Next Stop: Tokyo

So I’m off to Japan for a little under three months where I will be interning for the Japanese NGO Ashinaga. Ashinaga’s mission is to “provide educational and emotional support to orphaned students worldwide.” My jobs from what I can understand is to act as a source of support for the students, teach English lessons, and work on developing their Student Ambassador program.

The Student Ambassador (SA) program is how I first heard about Ashinaga. The SA programs are small networks within universities (or student organizations in simpler terms) that are committed to helping spread Ashinaga’s values and missions around the world. Last year was the first year of the SA program and I, kind of on a whim, decided to just get involved in the organization.

It was activities night at McGill and, like everyone else at activities night, I think I signed up for more than 30 clubs that night. But for some reason I was drawn more to Ashinaga, despite it only have two members (the then president and vice president) and what seemed to be a lack of direction. I think I saw its potential and thought it was a good opportunity to get involved. To try to help make a difference in the new community in which I found myself.

I was definitely right about all that.

But, I in no means ever thought I would become its president by the end of the year – something I’ve been told is a bit uncommon for a first year (or freshman, for all my Americans). And I definitely didn’t think that the NGO student club would actually be a huge international NGO with enough funding and commitment to this SA program that they can fly out their interns and subsidize their living expenses.

So, after only my first year at McGill university completed, I find myself sitting in the Chicago airport waiting to board my flight to Tokyo, waiting to go on my next journey, mildly in awe/straight-out bemused as to how I even got here. With an open mind, I am truly excited to see what happens this summer and how I find this new culture I am about to be immersed in.

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worthless

For the first time in my life, I am scared to be a Jew.

I don’t want to detract from the severity of Islamophobia, racism, ableism, homophobia, and anti-immigration sentiment. But there is no escaping that this is the first time in my life I am experiencing true antisemitism. And not only that, it is now coupled with anti-Zionism.

I feel worthless. I feel caught in a web of wanting to scream out for justice and safety for me and my people, but also never wanting to talk about us ever again because I have Israel, right? I have Israel and refugees don’t have anyplace safe to go. Immigrants, Muslim-Americans, African Americans – none of them have an ‘Israel’ to escape to when things get bad. The United States was supposed to be their Israel.

But – here’s the thing. I feel utterly and completely abandoned by the Israeli government. Betrayed, abandoned, and just forgotten about. I feel worthless to my own people.

There was an antisemitic incident on my campus, here at McGill, about a week ago. But it wasn’t just antisemitic, it was explicitly anti-Zionist. And in my torn heart of wanting to stand in solidarity with all the people who might not be as fortunate as I am, I was shocked to realize that I might also not be as fortunate as I always assumed. And this is something I don’t want to admit. And I was shocked to realize that this was something I was struggling to admit.

Jews are safe, after all. Jews are strong! Jews are accepted! Maybe Israel isn’t, but Jews definitely are!

I want to believe this; I am white, after all. People can’t tell I’m Jewish. People don’t care that I’m Jewish. This is what I’ve always believed. I don’t wear any obvious religious garb or speak with an accent that singles me out or have a different skin color. There are so many people out there with bigger problems than my fear of antisemitism, right? Antisemitism is something of the past that only shaped my collective history and identity. Right?

Yet, it seems … this isn’t the case anymore.

I am a Zionist.

I will say it loud and clear, and I will never downplay my love for the country and my people. (As if people couldn’t tell this already.)

But, I am a two-state solution Zionist. I am a pro-peace Zionist. Yes. We exist. We are plentiful. We are possible. We are not a contradiction.

I do not support settlements. I do not support all of the policies Israel has taken on.

But I do, and always will, support a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Anyone who says that there should not be a Jewish state in the land of Israel is attacking the Jewish people – So many of whom are themselves out there, on the frontlines, supporting movements all the way from (believe it or not) BDS to grassroots peace organizations.

So when someone says something anti-Zionist, and a debate is opened, I will be one of the first to join. And I will listen to you! And I ask that you listen to me, too. Because I have made it my personal mission in the last few years, and for as long as I live, to achieve as broad an understanding as I can from as many perspectives as I can hear.

But, what happens when I feel completely discredited and estranged as a liberal Jew? As someone supportive of human rights and peace for all?

What happens when I suddenly realize that I am in a position of illegitimacy only because my people are seen – all of us are seen – as the occupier, as the colonizer? And this all happens in seconds, in the moment we chose to speak in support of our right to a safe Jewish homeland

Yeah, this isn’t anything new. We Jews are used to this kind of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, but now we are also being faced with neo-nazis and the like. And we are being shut down when we talk about antisemitism being a factor. We are told “don’t be so sensitive. This is just politics.” We are being attacked online by trolls, we are being accused of manipulating the media and manipulating politics and manipulating the entire freaking election.

“My” president shuts down reporters when asked about the rise of antisemitism. “My” president is denying that there is even an increase in antisemitism at all. “My” president is claiming he is the least antisemitic person there is and in doing so, proving that he might just be my greatest enemy.

Antisemitism is surging alarmingly. This is not an alternative fact. This is the truth. Look it up. Fact-check it if you’re still not convinced.

I don’t feel like I will have a place in America. I don’t know if I will have a place at McGill. And I don’t know if I even want to have my place in Israel if nothing changes. Even though I know my undying love for the country will never diminish.

And, I don’t even know if I should talk about this now, in light of everything else going on.

Because why should my problems as a Jew, be more important or greater than your problems which are so much worse?

Tell me. Please, I am begging you. Answer me this, because I already feel guilty for publishing this post.

No Matter What Happens: Love Trumps Hate

No matter what happens, America was already great. America was great and America needs us to continue to be great.

To anyone who voted for Trump, I want you to congratulate you. While he might not bring me what I want and what I feel our country needs, you have your own opinion. You made your choice. This was your civil liberty. This is your right.

As Evelyn Hall said: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” These are words I will always live by. Words my grandmother engrained in me.

This is the essence and very fabrication of our democracy.

And now, after almost two consecutive years outside of the country, I have discovered a beautiful irony inside me: I want to be back in America, home, and be active. Doing my part. Making my mark. Fighting for what I believe is right.

Unfortunately, this is not physically possible at the moment and so I watch from over the border in little old Canada as the Canadian immigration website crashes, American flags are being burned, white supremacists are vandalizing Phily with swastikas … and still, I feel there is space for unity somewhere among the fear and division. A call is being heard in the far off places of the Facebook void – we need to stand together. Now more than ever.

Yes, I am terrified. We all are. I am scared for all the strides we have only begun to take. The advancements in Black Lives Matter. Changing the way rape culture is being looked at. Taking in refugees whose very lives and humanity have been stolen. Equal pay. Equal representation. Combating bigotry all around. Universal health care. LGBTQ equality. The list goes on.

These are human rights! They should be guaranteed. They shouldn’t even need to require a war! And yet, in our society … they have.

And so we ask what now?

This question that is praying everyone’s mind.

And the more I hear it, the more I think … the more scared I become. But also the more resolved I become to make sure we never reach the point my imagination is carrying me. We have a job to stand strong and together. We have a job to ‘go high when they go low.’ Because we know, they will go low compared to our values.

We are stronger together and we have proved that together reaches all the way across the country and back! From celebrities to our neighbors. We need to stand up for minorities. We need to stand up for human rights. We need to stand for freedom and democracy.

This is the call everyone is hearing. We are seeing it unfold as the protests are hitting the cities! And if you are not hearing it yet, keep your ears open! It is beginning and if we can find a way to include even those we don’t see eye to eye with – ALL THE BETTER.

We need to remember, this country was never bad.

Our country has always been strong. We have ups and downs like any other, but we have shown ourselves that we can bounce back from anything.

And I need to remind myself, that just because this day has resolved me to devastation and tears more times in the past twenty-four hours than I care to admit, there is half of our country rejoicing.

I do not mean this in a bad way. There are genuinely millions of people out there who feel Donald Trump will save them. And while I will never agree, I must respect this. Because, no matter what happens, I do believe that Donald Trump must the become president. (maybe he will not be my president and maybe he will get impeached … but that is a different story)

But if or when we see certain groups using Trump’s rhetoric to justify terrorism – because that is how I view what has been happening, racists acts of terrorism targeting marginalized, minority groups – when this happens, it is our right to stand together and hold Trump accountable.

Not just our right, this is our duty!

We must hold Trump accountable to our pillars and foundations of democracy.

Let’s hope this won’t be necessary, but this election was never about trust and placing our faith blindly in a candidate. This election was about action and fighting our battles as a unified movement made up of passionate individuals. This election was only the beginning of our revolution.

It did not end with Bernie. It will not end with Hilary. And it will most definitely not end with the burning of American flags.

Our revolution will end with a progressed America. Because, while there will always be room for improvement, America was already great. And she does not need one person to make her great in “his image.”

So no matter what, remember that we have been entrusted with our own humanity. And we are the future. Don’t follow me to Canada, stay.

Help me fight for true democracy.

Jazlyn

When Fear Is Strong

This is for the Jabara Family – I am so deeply sorry for your loss.

Unfortunately … it seems that we have come to a time in our story, our collective story, that I know we will not be able to look back upon fondly. What happens when we can never learn from our mistakes and we can never see the signs that are pounding into us?

This past Friday, a man was murdered.

He was murdered by a man who is  deadly to every person out there no matter your skin tone, religion, or sexuality.

The victim, Khalid Jabara, was a Lebanese Christian whose family immigrated to the United States a while ago.

His murderer believed he was a “dirty Arab.” He harassed and maimed the Jabara family for a long time prior to Khalid’s killing.

You can insert in any other word here. Dirty Arab. Dirty Jew.

Sound familiar?

We have seen this time and again. We know what these symptoms are telling us. And yet, we remain ignorant, blind. And while I was thinking and thinking, my heart hurting for this family who just wants peace and a home, like anyone else, I came to such a sick and obvious revelation.

In my brain, for such a long time, I have believed that if a Jew could speak out about the atrocities that are going on right now – particularly those aimed against Muslims – something about the whole Holocaust “we’ve been there before” and that tiny feud between the Arabs and Jews would just make people see sense and realize that they needed to stop before we enter yet another Holocaust. I don’t know why, but I truly believed people would see sense. After all, no one wants to go back to the times of Hitler.

But now, I’ve realized how naïve I was. This person, someone who could shoot a man for the reasons he had, will never listen to sense. Not from a Jew, not from an Atheist. Not from a white person and not from a Latino. No. People who do stuff like this are only run by fear.

Fear that certain politicians are capitalizing on.

I have never been one to try and make people believe a certain way over another, but people – I beg you. Who knows what could happen if we enter into a world run solely by this fear.

There is now one less soul in this world because of a hate crime. It is as simple as that.

A crime fueled by hate.

What will happen when we have politicians urging Muslims to be “discreet,” banning burkinis – full burkas in some public places, even – and so much more? All over the world we are seeing these things happening. And these changes scare me more than anything else out there.

The irony is, this is all probably helping our “enemy” more than harming it.

I know what it feels like to not feel safe wearing Jewish items, to not feel able to act and simply be Jewish. I know how it feels – and I am always quick to say I have never truly experienced anti-Semitism.

So my heart hurts, because of all the children who are watching our actions – and learning.

Because of how I feel powerless to help.

Because of how all this injustice seems to have no end.

I don’t know what to say anymore. And I wish I could extend my hand through this blog and that it will somehow reach the Jabara family and provide all the support and love in the world. To let them know that they are never alone.

We, as a single people of the world, need to fight and stand up to this injustice that only continues to worsen day by day. And we need to think about what kind of world we want to move forward into.

Fear is strong – I know, I am an eighteen year old girl about to start the rest of her life. But I believe that we can be stronger.

Here is the link to the information regarding Khalid Jabara’s death: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/16/us/tulsa-arab-american-shooting-trnd/index.html

Beautifully Complex and Frustrating

Well, I’m coming home in about a week.

Don’t have too much to say at the moment.

It ended well after we our final week long trip together in Jerusalem finished: We had good goodbyes. Lots of summarizings of the year. Last moments of bonding. Tons of crying.

The connections are strong. Right now, they almost feel alive and breathing. Tangible.

Not to be cliché …

I hope that my friends, here, find ways to continue seeing each other, despite their drafting into the army and following their own separate paths inside. And I hope, when the opportunities present themselves, that the other internationals and I find ways to easily reconnect with each other and with our Israelis.

A word we liked to use here was “process.” The process that each one of us went through over the year. How we changed and how we grew. And I think that this process I underwent is one of the most precious gifts I could be taking home with me from this year. Something that is going to have to follow me wherever I go and with whatever I decide to do. I didn’t see my process happen. And I don’t see how I am different from the beginning. But I witnessed others’ and I see the beauty of both who they were and who they became. These others have said the same to me. So, I really hope that this gift does stay with me and I don’t loose who I am. That, in my next adventures, I can continue to carve this path onward and upward.

I do not know what will become of this blog when I return. America just doesn’t seem exciting enough to me to document. Life there is my normal life from nefore this year. I will not be able to do work with Asylum Seekers or be living in an emmersive environment of a completely different culture. Canada, where I will be attending university, isn’t so far off from America, either. (Sorry to all my Canadian friends out there. Your country is still amazing.) And university is just university. Almost every 18-plus year-old in the world goes through this experience. I will always have things to say and share. Opinions and thoughts that I have developed and crafted. But I simply don’t know yet if I will feel like they will be important enough to share with the world.

So for all of those who stayed with me the whole way, thank you – for now, at least – for experiencing this part of my special year with me. Even if it was only for one or two readings here or there. These blog posts have documented the most formative year of my life yet. And it was a great ride. And maybe there will be more moments to come, who’s to say. Like everything else, I will wait and see.

In the meantime, I will be enjoying my last week in Israel. Traveling the country with friends, visiting other friends and family for the last times, and just simply getting my fill of this hot, humid, and beautifully complex and frustrating place.

And So the End Begins

Tonight is my last night in my apartment.

I didn’t really see it coming. No one from my program really celebrated our last night together.

Like…I knew this was coming, but I didn’t expect it to happen today.

It kind of just happened. The end. We haven’t even really talked about it much, or at all. It’s one in the morning, and I only just realized that its my last night in the apartment. I think an hour ago.

I don’t exactly know how I am supposed to feel. It has been a hard couple of last weeks with some amazing, insanely meaningful moments. It has been one summary after another. One closing discussion leading into the next. One more moment where I realized just moments after it happened, that that might have been the very last time I am able to do this.

And it hurts. It hurts so bad.

I said goodbye to my kids in my moadonit, today. And my heart is truly broken. Those kids were one of the most important parts in my year. I walked a group of the kids home afterwords, because they lived close to my apartment, and bought them all ice cream. I didn’t realize until after the ice cream choosing chaos ended how it was my last time with these kids. And next year, they will get someone else. Another American on Bina Gap Year. Because that is how life works.

I know I sat here a year ago, telling myself to enjoy every moment – because the end of the year will be here before I know it … and here I am, wondering if I succeeded.

A drawback of not fully understanding Hebrew is that everything I am experiencing seems like it is behind some sort of screen. I feel slow and sluggish. And that I only got half of what was said. So when we had our ending ceremony or our last classes or even the last volunteering time, I felt like it came so suddenly and had no buildup. Almost like its not a big deal.

It is a big deal.

Either way, a year later, I find myself back where I started. At one in the morning, a week before my return to Saratoga or the start of the rest of my life – apprehensive. I do not know what is going to come next. I do not know what I actually want to do in university and I am so scared about loosing my relationships with the amazing people I have met this year.

I know I will figure everything out,  but I cannot help but to have all the ideas we never did and all the last things I wanted to do one more time floating in my head. And I hope this does not turn into regret. So, in times like these, I think the best comfort I  can hope for right now is that my memories will be of all the best times I had this year. And that I continue to grab as many moments now as I can.

So today is my last night in my apartment. And I am celebrating it. My way. Know that this year was formative and important. And every moment is influencial for me. Despite the barriers I have.

Thank you.

Time Is Built by All the Many Moments

I could talk about a lot right now.

I could talk about how I am building a library for Asylum Seekers who are being detained at the Holot detention center that is pretty questionably legal through international law. I could talk about how I just returned from a three day navigation/army trip meant to prepare the Israelis for their upcoming recruitments. I could talk about how I have been struggling with my body image. I could talk about the latest funny thing my kids in my volunteering have done (one of them thinks she’s coming to Artzot HaBrit (US in Hebrew) with me). I could talk about how much my friends here mean to me. How lost I would be without them. I could talk about everything I have learned about myself and life and what I want to do.

I could talk and talk and talk. (What’s new?)

But I have about a month left. There are now only three Americans left as two of them left early to work before college. Everyone in my program is starting to get nostalgic. We are all going around saying “Hey…remember the time when – ” fill in memory there. It’s like we can’t quite process that we have only been here a year when it feels like a lifetime. That’s how I feel at least.

We are at a point where everyone is fed up and wants to leave and never look back, yet we also never want to close our eyes.

The time has passed in a blink of an eye and everything I want to do and savor and laugh about could truly pass me by.

This year hasn’t been easy. It has been lonely and challenging. I went from loving every small thing about what I was doing and where I am to questioning everything, including my own purpose. Perhaps like a true Jew, or maybe I just became more cynical. I do not know.

But I do know that on the last day of the trip, after a long day of running – 8 km – whilst carrying two of our friends on stretchers, who needed help finishing, and then doing our last navigation in a city, like mini soldiers, quiet and stealthy (OK. Maybe not so quiet and stealthy, but you get the idea!), I was exhausted and energized. From all the mental and physical exhertion and the feeling of being one solidified group. And then, on the train I broke down.

I wrote a post a while ago about my reality. And how my reality is just being split into two and I never know what is real. The one I have on Saratoga Lake and the one I now have in South Tel Aviv.

I think, this year, my reality was everything I could have hoped for. I have direction for college. Real life experience. I pretty much learned a new language in a year. And so much more.

And next year, I am sure that I will discover another reality. I think I have it in my mind that I can only have one reality. That if I have many, they all must mesh perfectly. But I think I am realizing now that this does not have to be the case.

So yeah, I can talk a lot. I can tell you about how I did a business deal with the Hebrew School I go to, Ulpan Bayit, to make the lessons more affordable. I could tell you about how right now I am on a bus heading off to the West Bank to learn about their situation and culture and them as a people in general. I could talk about how excited I am for the Tel Aviv Pride Parade. I could say that I am scared for my friends to go to the army. I could tell you about all the many random acts of kindness I have experienced in this country from people of all backgrounds. I could talk about how messed up the problems are here. I could tell you about how absolutely everything I do is in a language I do not fully understand. I could tell you about how I am so thankful for my eighth grade science teacher’s love of rocks and topography because it helped me with my navigation trip that just finished. I can talk about how I can speak French here way more than I could in Saratoga. Or I could simply talk about how beautiful this place is.

I can talk. And talk. And talk.

But I think I want to save the nostalgia for when I come back home and just live in the few moments I have left.