Friday, July 16, 2010

International Encounters

It was a week of international encounters. No, I didn't jet back to Paris. International figures came to me.
At the very start of the week, some of my fellow Efratians and I sat down to lunch in the Bat Ayin eatery Gavna with a group of visiting professors from around the world. They were part of a Tel Aviv University touring summer program for Professors of Middle Eastern Studies.
Professors generally are regarded as totally leftwing, Middle Eastern Studies professors are generally regarded as leftwing Arab lovers who are passionately anti-Israeli. Well, I guess if you're going to spend a lot of money to spend your summer in Israel, you can't be as decidedly anti-Israel as that.
I wouldn't say that these professors taught their students to sing "Hatikvah", but they seemed to be fair people who were honestly interested in our lives in Israel and the way we see the situation around us.
My fellow Efratians were a distinguished group:
Lenny Ben David – public affairs consultant for think tanks, governments and public institutions. He spent 25 years in AIPAC, and served as a former diplomat in Washington, DC. You'd have to look pretty hard to find someone more knowledgeable than Lenny on Israeli national security, Middle East affairs, or terrorism. He's even got a blog where he shares his insights and inside information:
Jonathan Feldstein is Israel's representative to American Friends of MagenDavid Adom. While in the US, he served in the Israeli Foreign Ministry as Information Officer for the southeastern US.
Today Paul Shindman works in a high-tech out-sourcing company. Previously he served as Jerusalem bureau chief for United Press International wire service.
Ardie Geldman has been a philanthropic consultant and fundraiser for the past 30 years. He was also the executive director of AMIT Women in Israel.
Each of us sat at a table with a group of professors, answering all the questions they had. Some tables talked about the wall – the professors didn't know that not all Israelis are in favor of the wall.
Some talked about co-existence – they thought of co-existence only as a future utopian result of Israel giving up Judea and Samaria. They thought Israel was an apartheid state. They didn't know Arabs are allowed to drive on Jewish roads (although Jews aren't allowed to drive on Arab roads). They didn't realize that Arabs learn side-by-side in Israeli universities (although Jews cannot learn in Arab universities). They didn't realize that Arabs are roommates with Jews in Israeli hospitals, and receive the same medical care of Jewish patients (although Jews are no treated in Arab hospitals). They also didn't know that before any agreements or accords, we had a form of social co-existence when we drove through Bethlehem and shopped in the stores there, and traded grapes for clothing with our Arab construction workers. Although the laws and rules and Arab terror attacks have forced an end to most interaction, today Arabs and Jews still shop together in Israel's malls, and stores like Bazaar Strauss, the Hangar and Rami Levi.
Gavna sits in a fabulous location, overlooking both the forest and the sprawling town of Beitar. Pointing out the gorgeous site of many hundreds of vanilla stone buildings with red roofs in the distance, we told the professors that the city of Beitar is part of Judea. They were amazed. They hadn't equated Judea and Samaria with large cities.
Yes, they knew about history, or their version of Middle Eastern history, but as my colleagues noted, the professors didn't know much about Jewish life in Israel today – not about our school system or our religious practices or what regular Israelis are like.
We felt the luncheon went pretty well. I sat with professors from Korea (there are no Jews there at all – the professor was actually shocked to discover that there are Jews in China) - Turkey, Germany, France and Michigan. I sensed no hostility, but a genuine desire to find out about Israel from an Israeli. I think my colleagues felt the same.
After our luncheon, Jonathan and Paul thought that would it be helpful to put together a resource for professors (or whoever wanted to learn) about things foreigners don't know about Israel – not the politics, but the life. It may happen yet, I'll keep you posted.
At the end of the week, I was interviewed by a South American journalist who is traveling throughout Israel. Willian Vieira is a Brazilian journalist who has become "amazed with this country." He has researched the Jewish communities of the "West Bank," but never met any real people. We met for a cup of ice coffee in The Bagel Place in Efrat. He was fascinated with why we live here, how we view our community, our country, our lifestyle. He didn't talk politics or walls or "Palestine." He just wanted to know people-y things. He said that he wanted to write real life stories.
I visited his websites and find that he's a journalist who is interested in life. That's what he writes about:,
I love life in Israel, and I'm always happy to share what RIGHT about living in Israel. I'm happy I had the opportunity this week, and every day when I can blog with you.

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