I never know what to expect with Israel. It’s a place that has more to offer than anywhere else, but it’s easy to forget this place is more than politics and hummus.
During my February flight here, I decided to jot down a few expectations for my five-month (later turned 13-month) volunteer program. I figured I’d learn something about Israeli lifestyle, pick up some Hebrew, and hopefully see something the History Channel forgot to mention between episodes of Ancient Aliens and The Lost Years.
Ten months later, I’ve met each of those less-than-lofty goals. Thankfully they’re the least of what I’ve seen in this country and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve come to realize that Israel is a land of opportunity of a kind we haven’t seen since a smattering of city-states gave their distant ruler a finger and a Hancock as they formed a new America.
Similar to that age of invention and exploration, Israel’s prosperity is due to one overwhelmingly prosperous resource – The people.
Israel is a land of many peoples. Converging histories and cultures centered here have super-sized America’s 18th-century melting pot into a stew far more complex than most people realize. It’s more than Jews and Arabs, it’s a mixture of people from every continent embodying more cultures than you’ll find anywhere else. I knew I would meet people from different places here, but I could not have imagined this expanded world view in a country I can drive across in an afternoon.
Never did I expect to discuss Shakespeare with a British university literature student, receive a breakdown of Baltic State languages from an Estonian (a place I hadn’t then heard of), or hear of Russian antisemitism with its entirely different form than what I knew growing up. I definitely didn’t plan to hear about immigration from an Ethiopian that lost her family while walking across Sudan, or to assist a quinti-lingual Ukrainian with translations, and I didn’t expect to hear an Israeli Jew talk about the lack of a Jewish religion in Israeli life.
These are just a few of the unexpected educational gems I’ve found here, and all in a place that some so-called academic institution deems a place of terror and injustice. Being here has reminded me that education is not about the institution, but rather the journey and people you meet along the way. It’s something a politically-driven association can’t take away from me.
Basically, mind blown at every turn, and it has been a very gratifying experience to be constantly reminded of how little I really know – and that’s just what I’m learning in English. Never mind that I’m no longer surprised to find people speaking Russian, Spanish, Portuguese or Ukrainian, in addition to Arabs speaking Hebrew, Israelis speaking Arabic and everyone cursing in English. Israel is home to world culture. It speaks the language of the world, and anyone unable to see this probably has not been here with an open mind, if at all.
I’m unsure how long it will take me to process everything from this trip, but one thing I’ve learned is that travel and first-hand experience trumps literary learning by leaps and bounds. My graying hair, absent-minded thoughts and love of nature make me feel old, but I believe exploring the world will keep me young forever. And that might just be the best thing I’ve learned this year.