blogitto ergo sum

October 13, 2014

#222 – where your classroom is a country

Filed under: Israel,life matters,Opinionated,that Jewish thing,US life — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:03
Tags: , , ,

Election2014On November 2nd, I’ll practice my civic right, and vote in the 2014 Interim Election. My first! Staring at all the material I need to read to ensure I vote as I should, I realize how different is this democracy, compared to the one I grew up in. Living here for as long as I have, passing the citizenship interview/test, getting sworn in, getting a 2nd blue passport – all these steps were only the beginning. There’s more to US citizenship. And you don’t learn about it, unless you are one, unless you are totally in.

Many-many years ago, i was the [wait for it] Head Counselor of the Tel Aviv University Overseas Student Program [TAU OSP]. Breathe. It was indeed a very long title.  It was my first exposure and intense interaction with Native Americans [pun intended] excluding TV. American students, as opposed to Mexican, Canadian, and the rest of the world students, were the dominant majority [~85-90%] of the program. At that point in time, they were the US for me.

Whether it was getting them to hike to the top of Masada pre-dawn via the Snake Path to see the sunrise from the top, sharing an ambulance ride with a student that tried to commit suicide, or finding a way to tell an excited student that the nice Jewish boy she wants to introduce to her parents when they visit, is indeed very nice, but not at all Jewish, were but a few of my memorable interactions. The challenge of explaining that caring the water jerrycan is a team responsibility to students who didn’t go to Young Judaea or Habonim Dror. It was interesting. Given that I have had yet to visit the US, those interactions and experiences were the building blocks of my American perspective.

Masada Snake Path

It wasn’t until I started visiting the US on a regular basis [while living in Canada], and later living here, that I realized how distorted one’s perception may be, when it is based on a skewed sample, in a very specific setting. You can’t really learn a country or people from afar.  I know how wrong, how far off I was.

[Hold that thought]

Contradictory to Israel’s pathetic PR track record, the OSP had a brilliant one.

“Where Your Classroom is a Country”

TAU OSPSimply brilliant. Hey, I didn’t coin it. Every product / product marketing manager would be proud to have such a befitting slogan.

Every [American] student got a T-shirt with this slogan, before leaving for Israel. Americans dig marketing better than most.

In my latest cleanup & declutter [part #∞], I found the Canadian version that I produced when running the Canadian office, [and recognizing that Canada is so “not the same” [as the US]. Tomorrow, the shirts will be on their way to those who were quick to claim them.

[Keep on holding to that thought]

Between the High Holidays and the recent war, now less interesting since we got ISIS to feed the media, the last couple of months included a lot of, “So what is it with Israel? Can you please explain the war? What is going on? Who & What should I believe?”

israel facesI greatly appreciate everyone who tries to understand, who is honest enough to admit that s/he isn’t sure what’s going on in that troubled region. I respect anyone who wonders what’s behind rating-driven media coverage, money, and political agendas. I try to answer, share, and be as objective as I can. But, to really understand Israel, let alone the overall Middle East mess, you need to take yourself to the class… We – Israelis [in and outside Israel] – are a complicated bunch, with contradictions and inconsistencies being our normal. Our normal includes terrorism, religious fanaticism, and bleeding edge technology. It doesn’t include camels though. We, too, think of them as an attraction. My point? Israel’s normal is too often another’s ‘different.’

For example…

Israel is surrounded by countries that, generally speaking, wish it didn’t exist. Countries, one should point out, that when it comes to access to education & technology, personal freedom, and all other 21st century western world givens, are behind, and not necessarily interested in catching up. Israel pockets of archaic life styles are the whole garment in most of its Muslim neighbors.

Little in common with the neighbors is an understatement – check!

Known and respected for innovation in science, technology, medicine & pharmaceuticals, agriculture… with Israelis present, holding positions, sharing, partnering in most research and industries that advance us all. Yet, at the same time, thought of as a remote unstable desert somewhere.

The only Jewish state, with a minority population that can hardly be thought of as a minority. Home for immigrants, legal or not, from every corner of the world, only 66 years old, yet carries the weight of thousands of years of history. It’s the one place important to three religions that other than monotheism, agree on very little, though share a lot. Actually, make it four. The Baha’i faith, also monotheistic, has two of its most important shrines in Israel. This religious significance leads to a constant tension, not to say conflict, between the desire to be normal, and the push to be a symbol. Fundamentalists, Christians or Muslim, have a very clear view of what Israel should be… The Jewish fundamentalists have their vision too. Neither option will maintain an Israel I would ever consider living in. One or two of the options may change its name. All options will treat women as less than equal to men. The other abnormal for a western country is the unbridgeable gap, tension, and conflict between the desire to live in peace and the critical expensive battle for survival, living surrounded by hate, terrorism, and all too often wars.

You may wonder how this is all connected.  It’s about the Shoes, of course. Between taking a little pride in the brand of Katniss’ shoes and realizing that the election’s “study requirements” demonstrated to me that the country is a classroom… for the curious student.

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