I am waiting for bus 240 to take me to work. I try to hide in the shade as the scorching sun hits my face. It’s 8:00 am and 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Beside me stands a religious Muslim woman, wearing a hijab. To my right is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi in a large black hat. A Christian priest is to my left, trying to read the bus schedule. A man with long, green, dreadlocked hair taps me on the shoulder to ask what time it is. Soon, the bus arrives and we all enter. We each come from vastly different backgrounds, families, and communities, yet in this moment, we all share a simple commonality. This is Israel.
This past summer, I spent two and a half months living in a suburb right outside Tel Aviv, Israel. Throughout my time in Israel, I encountered a variety of people and learned about numerous religions and cultures firsthand. I was greatly impacted by the strong cohesive diversity I witnessed in Israel. At Tulane University in New Orleans, I am surrounded by a divergent population of students who come from vastly different backgrounds and cultures, yet we are a part of one integrated unit and thus are constantly learning about how to support one another. From my personal experience in Israel, I have learned that respecting different cultures and learning about the traditions of others creates a united and cooperative community, something that my classmates and I, as New Orleans residents, should care about and model.
I stayed at a host family’s house in a Druze community; the Druze people are a religious and ethnic minority in the Middle East. I discovered that the Druze religion is secretive and does not allow any new people to join; in fact in order to be officially Druze, one must have a Druze mother and father. The Druze religion proclaims that Druze people are loyal to the land in which they are born. My host father explained that as an Israeli citizen, he felt loyal to the land of Israel and was proud to have served in the Israeli defense forces.
At the Bedouin village, I learned about an Israeli-Arab group’s traditionally nomadic lifestyle in which they used gestures such as a certain of cups of coffee poured to a certain guest to indicate how long they would be welcome to stay in the village. There are about 210,000 Bedouin people living in Israel today, making up about 3% of Israel’s population. Nowadays, about 50% of Bedoin communities have urbanized are no longer nomadic. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Bedouin population has increased tenfold due to their enhanced availability to health and education services.
I visited a Kibbutz, or a communal living village, created by reform Jews in Israel. Kibbutz communities are a unique feature to Israel; the first Kibbutz was established over 90 years ago, and today there are about 270 kibbutzim in Israel. Typically, the income generated by all Kibbutz members is placed into one common pool which is used to run the Kibbutz and make investments. Kibbutz members agree to social living conditions in which members are apart of a culture of volunteerism and collectivism. I visited various Kibbutzim in Israel, yet one struck me as particularly unique: a reform Kibbutz. While the reform Jewish practice is prevalent throughout the United States, reform communities in Israel are distinctive. On the reform kibbutz, I was able to see the only mikvah (spiritual bath) made available to both men and women in Israel.
At a reformed Muslim mosque in Haifa, Israel, I spoke with a woman who sought to teach the world that Islam is not a violent religion. She allowed us to step into their beautiful prayer room and library as she explained that in Israel, her people are able to practice reformed Islam without fear of prosecution.
In Tzfat, an ancient city in Northern Israel, I met spiritual Orthodox Jews who explained that Jewish mystical practices led them through times of hardship. As I sat in the gallery of an Orthodox artist, I admired the positive Hebrew quotes written around the room.
The Florentin neighborhood in Tel Aviv is home to many Israeli young adults. Though mostly secular, the members of this community explained their love and dedication to being Jewish and Israeli. They explained the value of cultural Judaism, which was symbolized in graffiti art around the Florentine streets.
Despite the different backgrounds, traditions, and practices of the various groups I encountered in Israel, all groups are able to live in a cohesive environment in which they help and rely on one another. Similarly, in New Orleans, our residents come from a massive range of different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, however, we make up a larger community together. We must care about and respect people of different cultures and ethnic groups; we must learn about and advocate for cultural communities like those in Israel. As a community of diverse people, we are stronger united.