Monday, May 2, 2011

When the Country was Silent, by blogger of the month Talie Lewis

I am currently sitting in one of Beersheva's most lovely study spots. It’s called Cafe Gecko, and as a 
visitor recently pointed out, when you're here you really don't feel like you're in Israel, let alone Beersheva. It could be the dim, grungy lighting, tasteful and diverse mix of timeless American music, or the MSIH student discount. But there's just something about this place that brings out the "excited-to-study-in-a-productive-kind-of-way" part of me, which is good because we have a pathology exam on Wednesday.

Cafe Gecko
On a very different note...Today was Holocaust Memorial Day, not just in Israel but all around the world. Growing up, I attended many ceremonies honoring the memories of the millions of people killed in the Holocaust on this date of the Jewish calendar. One of the unique aspects of the ceremony I attended today on the main campus of Ben Gurion University, was the way it began. It did so with a siren that was sounded throughout the rest of the country at the same time. The siren rang for about a minute and half, maybe more. And during that time, there was complete silence. Not only do most people in Israel not talk during this time, they also stop whatever else they may be doing. Cars even stop in the middle of driving, both on small roads and large highways. Their drivers get out and just stand quietly. 

The view outside my apartment
I found the experience of standing in silence with thousands of people I could see in front of me and with millions of people around the rest of the country to be extremely meaningful. Like most people (I think), I have a difficult time being fully present in my experiences. But with this experience "I found myself becoming more present in daily time." (That line came from the recent post entitled "The Healer's Art," by fellow first year, Irene). I think there are two main reasons for that.  First, remembering that such horrible atrocities have happened in the past and thinking about those that are currently taking place, is a difficult mental and emotional place to bring other thoughts into. Second, I have now been in Israel for almost 10 months and during that time, I have had some conversations and heard many comments that make me feel disconnected with many Israelis. While there are certainly many aspects of Israeli society that are incredibly warm, I think I feel that feeling mostly because Israeli society can also, often feel harsh and polarized.

The crowd gathering before the Holocaust
Memorial Ceremony
We actually discussed this very idea in our Anthropology class a few months ago. We were looking at an article entitled "Talking Straight," the focus of which was on the Hebrew word "Dugri" (which can be translated as "straightforwardly"). If I remember correctly (and it's very possible I don't), the author, Tamar Katriel, used this word to describe Israeli culture and speech. She explained that Israeli culture and the Hebrew language were developed mostly by immigrants who occupied vulnerable and weak positions in the places from which they came (many came from countries affected by the Holocaust). So this new land, and everything that went along with it, was their chance to live their lives strongly and firmly. That approach seems to express itself in many different ways, one of which is the black and white worldview that I see among many Israelis (that is not a value judgment, but rather, an observation). In my experience, the concept of grey-ness doesn't really exist in many Israeli spaces. I have found that many Israelis can't relate to it, which has been a hard thing for me to navigate because as my writing might reflect, I am quite a fan of grey-ness and the awareness and sensitivity that I think both produce and come out of it. The reason I bring this up in the context of what I experienced today, is that I felt a sense of unity that I don’t always feel, during those moments, which were filled with intentional silence for the purpose of thinking about an unfathomable amount of souls killed by profound hate. During those moments, I was very much present, as I stood and remembered silently, alongside millions.

Have a good and meaningful day. - Talie Lewis