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The Key is Community

This week's blog post is written by Julia, a Yahel Social Change fellow living in Lod.

A mural in Lod, reading "Lod, mosaic of cultures."

Yahel’s concept of Service Learning in Lod, Israel allows me to develop an understanding of educational challenges and to grasp the actual meaning of “social change” through encounters with diverse realities on the grounds of schools and informal education in a mixed city. Never before was I involved with so many different social subgroups: working within a Jewish religious and a Jewish secular school, with young Arab women and with asylum seekers from Eritrea. Never before has my own position within these groups been so unclear to me.

It is on me to figure out my own position within “social change” and within the question of how to build trust between the Arab and the Jewish community, especially after the May events. It is resigning and frustrating how the little piece of trust, achieved over decades, was erased within just a few weeks in May, even from the perspective of an outsider. I was thinking about all the strong characters around me, who grew up in Israel and work constantly on building trust between these groups, and I honestly wondered: where do they find their energy to continue?

The last two weeks gave me an insight, as our group coordinator schlepped us to get to know dozens of people from different communities within Lod: both religious and secular Jewish Youth Movements, an Arab Youth Movement, a Collective promoting unknown local artists by giving them a platform to make their voices heard, as well as a Youth Center where young people can come as they are, receive acceptance, warmth, and community. Most of these people are locals that grew up in Lod. Seeing their work and their projects, staying in the city and working towards the reality they want to create shows that they stick to the change they want to see. What they all have in common is community.

It is clear that all of these communities follow slightly, to very, different goals, depending on the lens through which they view their “mixed city”. I am entering this experience as a Yahel Social Change Fellow with the hope to explore these different lenses, wondering which will open and which will stay closed within this nine-months journey.

Mixed City, Mixed Messages

Volunteering in diverse social settings means creating a mosaic of ambivalent messages and trying to make sense of them.

One of my placements is a Jewish secular school. One day, the kids talked about all the languages they wanted to learn. I asked them about those they learn and speak in school, and one of them told me he was fluent in Arabic. I admitted my surprise, since he has a Jewish sounding name, and young Jews being fluent in spoken Arabic is rare. He explained to me that he was Arab and his actual name was “Da´aud”, but in school he is “David”, because he was fed up by his peers making fun of his Arabic name.

Part of the unquestioned and legitimate discourse I perceive in the schools is being “afraid of the Arabs” as a whole while interacting and making friends with Arab peers on a day-to-day basis. It is normal to be asked as an outsider, “Do you love Israel or Palestine?”.

Arabs in this school are fluent in written and spoken Hebrew, which is, at least, their second language. It is a matter of course that they learn and perform successfully in all subjects in their second language.

These small encounters make me wonder about the (hidden) experience of the minorities in these schools, and about the grounds within those places that allow all identities not only to be seen, but also to be accepted by others.

Another anecdote that emphasizes my ambivalent experience was given by a teacher from an Arab school in Lod. She told us about the struggles Arab citizens experience while buying property, and how she came to live in her wonderful house with a magical garden we were having lunch with her. She told us that the previous owner of the house was a Jewish woman that had a bad relationship and constant fights with her neighbor, and as a “punishment” for all the troubles she had with them, she sold the house to an Arab family, the family of this teacher.

“Now”, the teacher says, “these neighbors wouldn’t ever want to have us replaced by a Jewish family. They are wonderful people, and we are in a good relationship”. Then she adds, “but don’t talk politics. When you talk politics, it’s over. They don’t live here because they want to live close to the beach, so…it’s complicated. But I think the most important thing is to focus on the humanness that connects us.”

Keeping the Flame Low

My experience within the different social contexts, hearing a lot of different voices and perspectives on Lod is headlined by “Keeping the flame low”, which seems to come from the aftermath of the events in May this year. This atmosphere impacts our fellows' daily efforts to become active and involved within Lod’s different communities as Yahel Social Change fellows

Turning the thought and intention of “social change” into daily actions or planning events in the public sphere becomes an experience of walking with hands bound. As I see it, this brings us closer to the experience of Lod’s thinking and feeling people. From my current perspective, people’s hands are tight when it comes to opening conversations. Their range of action seems limited by the fear of provoking any friction and conflict between the Jewish and Arab population within the city.

Coming with the intention and the questions of Social Change, every move we take, especially as a group of “outsiders” as the Yahel Fellows are, is preceded by a lot of consideration, hesitation and a sense of ambiguity: How do the actions we take echo within this community? What do we need to be aware of when acting in the public? It is a process to figure out how Social Change looks in each place on the ground and how to be part of it with intention, awareness, and understanding. Part of the “why we are here” is becoming a part, and also initiating that change in the communities we are embedded in, learning to listen and understand the needs, but also the visions coming from within the Lod community. Which realities become feasible and which stay utopian?

As our recent meetings with these diverse groups and collectives revealed to me, intentions for conversation and moving towards each other exist, but again, the fear of repeating conflict impacts those intentions. It is an unsatisfying situation to be in: the price for “peace”, solely meaning the absence of everyday shootings, bombs and burning cars - as was the situation in May this year – is to remain in silence. In silence about the growing mistrust and distance between the Arab and Jewish population. In silence about the inequality, the prejudice, and the growing sense of insecurity within the Arab community across the country.

Yes, Lod can be intense. Zooming in can be intense. Into its different social bubbles, getting to know people’s different struggles and sensing expectations can be overwhelming and I had a lack of direction in the start.

Shabbat morning. Zooming out: taking a long walk, seeing the city from a more distant point. Barely cars on the streets. People walking to Shacharit service. Women in beautiful colors, men in white, walking and chatting. Dogs taking out their owners in the early morning sun. The simplicity of Shabbat stays the same.


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