This blog post is written by Natalie, a Yahel Social Change fellow living and working in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa.
The subject of “community” was not one I ever thought much about growing up. Being homeschooled in a small town until college, and then attending a university in that same small town, the community I had personal experience with was quite limited. It was not that I considered it unimportant, but that I had never really considered it at all.
I thought my 10 months here would make me reflect on my Jewishness. While that has happened – through talks with rabbis and personal visits to Shabbat dinners - what it has made me reflect upon more than anything is my Americanness: my lack of exposure to the world, the one lens through which Americans tend to view the world, and the egocentrism that comes along with that. I often find myself referring to something as, “you know, the normal one” when someone asks me to explain something that they, apparently, had never heard of before.
My world has been very small up to this point. Americans consume American media, socialize with other Americans, and rarely leave America. There is a reason we are stereotyped the way we are. Often, it frustrates me. But it has made me realize in a very tangible, personal way that as much as we try to fight it or even actively dislike where we came from, we are all products of our environments, influenced by our surroundings. Recognizing this in myself has lent me more substantial empathy to people whose stories and lenses I don’t agree with – I can never know what they come from and what they have been exposed to.
Living in Haifa has drastically changed my view of what “community” can mean and how nuanced and intricate communities are. Communities are complex and immensely influential to our life experiences.
For better or for worse, whether it be through trauma, joy, or a combination of the two, humans are social creatures, and our sociality defines our worldview.
In a place like Israel, where there are palpably conflicting perspectives on life-or-death situations, understanding how stories influence us is crucial to having any sort of real grasp of what’s going on. I am a visitor. I will never have the tangible fear that anyone who was raised in this area of the world grew up experiencing. I may disagree with someone, but my life experiences that led to that disagreement are far less relevant than someone who lived it. Communities are complicated, and I think that recognizing your limitations in fully understanding a foreign culture is an important part of furthering what you can grasp.