I’ve been here for a couple weeks now and it just so happens to line up with a debate going on back on campus that will be voted upon tomorrow. As this dialogue goes on, I’ve realized that I have a unique perspective, one worth sharing, but I personally choose to remain mum on political aspects, especially things I’m quite frankly not that informed about. I don’t know the logistics of NUDivest but I will however share my experience here so far and maybe that will shed some light on how I feel about Israel and its people.
I should first frame this post by saying that I am a black, blond haired, non-religious male studying in Israel alone. No other Northwestern students are here with me, and I have felt nothing but acceptance by not only the students on the program but from the people of Tel Aviv as a whole. Israel is so multicultural; there are people here from England, Panama, Russia, Australia, Mali, Argentina, Germany, Brazil, my roommate is from France, etc. It really puts into perspective that when you are speaking about Israel you are really reflecting on Jews from all over the world who feel connected to this country and want to see it protected. Living in such a multicultural society has worked to my advantage because it means that most people here actually speak English. Obviously Hebrew is the national language, but the street signs have English and I order my food in English. If I need to know something I speak in English and they respond back; it’s been quite comforting. I was actually surprised by how many recognizable brands they have here too, I saw Colgate toothpaste, Oreos, Frosted Flakes and Honeynut Cheerios, Barilla pasta, Zara; they even have an American Apparel in the mall next door. Tel Aviv is like a little New York, which is where I’m from, so it really just reminds me of home.
The food is delicious. Of course I had Middle eastern food (pita and hummus for life!) along with falafel and schnitzel, but I’ve also eaten some of the best Italian food I’ve ever experienced here. I had Chinese food the other day and I almost ordered Domino’s Pizza last night – haha. It’s weird that I can be on the other side of the planet yet feel so normal or at home. Having said that, I also have to deal with the reality that I am in Israel and there are people who want to hurt me simply for that fact. I haven’t taken the buses here yet and I probably won’t for at least another month without incident. Everyone here has assured me that it’s safe, but the idea of Tel Aviv and explosions has been so ingrained into my head by the media and just general discourse back home that it’s prevented me from utilizing the transit system here so far. But to be honest, I realized it’s the same situation back home. I don’t use public transportation back at school, I don’t go into Chicago unless I’m on the private Northwestern buses, I don’t take the El at night or during the day for that matter, and I’d Uber or cab before ever taking the Chicago public bus system. The point is not to make myself sound spoiled but to point out, to myself I guess, that I’ve let other peoples’ thoughts and media coverage shape how I think about Israel before I even came here and that’s not okay. I’m smarter than that and I think anyone at Northwestern would be smarter than that too.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to come visit Israel or anything like that, but that it’s better to have exposure to something before you formulate an opinion about it. From what I’ve seen, Muslim and Jewish people live in peace here, in Tel Aviv at least. I’ve encountered many Muslims who speak Hebrew to me, work in Kosher supermarkets alongside Jews, or study at my school. It’s not something you pay attention to. Without getting controversial, the feelings of Antisemitism and Anti-Islam that is portrayed outside Israel isn’t felt here in Tel Aviv or I’ve just somehow remained ignorant towards it. Gays are accepted here, blacks are accepted here, and people of all different ages hangout together because the conscription means people go to university at older ages here. That and the people just age beautifully so you can’t really tell how old they are, it’s probably because of the “se baba” aka it’s cool/ it’s all-good attitude. I’ve travelled all around the world and the people of Israel are some of the nicest I’ve ever met. Everyone here are “haverim” (meaning friends). The beach is beautiful, the weather is fantastic, I don’t see why anyone would ever want to make this place less safe.
Okay, and with that I’m off to see 50 Shades of Grey in the movie theatre! I tried not to be too controversial and I hope I succeeded. L’hitraot! (see you later!)