West Bank & Sderot/Gaza Trip – Oh my!

Hello everyone and happy start to the new week!

I want to first comment on my experience staying with the family in the West Bank. Last weekend I had the pleasure (thanks to the lovely Career Israel staff) to stay with a host family for Shabbat in the West Bank. The family I stayed with, The Epsteins, were a lovely family and were fantastic hosts to my friend Nathan and I. What was so interesting about the trip was that I really learned about life on the “other side” — that is, life in the settlements. In addition to going to a great Shabbat service at the local synagogue and getting a lovely Shabbat meal, I learned a lot about the challenges and issues the settlement and the family themselves face. It was a fascinating and eye opening experience, and I’m grateful to the Epstein’s as well as the other family’s that took us in for a night and house us.

Right before returning to Tel Aviv, we had a fascinating Q&A session with another settler family (with the whole group together) discussing his opinions on the future of the settlements and politics surrounding them. Again, an amazing experience because we were being exposed first hand to the settlements, not through the media! Thank you Career Israel again for giving me this amazing experience!

Us Career Israelites also recently embarked on a harrowing journey South of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the small town of Sderot. For those of you who may not be completely familiar with that name, Sderot is a city of about 25,000 or so people in the northern Negev that has been bombarded by rockets and mortar bombs from Gaza for the past decade. The town is literally a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Gaza border….. so close we got to see the border for ourselves! And it was an amazing site. In Sderot, we got a great array of opinions on the situation from both sides of the political sphere. We got lectured by a centrist and right wing activist. Again, this is great! We got great exposure to different Israeli opinions and it was very interesting to hear their point of view. Many of us agreed and disagreed with these speakers, but what mattered the most in terms of the program was that we were exposed to their views and had the opportunity to think about them deeply.

We then traveled to a nearby Kibbutz, literally right next to the Gaza fence/border. There we met with two women who were part of a leftist/progressive organization that believes in dialogue more than war to help resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Again, fascinating to hear their points of view and their experiences…. they were able to get Gazans across the border for dialogue sessions. That’s pretty cool! Many of us were of course split on how we felt about these women. Some of us supported their views, some of us didn’t, but again, this is Israel, and it’s great to be exposed to different viewpoints/political standpoints!

After the lecture one of the women took us directly to the Gaza border fence, to a place called “the lookout”. Here, we were able to actually see much of Gaza (from over the fence of course!) buildings and all. It was very surreal seeing it in person, knowing the politics and situations surrounding the area. All of us were staring at it for a while, and it was a great day for views as well…… we even saw buildings from Gaza City!

Our last activity of the day was a visit to displaced residents from former Gaza settlements…. ones that were evacuated during Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip. It was a little different from the rest of the day – here we went from discussing bombs and rockets from Gaza to Jews who used to live IN Gaza. Again, many of us disagreed on several of these issues – but we got GREAT speakers who gave us their views on the subject with great passion, which was an experience in and of itself.

I must say that so far this was my favorite activity since the Negev trip. I learned a lot on this day and it left my mind eager for more information and knowledge on the subject.

These are the kind of things I was hoping to get from my Israel experience, and Career Israel delivered it all!

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