Culture, Environment, Health


Soon after we made Aliyah in January 2010, my son and I created mini videos for our friends and family back in NJ with our Flip camera.  At the time, the kalaniyot were just beginning to bloom here in the North and there is this poignant moment during one of our virtual walking tours of Hannaton where my son, in the middle of some explanation of a particular cultural difference between the U.S. and Israel, stops walking, bends down, gazes at,  and then plucks from the ground a beautiful red anemone.

We learned soon after that these flowers are on the endangered list here in Israel, and it’s forbidden to pick them.  The kalaniyot (anemones in Hebrew) are so breathtaking it’s no wonder they caught my son’s ever wandering eye, and it’s no wonder they beckon us all to the fields when they start to pop up in January. If you do a Google search for pictures of kalaniyot, you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve been eager to go on a photo expedition myself among the kalaniyot on Hannaton, but I put it off due to sickness and continual bad weather. Finally the rains stopped enough for me to take a quiet Shabbat walk this past weekend to the fields above Hannaton overlooking nearby Kfar Manda and the Eshkol reservoir here in the Lower Galilee.

What I found was, as I expected, overwhelmingly and breathtakingly beautiful.

Kalaniyot overlook Hannaton

And, at the same time, heartbreaking.

Kalaniyot amongst the thorns

Heartbreaking how?

Heartbreaking in that as much as we revel in Israel’s beauty, and as much as we fight for ownership of her lands, we fail her.

To trash or protect, that is the question

Do you see what I mean? We are prohibited from plucking her beauty, and perhaps rightfully so, in an effort to preserve it. And while efforts to maintain the wildflower population seem to be working, efforts to enforce cleanliness are failing…immensely.

Is this the land we're fighting over?

Garbage litters this beautiful land — from fields to parks to beaches to city streets.  When out and about amongst Israel’s unparalleled landscapes, I often feel transported back to 1970s-era America where it was still socially acceptable to toss trash out the window of a moving car or leave your Happy Meal bag in the mall parking lot next to your car instead of carrying it the extra few steps to the trash can. I see the remains of picnics left behind without a thought in our heavily funded Keren Kayemet national parks — picnics from many season ago no doubt. I grimace as I see plastic bottles floating along the rim of the Kinerret. I am ashamed when I bring tourists to a treasured local landmark, and they have to navigate around discarded cigarette packs and broken beer bottles.

It’s a puzzle to me.

Plastic bottles decorate our landscape

How is it that the most contended over real estate on the planet is not cleaner? How is it that our Holy Land is not treated as sacred? 

Remains of the Israeli picnic

How are we so disconnected, so unimpacted by this irony?

How is it that we will scream and shout our political battles over borders and boundaries, but we won’t speak up when we see our neighbor litter? How is it that we, as a country, are careful so about Kashrut, but not proactive as individuals in our daily lives with honoring “God’s creation,” our land?

Paint the landscape of the Galilee

When I bring this up among my friends, they often blame our “cousins,” by whom they mean our Arab neighbors. But if that were true, why is there so much trash here on Hannaton? And I don’t mean on the fields just beyond our yishuv gates where our Arab neighbors will often picnic (as will we). But also in the playground our children play in, in our yishuv streets, in our driveways and in our yards? I walked along the beach just outside Haifa a few months ago and it was covered in trash. Again, reminding me of Jersey beaches decades before when we had to be mindful not to walk barefoot on syringes.

Plastic bag dots the green

I don’t imagine our Arab neighbors are coming by with their Bamba bags and dropping them on our Hannaton basketball court. I don’t think our Arab neighbors are sending their dogs over to poop on our playground.

Bamba in the fields

In my work over the past few years educating our communities about holistic health and wellness, I often shied away from calling myself an “environmental activist.” My main intention was always to teach people ways they could prevent illness, in particular chronic illness or cancer, by adjusting their lifestyle and dietary habits. I always noted the secondary benefits of living a less toxic life included “healing our planet.”

But more and more over the years, I’ve come to understand exactly how hand-in-hand these two initiatives are: healing ourselves and healing our planet. They are one and the same. One cannot succeed without the other.

And those of us who yearn for peace in this land — in other words, her healing — must understand that this poor land is ravaged both by emotional and physical pain. And to heal her, we must take a holistic approach. We must understand the unspoken implication of dropping our garbage thoughtlessly onto Israel’s earth, of polluting Israel’s water, of suffocating her with toxic fumes.

What message do we send to her when we treat her this way?

You wouldn’t court a beautiful woman with screams, bloodshed, and empty plastic bottles and bags, would you?

Culture, Middle East Conflict, Politics, Religion, Terrorism

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

(This originally appeared as “Israeli in Progress” on The Jerusalem Post)

Before I lived in Israel, I was a tourist to Israel.

I visited Israel three times as a program participant between the years 1992 and 2000, and twice independently with family.

Each time, there were outright rules and admonitions from tour guides, concerned locals, or experienced travelers to Israel (“Don’t drive to Jerusalem via Jericho.”); and unspoken or whispered advice (“You’re young. You’re blonde. Stay out of Arab villages and east Jerusalem.”)

The message received? “Sure, Israel is a lot safer than she often looks on t.v., but there is a real danger here nonetheless, and that danger is Arab.”

Twice during my earlier travels to Israel, I found myself alone with Arabs and frightened. Once deservedly – an Arab cab driver picked me up near the Kotel in Jerusalem and made me ride in the front seat with him and more than once on the way to my destination caressed my knee. Funny enough, I was less worried about being raped than I was of the idea of being dragged to east Jerusalem.

The second time was when I ended up lost on my way driving alone from Tel Aviv to Tiberias, and found myself in Nazareth. All it took for hysteria to set in was the sight of a billboard in Arabic promoting a fruit drink endorsed by Yasser Arafat. I quickly pulled into a parking lot and hid in my car trembling while I consulted the map. Thankfully, no one tried to make me drink the Arafat fruit punch.

When we made Aliyah, I arrived to Israel carrying the “Arabs are scary” baggage still.

In fact, it was only after we decided to live on Hannaton that I realized that Kfar Manda, the next big town over, was an Arab town, and that essentially, we were surrounded by Arab villages (some Muslim, some Druze — all Israeli). Once I found out, outwardly I felt proud, in the same way a white girl living in Harlem might. But inwardly, especially when I heard a rumor that Manda houses an active terrorist cell, I felt that same sense of discomfort. “Arabs are scary.” Whether or not the terrorist cell rumor has any truth to it, I still don’t know. But so far my comfort level extends only to getting gas at the station just outside of town (because it’s on my way home from work), but not heading into the town center alone for a shwarma or some vegetables.

I’m fully aware that my fear of Arabs is directly related to my ignorance and to lack of personal experience. That it has nothing to do with personal human interaction, and everything to do with stories spread by fearful people. Some of these stories are true, of course; but some are exaggerated. And, none of the stories belong to me.

In fact, all of my interactions with Arabs since I’ve moved to Israel have not only been benign, but a few have even been memorable examples of human kindness.

For instance, there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant my in-laws frequent: of all the restaurants we’ve been to Israel, it’s the one where the kitchen staff is the most sensitive to my kids’ food allergies. And just yesterday, I was driving home from a business meeting in Tel Aviv when I realized something was terribly wrong with my car. I ignored the noise for a good ten minutes, long enough to get off the beach highway and pull over to the shoulder. It didn’t take long to understand that the piece hanging off the front side of my car was not necessarily going to stop the car from running, but certainly was not going to allow me to get home safely if it kept dragging. I made it to the nearest gas station, one near an Arab Village, where two Arab attendants fixed my car temporarily. They didn’t hesitate when I asked them to help me and they didn’t ask for payment.

If I had followed the “Rules for American Jewish Girls Travelling in Israel,” I would have never made it home. The Arab-run gas station was the only one around for miles.

I can’t hold myself up as the picture of co-existence or tolerance just because I live in the lower Galilee and ask for help from handy, young Arab guys. But I have realized in the short time that I have lived here that my understanding of the situation between Jews and Arabs in Israel is transforming from one informed by stories to one informed by experience — and we all know that it’s real, live interaction between people that is the miraculous cure to both real and imagined conflict.

And my real, live Jewish interaction with real, live Arabs makes us all one teeny tiny step closer to peace