A while back I was contacted by a woman called Michal who suggested that we open a section on our website where people can share their personal stories of connections and we’d do this in both Hebrew and Arabic. A wonderful initiative that has already given us this very humane post about relationships and connections.
We’ll begin with M.’s story: a story of connections
For many years I’ve searched for ways to connect with the Arabs living amongst us in Israel. Every so often I tried a different method: at first, I was a councilor for a program advancing introductory meetings between students from Jewish and Arab schools, and I experienced both the opportunities that arose from the meetings along with the hardships. Afterwards for a few years, I was part of a group of Jews and Arabs who held sharing circles, meditation and activity initiatives…these groups are oftentimes called conflict groups, attempting to observe the conflict, recognize it and learn how to live with it.
After a while I started to feel uncomfortable belonging to an identity group, as if I’m an emissary of a group directive versus another identity group with different dictates. I found it hard to encompass the conflict between us. Following a week-long workshop, I felt like this chapter of my life was over, and left. However, I continued to search for a way to connect and partner that would better fit me. When I retired, I had time to think and find the right activity for me, and I did. I chose to offer help to Arab students in the Academia. I felt that the system was inherently unequal, just by having Arab students studying in Hebrew. I found the individual relationships, person-to-person, face-to-face at my home, to be significant for me. The rumor spread amongst students, and my collaborators were mainly women, mostly studying for their masters’ degrees, from different places and different academic institutions.
I started with a tentative exploration and continued confidently and with a feeling of deep acquaintance, trust and long-term friendship. In my initiative of individually volunteering for the past four years, a network of personal and warm relationships with dozens of people was born.
R.’s story: Hebrew, Arabic and everything in between
My story started about two years ago, after completing my bachelor’s at an Arab college, I considered continuing for my master’s at a Hebrew-language college. I really wanted to try it but was also afraid that it would be too hard for me. Despite my worries, I went for an interview at Oranim College, and was accepted. During my first weeks I felt that I was doing ok with the language, but when we started getting more successive assignments, I understood that the requirements were high for me and I started doubting if I could handle it. One of the mothers at my child’s preschool told me that there was someone who was volunteering to help Arab students and lives close to Oranim and gave me her phone number. I kept the contact information but didn’t call. As the load got heavier and started to weigh on me, I was regretting my decision to study for my master’s, isn’t a bachelor’s degree enough? I work and have two small children at home, and how could I fulfill all the requirements. When I started working on my seminar paper, at the stage of gathering material for the l the literature review, my stress increased, and I became very worried. I kept thinking who could I go to for help? And then remembered the contact information of someone who volunteers to help, and called…we set up a meeting at her house, and I was really frightened, how do I go to an unfamiliar house, at an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar woman? I took my husband along with me and we went. We got there and were welcomed with a warm handshake and even removed our shoes and felt safe…we sat at the table and had a calm pleasant conversation and organized how we would work together. I found it hard to accept that this was all voluntary, as this is not an accepted norm in Arab society, but I got used to that too…
Today, after working together for almost two years, and anticipating the end of my studies in the not too distant future, I feel that I’ve acquired tools for academic work – searching for resources, summarizing them, integrating articles according to their subjects, editing in MS Word with colorful markers…I feel like I found someone who would be by my side and support me, as if I now have a tool box. I don’t think that any academic institution in the world gives these types of tools. I’m learning from my own personal life experience, not just academic learning. I’m very grateful for this relationship and the support it offers.
Y’s story: a story of inter-family relationships
We live in a settlement close to Nazareth. My 74-year-old father was a contractor 20 years ago and worked in Jewish settlements in the Jezreel Valley. The story started 40 years ago, when he worked for a family in the area. The family had two daughters around the ages of 10-11, I was a young girl. The two families formed a close and long-term relationship, familial even, that included weekly visits at our house and acquaintance with the whole extended family.
I remember a few instances that demonstrate our deep mutual regard, trust and ties. Some had to do with our involvement in their lives, for example: when the father passed away the girls were still young, and their family chose my father to be their guardian alongside their mother in terms of counseling them about their future schooling and livelihood plans. When one of the girls got married, she chose my father to escort her down the aisle…
Other instances involved their involvement and support for us, for example: when our family was having internal difficulties between one of my brothers who wanted to take his own professional and economic path and my father, who wasn’t flexible and accepting of this move, being a very authoritative person and firm in the family traditional culture that gives the father figure a central role, it was the friendship with the Jewish family that did the trick. They could approach him directly, and knew to encourage in him wider flexibility and acceptance of his son’s independent style, and to our surprise, he listened. They were much more successful at it than we were.
The relationship continues to this day, the second generation continues to cultivate it, even if not as rigorously as before.
Please send stories to Michal who will upload them to the site, for details pleas click here.