Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Solid Mix of Law, Protests, and Japanese Dancing

Sunday we were lucky enough to meet with Anna Oliker, who is the party manager of the Israeli government party Yisrael Beiteinu. In this past election, Yisrael Beiteinu ran on a joint ticket with Likud, and together they make up the majority of the Knesset. Unfortunately getting in to the Knesset was more challanging than predicted, so we only got to meet with her for a few minutes. It was so interesting hearing what someone who is so high up in the Israeli government does on a daily basis. She is also a Haredi woman, which added a different perspective to the experience. 

After meeting with her, we took a tour of the Knesset and learned all about the history. This experience really fit in with what the Diller program is all about, as we were delving deeply into how the government works. It was very weird hearing the vast differences between the Israeli and American governments, especially about how central religion is in Israel, while in America we pride ourselves on the separation between "Synagogue" and State. This was a great intersection of all four pillars of Diller: Leadership, Social Justice, Jewish Identity, and Israel! 

Sunday night, we went to Ben Yeduda street for the last time, and as we were walking through the streets, something peculiar caught our eye. Over 70 Japanese people were dancing and singing in a somewhat organized fashion in the middle of Ben Yeduda street! They were so energetic, and also seemed very passionate about Israel. Obviously, Andrew felt moved along with a few British boys, to join right in the festivities! It was truly a bizarre and unique experience. 

Monday morning we woke up at 5:30am!! Insane, we know. I take all the blame (sorry Andrew!), but it turned out to be very worthwhile. We walked to a park where we boarded buses with around 250-300 woman and a handful of men as well. This group is called Women of the Wall, and it is an organization that has been fighting to change the laws surrounding what women can and cannot do at the Kotel. They have existed for close to 25 years, but recently have grown tremendiously, raised a lot of attention in the media, and have even sucessfully made it legal for Women to pray with talit, kippot, and tfillian at the Kotel! However, it is still illegal for women to read from a Torah on the womens side of the kotel. We were escorted with a heavy police escort to the Kotel. The streets before the gate were lines with police, holding Haredi men and women back from attacking the buses. A few Haredi women actually went up to the police on motorcycles, and started screaming at them and hitting them! When we got to the Kotel, we got off the bus and walked through the gates. We couldn't go all the way to the Womens side (as the group ussually does), and had to stop right outside of the Kotel. There were 100s of Haredi men and woman (mainly men) standing behind the police barriers and yelling at us! We started praying the Rosh Chodesh (new month) service. Many women were wearing talit, kippot and tfillian. Throughout the entire service, the Haredi men were screaming, yelling things such as "Just get out of here!" "Because of you the Meshiach wont come!" "You're Amalek!" "You're all Nazis!" "You are the reason that people have cancer!" And much more that we didn't understand. They threw a few eggs at us, as well as some open bottles of water. We later read in the newspaper, although we didn't actually see it, that one Haredi man attacked one of the men praying in comradory with us and a Haredi man threw stones at someone. Two Haredi people, one man and one women, were arrested. Although we weren't allowed to bring a Torah, we did the Torah service using a Chumash instead. One young girl had her bat-mitzvah during this service! She was so brave, and read right through the vicious chants, egg throwing, and whistle blowing of the Haredim. 

We later learned that the reason we could not go to the womans side of the Kotel for the service was because thousands of Religious seminary girls had flooded the womans side before we got there, as their own organized protest to our service. We can't even imagine what this would have been like just a short few weeks ago, before the change in law and police support. We never felt in danger, because we have never seen that many police in one place before. There were police in uniforms of all colors in front of us, behind us, to our sides, and above us. After the service, we were again escorted out on buses by police. 

It was an experience that neither of us will ever forget. 

We then said goodbye to Jerusalem, and got on a bus to Tel-Aviv. After a short rest at the hotel, we went to the only Eritrean Womans Community Center. This is a population that escapes to Israel seeking refuge, but the Israeli government wont recognize them or give them any help. This center was set up last year to provide a day care service during the day (many of the babies were concieved through rape) and to provide services such as english and hebrew lessons and parenting courses for the women at night. We went to volunteer with the children, and were a bit taken back by the poor conditions and understaffing of the center. There were around 30 babies at the one room center, and they told us that most other day cares they could go to had around 60 babies in the same sized room. To be perfectly honest, we were both very uncomfortable the whole time because the care takers did not know english or hebrew, and it was so disorganized that we didn't know what to do with ourselves and there crying babies that we found ourselves overwhelmed. This experience reminded us how lucky we are to have grown up with everything we have. It also showed us that not all community service is enjoyable, and that it is okay to admit that you had a bad experience. 

This morning we went to Nachalat Benyamin, a street where every Tuesday and Friday local artists set up booths and sell their work. It was great and we saw so many beautiful things! And now off to the beach!! 

-Liat and Andrew


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