This week's blog post is written by Soren, a Yahel fellow living in Lod.
“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap.”
--- Ani DiFranco
This quote is one of a number of quotes upon which our Yahel cohort reflected during our recent seminar to parts of the north of Israel/Palestine, where we spent a few days exploring the meaning of “community.” How do leaders of different communities view community? And what does community look like, or feel like to us?
We began with learning about the early kibbutz movement in 1904-1914 – made primarily of secular socialist teens (16-19 years old) from Eastern Europe who sought to take responsibility for the Jewish people and to determine their own future, in opposition to the traditional relationships and culture that they left in Europe. Driven by common socialist ideals and a fierce commitment to labor (primarily on the land), these “kibbutzniks” built their distinct communities and kibbutz culture.
A building at the site of an early kibbutz A few of us posing with Dana, our fearless leader
We next heard from a leader within the local branch of the “Garin Torani” movement – a movement of religious Jews (known to be part of the larger religious Zionist movement) who choose to live in non-religious cities and to build religious institutions there. After illuminating some of the ideologies and complexity within his religious community, he shared with us the ways in which, as a high school teacher of a diverse demography of students, he builds a community of respect through openness to others and other ways of being and believing, citing his recognition that “my values are not the only values.”
In a very different ideological sphere, we next met with a leader within an urban kibbutz - an urban model of the traditional agricultural kibbutz that continues to honor a collectivist living practice. He explained to us how his intentional community shares broader goals and ideologies, such as a socialist way of living (with income and expenses shared among the families of each smaller group within the kibbutz), and about the centrality of education to the work and lifestyle of the members of this kibbutz. What particularly struck me in this session was how he talked about the previous leader we’d met (their communities are geographically proximal and they know one another). Despite being leaders of very different communities, with starkly different and even opposing ideologies, these two leaders exhibited a profound respect for one another and each other’s commitment to and leadership within their own intentional communities, displaying what an inter-community relationship can look like.
The next morning, we met with a leader and civics teacher who is an Arab Citizen of Israel. He revealed the difficulty of understanding “community” for Arab Citizens of Israel/Palestinians because of the history of their communities being lost, destroyed, and dispersed by Jewish Israelis since 1948. Continuing through today, there exist laws that actively discriminate against Arab Israeli communities, such as the Nation State Law of July 2018 which ruled Hebrew to be the sole official language, despite Arab Israelis accounting for 20% of the population. There is thus the feeling for many that they “belong but don’t belong,” prompting “community” to be felt as a “place of safety,” for this leader. As a civics teacher within Israel’s education system, he chooses to encourage students to grapple with difficult questions, putting varying perspectives on the table. As a leader, he combats ignorance and distance between Jewish Israelis, Arab Citizens of Israel, and Palestinians through education and shared projects that build community together.
After a visit to another kibbutz community, our cohort entered into Shabbat reflecting upon and exploring the meaning of our own communities. Some ideas explored include :
As we grow up, we begin to exist as independent individuals in communities, choose communities of which we want to be a part, reaffirm belonging to communities we were born into, and/or choose smaller communities within larger communities to connect to
A “community” can refer to an intimate group of people who all know and support one another, or it can refer to a group of relative strangers linked by shared experiences (including marginalization and oppression), interests, ideologies, or perspectives (i.e. the LGBTQ+ community or the violist community)
Community may entail obligations to and between members of the community, perhaps even after one has left a community (or depending on the type of community, is it even possible to truly leave a community once part of it?)
In what ways may communities be defined in opposition to what or whom they are not? Where are the boundaries around a community? Who is excluded in identifying who IS part of a particular community?
Our exploration finally meandered toward considering our relationship as a Yahel fellow community with communities in Lod and Rishon LeZion. We contemplated ways in which, despite the limitations of Covid, we may continue to build and/or take part in communities around us in our cities, beginning with our next-door neighbors.
In the week since the seminar, I have continued pondering the notion of “community” in chats with loved ones at home and personally reflecting upon the meanings and feelings of community particularly in this Covid world. During Covid, complex webs of communities are being challenged in ways without precedent. In response, virtual communities are being formed, further complexifying understandings of community, and some pre-Covid communities are having to choose between honoring tradition and adaptation in the interest of maintaining the existence of the community.
Ani DiFranco’s words have echoed in my head throughout the week as I critically reflect upon some societal communities of which I’m a part that can sometimes be characterized by isolation, echo-chambers/bubbles (of ideology or privilege), and polarization. I deeply appreciate the comfort that I can experience when in community with others carrying similar experiences or beliefs to myself and how I can thus feel understood, while I also see how the differences among us, even simply within our own Yahel cohort, are challenging and strengthening all of us.
Going forward, I want to continue exploring the meanings and possibilities of “community,” actively working to build and maintain communities (even just by reaching out to ask how a friend or stranger is doing), and challenging myself to build more intentional communities with people whose experiences, perspectives, and beliefs are different from and that challenge my own.
Me in a tree ☺ The sky during a lunch break