This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my Onward Israel Breakout Seminar. These seminars are designed to give Onward participants a chance to socialize and meet other people outside of their program. It also allows the participants to explore parts of Israel that they otherwise would not have had the opportunity to see.
Growing up in the United States has often shielded me from the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have learned about the conflict in numerous university courses, as well as through my experiences with Jewish and Israeli advocacy groups on campus. However, I have realized that I generally have only viewed one side of the conflict. Prior to my stay at the Port Inn Hostel in Haifa last week, I had never met a Palestinian before. My education has either been a sterile, classroom experience, or from the Israeli perspective.
Settling into the longest time I will have ever spent abroad has been unnerving, to say the least. While I had previously spent part of my freshman year at Northeastern University studying in London, my time in Israel will be my longest continuous experience away from home.
This is not a blog post about hostels nor is it about Israel,
but about traveling.
When I first realized I’d be celebrating my 21st birthday in Israel, I was honestly really bummed. Let’s be honest, a 21st birthday in America is kind of a big deal. In Israel, 21 doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t bring any new or special privileges. I had been looking forward to sipping my first legal drink at Sunset Cantina—a Mexican restaurant and bar in Boston—with my friends at home, as is the tradition amongst us for 21st birthdays. Realizing I would away from my friends and family for what is such a milestone birthday did make me sad, however the reality of spending the summer in Israel soon overtook the disappointment and I decided my 21st birthday could be awesome in ways other than enjoying my first legal drink.
Haifa is a charming city. It takes more time to explore Haifa and to really find the special things than it does in Tel Aviv, or maybe even Jerusalem, but Haifa has a different feeling and a special vibe. My first thoughts when moving into the downtown area of Haifa for my summer internship with ILH – Israel Hostels, was honestly, that Haifa a giant snooze. I had just spent a decent amount of time in Tel Aviv, and Haifa in comparison felt extremely quiet and empty. That being said, first impressions aren’t everything and this city showed me that—you just have to put in a little more effort and Haifa will reward you with wonderful things to see, do, and eat.
While I’m spending the summer working at this internship with ILH, I still consider this a vacation—I’m away from home, I’m enjoying beautiful weather, and I’m experiencing amazing activities and events. However, sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation where you really unwind and treat yo’self. My friend and I decided to take a weekend and travel as far south as we could go until we reached the city of Eilat. It was my first time experiencing Eilat, and his nth time.
Timing isn’t everything, but when you have it, things come together in ways far beyond what can be fairly expected. After viewing The Settlers last week in a screening where I was the only person in a room of 50+ to not have ever visited a settlement, after numerous discussions about the repercussions of the settlement movement, as well as speculation on motivation and organization of such ideology, just a few days later – I ended up on an organized group trip to Gush Etzion, a settlement in the West Bank.
I feel that it is in the best interest of humanity to interact with diverse groups of people in order to increase understanding of the unfamiliar and strive towards peaceful coexistence. As a citizen of the world, I have the responsibility of finding or creating opportunities for people of different cultures, languages, histories, races, ethnicities, and experiences to come together on common ground.