MIRI WEXLER, a Jewish American from Los Angeles, volunteered at Hand in Hand's Jerusalem campus during the 2004-2005 school year. The following is excerpted from a letter she wrote.
My Complex Relationship with Israel.
I am writing from my favorite café in Los Angeles. It is the same café where I wrote my essay for the fellowship I received to come to Israel this past year. I remember stating that my fellowship goal was to deepen my understanding of Israeli/Palestinian society and to become a better educator. As I look around this café, which has remained the same, I realize how much I have grown and evolved this year because of my time with all of you in Jerusalem.
When I met with Josie in August, she told me that I should expect to have a deep and rewarding experience at the school. It is only now, a few weeks removed from my experiences with you, that I understand what she meant. When I think about the poems that Avery and Yaeli wrote, the complex conversations between Noa and Basel, time in Nadia's home with her family, teaching English to Engi and learning a bit of Arabic from her, and walking with Areej through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, I realize how much you impacted my year. You didn't treat me like a "volunteer." You welcomed me into the community as a colleague, and I am extremely appreciative.
My relationship to the state of Israel is so complex. I was educated to believe in an idyllic country that could do no harm. Once I started digging deeper, below the surface of the romanticized notions I had been taught in school, I had to negotiate between many tensions. How could I love a country that is structured to give preferential treatment to one sector of society?
I haven't resolved any of these issues. I doubt any of us have. I can confidently say, though, that the community you have created motivates me to believe that change is possible.
People often ask me how the Jewish and Arab populations interact with one another in the school environment. Experiencing Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), and Naqba (Arabic term for catastrophe) deepened my understanding of the challenges the school community faces. None of you claim to have solutions, and you are willing to expose your struggles and vulnerabilities. I think this is the beauty of the community.
What is glaringly evident throughout the school is the strong desire to learn from one another, a commitment to tolerance, and a sense of urgency to coexist. The ways in which this translates to the students' interactions amazes me. They have a skill set and working vocabulary with which to interact. They are not scared of differences; rather they approach "the other" with curiosity and admiration. They are critical and analytical thinkers. They are sensitive to societal nuances and can articulate their thoughts in a brilliant manner. You have all provided me with a deeper lens through which to understand Jerusalem and Israeli/Palestinian society. You gave me a home and community this year. You helped me grow as an educator, because you strengthened my understanding of bilingual and bicultural education.
Although I am not there with you right now, I am committed to the future of the school and plan to volunteer with the organization here in the States. I look forward to coming back and visiting next year, and to possibly working together again in the future.
I miss you all.