With the days of significance over, both the program and the participants in it were able to see Israel in a different light. We began that different light with a visit to the Begin Centre, an institution dedicated to telling the story of Israel’s first conservative Prime Minister. Unlike some of the other museums we have seen, it wasn’t quite as technologically advanced, but more importantly, it felt to most of us that it dived too deep into the life of someone most of us knew very little about. And whilst a deep dive is good, we may have needed some more context before the visit. Unfortunately that set the tone for some of the intensity that we have felt ever since.
The visit to the Begin Centre was followed immediately by a talk by Rabbi David Rosen, Israel’s pre-eminent interfaith spokesperson, and one of the most erudite and articulate speakers on the topic of understanding the other. In a country as polarised and chaotic as this one, hearing someone so in tune with the politics but so involved with the efforts to understand difference inspired all of us and made us wish that there were more hours in each day. Each of us could have easily spent an hour with him on our own and that still would not have been enough. We needed to finish with him because we had a tour of Yad Vashem to get to. And whilst some of us weren’t even sure why we needed to go to Israel’s Holocaust museum after a week in Poland, it was actually a surprisingly life-affirming visit. Not only is the museum set amongst a beautiful forest with a view, it tells the story of the Holocaust with empathy, meaning and compassion. For two people in our group it was even more meaningful. One found an artefact that belonged to a family member, whilst another discovered that his uncle was in one of the pictures on display. After a week at many of the sites where the images came from, the museum had a new and impactful meaning for us.
We then changed tack again and had two interesting and intense presentations, both of which were triggering for some of the people in our group. The first was from an organisation called Kids 4 Peace, which brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim kids in Jerusalem in a kind of youth movement where they play fun, educational games in order to discuss the conflict of the region, but in a way that makes sense to them. We heard from Ittay Flescher, the Australian educational director of the program, that for many of these kids, this is their only opportunity to seriously interact with these issues. It is a small grassroots organisation that only has an annual intake of 80 kids, but is one of 300 organisations in the country that is trying – at least on some level – to bring people together so that they see there are multiple sides to a story, and so that ultimately a peaceful solution can be found.
To that end, our final speaker for that day was Ahmed Mona, the son of Palestinian bookshop owners, who came to talk to us about ‘the Palestinian perspective’. But as we quickly discovered, much like there is no unified Jewish view on anything, there is equally no monolithic Palestinian perspective. Ahmed presented an idea that he even admitted does not have mainstream support, but it was nonetheless important and interesting for many of us to hear his viewpoint and to discuss the issues with him in a respectful and comfortable environment, even if it did raise within tensions amongst some of us.
We continued the discussion at Ammunition Hill the following morning, but as an antidote to all the talking and thinking, our last stop before Shabbat was Machne Yehuda market in central Jerusalem, and a walk through the streets. No other place in the world compares to the chaos, bedlam and utter havoc of the market on a Friday afternoon, yet somehow it all works and everyone comes out with what they need. Within an hour the noise died down and now we are ready to spend another Shabbat together, this time in Jerusalem amongst all the noise and chaos, and for many of us, nothing could be more beautiful.
Written by Alex Kats - Participant, MOTL 2023