This post is written by Josh Socher, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working Lod.
“I’m a big believer in winging it” -Anthony Bourdain
How do you prepare for a nearly year-long volunteer service-learning fellowship in a country and region you’ve never stepped foot in before? Watching videos on traveling to Israel on youtube and taking notes? Reading “Top ten things to know about Israel before you visit” blog posts by some birthright kids? By speaking with others who have been to Israel and learning about the norms and unexpected things that might come your way in this new country? Well, If I did any of that, I probably wouldn’t have been so surprised that the Israeli weekend starts on Thursday night and not Friday night. I probably would have learned that the entire country shuts down transportation for a few days, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten lost on a highway in a random city for hours in my first few weeks here. (Mom and dad, if you are reading this, that is a joke. A humorous remark made by your humorous son. I did not get lost in Petah Tiqwa. This did not happen.)
This lack of pre-emptive research has caused some confusing moments for sure. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Each confusing, disorienting moment here is a learning experience that occurred through experience instead of a screen. I would never go back and prepare more for this trip. If anything, I’d go back in time and do even less research about Israel (which is really saying something). And anyway, no video or blogpost could have prepared me for the borderline homicidal nature of Israeli drivers and the death wish of the bus drivers here. If people think the characters on HBO’s hit teen drug-infused television series Euphoria are self-destructive, they’ve never hopped on the 460 bus from Tel Aviv.
So, Instead of browsing traveling material on the internet, I prepared for my trip by spending my last few months in the US watching Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show (now streaming on HBO MAX) “Parts Unknown” like it was a religion. For the unlucky few of you who have never witnessed this masterwork, the rugged, romantic, wise, and warm celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain goes to a different country each episode. He chats with the locals and visits several restaurants as well as other landmarks in the area to learn more about the cuisine, history, and people there. Each episode took me on a journey. It felt like Anthony was learning more about himself through the countries, and, more specifically, the people he was meeting. It always felt like he was learning more about himself through his experiences abroad. I’d never seen anything, or anyone, more human in my life. As I continued to watch his show, my wanderlust grew exponentially- all I wanted was to get on a plane, land somewhere, and have a camera crew follow me around as I personally grew above and beyond the guy, I was when I arrived.
And growth is the point of traveling, isn’t it? Well, no. Not really. If there is one personal lesson I have learned throughout my first five months in Israel, it is that growth cannot be forced. Growth is something that happens by chance. It can be noticed, acknowledged, but never manifested. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a fool or trying to sell you something.
So what is the point of travel other than personal growth? This brings us to our next quote.
“Be a traveler, not a tourist.” -Unknown
Traveling to Lod, Israel only five months after news-making riots occurred should not be done by anyone looking for anything other than serving. You can’t be looking for growth, or looking for an “abroad experience.” You need to be focused on one thing: bettering the community. Lod is a community; and a beautiful one at that, one that epitomizes Israel’s known slogan as a country that is a “work in progress.” It’s a city filled with divisiveness, disparity, and abandoned buildings. It’s an iceberg of a city; meaning that its true nature is below the surface of what is visible. And only after working with the people who live here, can you begin to look under the surface, and see it for what it really is: A beautiful, but imperfect city in a beautiful, but imperfect country. And there is not another city in the world where I would rather be. The more good you try to do for the people here, the more you understand Lod, like some kind of puzzle that makes you earn the next piece. And in the process of figuring out the city, you get to work with and serve a community that, like many others, is in need. But, unlike many others, it has tons of change-makers that are more passionate about the city and its inhabitants than anything else in the world. I am proud to be one of them, even if only temporarily.
In conclusion, the difference between being a traveler and being a tourist is intent. I intend to do good.