Sunday is the beginning of the work week here in Israel, and even though we’re still quarantined, there was no exception– there were Zoom meetings to attend! All told, there were about five hours of Zoom spread over our three meetings today. It was interesting… and exhausting.
Our first meeting was about Israeli culture. It was honestly pretty odd, because the person leading the lecture said there was no real social hierarchy in Israel, which is just blatantly untrue. Israel has a whole wall marking the barrier between those in the higher ranked groups and those in the lower groups. From there, I have to admit, I tuned out a bit– I wasn’t really interested in giving my attention to something so completely unfounded.
Our next meeting was about the effects of culture on Israeli food, and vice versa. Our speaker was Noa Berger, a PhD candidate whose research centers around food anthropology. She talked about how Israeli cuisine has evolved over time as the Jewish population in Israel has evolved over time, and as Israel has expanded it’s infrastructure to create jobs and homes and provide resources for it’s Jewish population. She explained that between ghettoization and kosher laws in Ashkenazi countries, Israeli food was very bland when the country was founded, but as Yemeni, Ethiopian, and other Mizrahi and Safardic Jews made their way to Israel and younger generations grew more open to their ways of cooking (or appropriated them, I’m not sure and I don’t know enough to say but I want to bring up the possibility), Israeli food took on more spices and flavor– Za’atar, for instance, has historical significance for Palestinians, and was once mainly used by Arab bakeries. Now, it is a staple seasoning in Israeli food (they sell it in the spice aisle or the kosher aisle in the states– I highly recommend sprinkling some over hummus or using it to season chicken).
Of course, since we spent an hour and a half discussing Israeli food, it was only natural to get to enjoy some– and the program surprised us with a falafel delivery!
Our final Zoom meeting was especially compelling– it was about the treatment and culture of people at the “periphery” of Israeli cities. By “periphery,” our speaker, Guy Abutbul, meant socioeconomic periphery– marginalized groups and the areas in which they lived. He spoke about how difficult it could be to be a person of color in Israel, even if one was Jewish, and despite the fact that there are more Mizrahi Jews and other Jews of color than there are white Ashkenazi Jews. He told us about how Israelis in the “periphery” were more likely to have PTSD or to not complete high school, how they had reduced access to important resources such as medical care, the impact these factors as well as other diminished resources had on the psyches of children and adults alike, and how completely deliberate these outcomes were, as the oppression of these groups on the “periphery” left finances, safety, and resources for the Ashkenazi Jews in the city. He showed us this music video demonstrating the resilience of Jews of color.
As much as I knew this, it still hurt to hear about ways in which the place I’d been told growing up was a haven for all Jews was failing so many in it’s population. I know this must have been inciting for my peers, as there were many questions and much debate about whether or not the oppression of Jews of color was intentional (it was) and/or reparable (it is reparable, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, because… capitalism and racism. Just like at home!)
More than anything, it made me think about how I want to help my students elevate their confidence and self-esteem as I enter their classroom. I’m a guest. I’m so lucky to be invited into their classroom. How can I be not only a teaching resource, but a source of comfort and confidence? I am thinking about having my students start our class by reciting the following ditty from The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen:
Fact one: You are smart. Fact two: You can get it. Fact three: You belong. So four: Don’t forget it!
I’m heading to bed now, and thinking about how I can be intentional about checking my privilege and making my English class a bright space for my students. While I do that, check out my art page— I painted some new little guys over Shabbat yesterday. More, soon.