Vancouver, Canada to attend the University of British Columbia on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking Musqueam people. The 2016 presidential election occurred in my third month of living on Musqueam land. The land I resided on informed my reaction to the results of the election, because geopolitics informed the reactions of those around me. Most of those I watched with were Canadian, and while some of them laughed, many were just as nervous as I was. Even if this was not an election occurring in Canada, they understood how far-reaching the United States’ impact was and what the implications of a Trump presidency could look like for Canadians. I started to wonder how land impacts a comprehension of our values, and how our values impact our choices. Land-based knowledge informed my degree, it informed my vote, and it informs my time here in Lod.

The Musqueam Indian Reserve (photo credit: Skylar Zakarin)

I knew after I graduated from university that I wanted to return to Israel at some point. I was here for three months in 2018, working and living in Jerusalem next to Mahane Yehuda Market. This land – the land of Jews, of Christians, of Muslims, of Druze – means so much to so many people. “Next year in Jerusalem” came true for me two years ago. Being here was, and is, a privilege. With my access to this land comes the need to understand the nuance and complexity that exists in Israeli society. Many people don’t have the privilege to come here. I know I have the right of return; in the past, knowing that provided me with much needed comfort when the US no longer felt like home. I am blessed with my Jewishness. By extension, I am gifted with access to this historical and ancestral land. I do not take that lightly – that privilege is something I will continue to acknowledge through my work with Yahel and through my sensitivity to the nature of that work. I feel closer than ever to who I truly am when I exist on this land, because I am on the land of my ancestors. However, I also feel farther from a conclusion or a solution because of how complicated modern politics are.

I voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the 2020 US presidential election. This decision was informed by my education, my privilege, my values, and my identity. It was also informed by Biden and Harris’ policies, their values, their vernacular and their poise. My vote mattered so much to me because I wanted to exercise my right to participate in democracy. It mattered because of what was at stake during this election. It mattered because I was not able to exercise this right in 2016.

While I was in Canada, my absentee ballot did not arrive in time. I was not able to vote, and I felt immense guilt because of that fact. In the end, my vote (or lack thereof) did not matter – while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Donald Trump won the Electoral College. He was to become the 45th President of the United States. The institutions of the nation spoke over the cries of its people. And, four years and one Bachelor degree later, I find myself in Israel during the 2020 US presidential election. I studied Political Science in Canada, and had the benefit of learning about a system that benefits from long term stability, universal healthcare, fair(er) wages, and more. I also came to understand what reconciliation is, what it looks like in Canada, and if a true post-colonial world is possible when colonial institutions are still in place.

The first time I heard a land acknowledgement was at international student orientation at UBC. Growing up in New York, we were not taught about Indigenous history, about whose land we resided on, or about what had actually occurred when Columbus “discovered” America. Land acknowledgements were only one facet of reconciliation the university worked towards; it established a Memorandum of Affiliation (MOA) with the Musqueam First Nation, stating that the two entities would establish a long term working relationship to benefit both parties to the memorandum.[1] This MOA led to multiple dorms on campus receiving traditional names gifted by Musqueam elders. It lead to the addition of street signs in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, alongside the English street signs. This memorandum of affiliation did not solve everything - It certainly did not bring the institution closer to a post-colonial reality – UBC still occupied territory that was never theirs to occupy. But it was a start. 

What would a start look like for Israel and Palestine? Have we already seen a start? Are we farther than ever from reconciliation? Would we ever achieve such a reality? These are all questions that rush to my mind as I acclimate to, and live on, this land. These questions come with an understanding that the Indigenous-European colonial relationship that exists in Canada looks very different here, as both Jews and Palestinians have immense history, valid claims and ancestral stakes on this land. Nuance exists in this conflict, and the more nuance I come to understand, the less black and white the situation becomes. I hope my time in Lod will bring me closer to the truth and to clarity, but the last time I was in Israel, I left even more confused than when I arrived. 

My value system, as a woman and as a Jew, is grounded in Tikkun Olam. Donald Trump has never represented my Tikkun Olam. And, why should he? His platform is not grounded in values; his platform is grounded in fear. Perhaps it is not the job of the POTUS to represent justice, goodness, or a value system. But, I ask myself, why did so many of us want to be President when we were young? In my eyes, the President represented the highest good - the best of the best. The President was meant to embody the person with the power to make lasting change, for the better. I was only ten years old when Obama was elected, so I could not fathom what his policies meant. But I could see true purpose in his eyes. I saw the love radiating between him and his family. I was naïve in many ways, and I was idealistic. But I understood that his election and inauguration meant far more to Black people than I could ever know - they finally received some semblance of representation. It was a small win. Biden winning is another small win. Harris being the first female vice president, and the first vice president of color, is another small win for representation.

Now, sitting in my apartment in Lod, ready to take on challenges so far beyond what I have ever experienced, I understand how my choices, my vote, and my voice have been informed by my privilege. I also understand that small wins are what I can count on. Arriving in Israel, despite the pandemic, the delays, and the uncertainty, was a gift. Being surrounded by such incredible fellows and staff on this program is a blessing. Learning on this land and meeting these people is my newfound kiddush. And the 2020 US presidential election results are simply a relief. With that, I acknowledge that my work this year will take place on the ancestral land of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and so many others. I acknowledge that in some ways, I am a guest on this land, and in other ways, I am returning home to this land. 



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