Friday, June 21, 2013

Beauty in a Bunker

                                                            Beauty in a Bunker
            The percussion is the last sensation to hit when the lethal combination of fertilizer and sugar are housed in a cold steel casing and lobbed over to oblivious civilians. As the proportionately small nub on the end of this hunk of hate taps the firm surface of Gaza shrapnel and hundreds of nails slice through the air as the seemingly impenetrable steel sheathing is peeled like a banana by the ignition of two common house hold items. The final irony of these homemade missiles is that of their composition, inasmuch fertilizer is used to provide nourishment to sustain life and sugar is used to increase the enjoyment of consuming nutrition.
Though certainly this is no manner to be mocked, the people of Sderot, a small town next to the Gaza strip, still manage to tote a smile to rival that of any “privileged” American; this was in effect solidified during my visit to Sderot today. As I stood just outside a towering and fortified police station surrounded by ten thousand seemingly impenetrable bomb shelters for the proud and tenacious citizens of Sderot a woman leaned from her second story window and called out to my peers and I “Welcome to Israel!!”,my group then retorted with a prompt and equally enthusiastic “Toda!!” (the Hebrew word for thank you) while an old man rides by in a golf cart alongside a police officer who blows a kiss to our young tour guide. Inherently, the city of Sderot is inhabited by average, wholesome and welcoming human beings who wish for nothing more than peace and normality.
 Although, I was not surprised to find such vivacious humans in such oppressive circumstances in the nation of Israel; though my stay has been short I have discovered a reoccurring theme of tenacity, honor, dedication and brotherhood amongst all the Jews I have met. This is equally true for the children who live beneath these walls of fear; they must invent song and games to drown out the sounds of blasts and paint their shelters with colorful and friendly characters to attempt to have an enjoyable childhood. Sderot is deterred from practicing that which comes so natural to them and yet still continues to press for its right to do so, therefore this is the greatest modern representation of Jewish tenacity and honor that I can recollect. In this I bow to the people of Sderot and wish them a Shabbat equal to their tenacity and will to live uninterrupted. Shabbat Shalom my friends.

Sderot The Town That Became Superstar

Sderot The Town That Became Superstar

As the bus drove further and further away from Tel- Aviv, I felt this overwhelming feeling of awe. Looking at the countryside of Israel on one side of the bus and the coast on the other was a familiar route to me. Even thought I have been to Israel before I have never been to Sderot. I heard stories and seen the Israeli news stories, but I have never really seen the town itself.

Most people when they hear the name Sderot expect a town of ruin and ruble, but the truth is that it is a beautiful vibrant town. Most people don’t know that Sderot is located only 840 meters from the Gaza Strip, in the south of Israel and since Israel pulled out from the Gaza Strip in 2001 there have been thousands of bombs fired on this civilian town. With over 2,000 people in the town and twice as many bomb shelters, there are only a few signs that this town is constantly bombarded with bombs.

The individualized sirens, the bomb shelters at every turn, and the protected playground that has bomb shelters throughout the park. The mind set of the town of not wanting to give up their lives and their routine is so commendable, but it is also very difficult to handle. Watching films of little kindergartens dealing with the red alert bomb alarm was really eye opening. When I was 4 or 5 years old I didn’t have to deal with the constant threat of a bomb dropping on me multiple times a day. The worst part of the story is that these children will never know a world without war and bombing, in this world they were born into.

The Blue Star group standing in front of a bomb shelter shaped like a caterpillar at the protected play ground.  

- L.A.


三年前,以色列对于我来说只是一个神秘而又遥远的中东国家。 我所知道的关于以色列的所有信息都来至于新闻,几乎每一条关于以色列的新闻都离不开巴以冲突,恐怖袭击,军事战略等关键字眼。众所周知,以色列是中东第一经济和军事强国, 这更加让我对以色列充满了好奇心因为我非常想知道作为一个国土比新泽西州还小,又被敌国包围, 建国不久却多战多难的国家是如何让自己变得如此的强大的?尽管我对这个国度充满了好奇,但是却没有近距离学习和接触的机会。 然而近两年,通过我所在读的大学圣荷西州立大学(San Jose State University),我接触到了犹太学生会(Hillel of Silicon Valley), 并成为了那里的常客,我非常有幸的交到了很多犹太朋友 并了解到了很多关于犹太人的宗教,文化和习俗。通过了解和学习,我发现了中国人和犹太人有很多相似之处。比如说我们都曾遭受过法西斯主义的受害者;我们都有着坚韧不拔的品质和吃苦耐劳的精神;我们都是在40年代建立的国家并且发展迅速;我们都是当今世界局势不可或缺的有重量的大国之一。虽然中以建交才21年,但我们却一直有着良好的双边关系,中国曾经在二战期间帮助过以色列,而以色列是第一个承认中国的国家。也许这就是缘分吧,我有幸的参加了由犹太学生会承办的一个叫蓝色之心BlueStar的项目。这是一个让我无比兴奋的项目,还有什么比这种游学的方式亲自去以色列了解那里的风土人情和宗教文化更好的教育方式? 而且一切都还是公费的。这场旅途一路随行的不仅有来自旧金山湾区各个大学的同学,还有专业的记者帮助和训练我们如何提高我们的观察能力和写作能力。

今天是旅途的第三天,虽然每一天的行程都安排的紧紧的,但是每一项我都不想错过。第一天我们在阿姆斯特丹停顿了十多个小时,并参观了著名的安妮之家 Anne Frank House,坐观光车游览了市区,还顺便去了海边看看。 阿姆斯特丹的美丽就不用多说了,如果有机会的话我肯定还会再去的。对于我来说这一天最大的亮点是Ann Frank House, 之前读过很多关于犹太人大屠杀的书和纪录片,但是从来没去过真正他们生活过的地方。安妮之家是一个很独特的博物馆因为它不仅是二战期间安妮家人的藏身之处,更是安妮写下著名的日记的地方。这些日记反映了安妮都藏期间复杂的心理,而写作成为了她的慰籍,从她的日记可以看出她卓越的写作天赋,但是最后她却没能幸免于难。我对这个博物馆有着特别的感觉是因为我看过的两本书,《偷书贼》-<The Book Thief><Maus- a survivor’s tale> 都有描述写到当初许多遭到迫害的犹太人是如何躲在房子的暗格里生存的情节。不管是看书还是看纪录片还是实地参观,都让我无比难过。不仅为犹太人难过,也为死去的三十万南京同胞而难过。用安妮的一句比较激励的话作为第一天的结尾吧:我知道我需要什么,我有目标,我有自己的想法, 我有信仰的宗教,我还有一颗充满爱的心。(I know what I want, I have a goal, I have opinions, a religion, and love.)

第二天我们参观了特拉维夫的独立厅(Independence Hall)。 最让我印象深刻的就是讲解者给我们看了1909和现在的特拉维夫的对比照片,1909年的特拉维夫还是一片荒漠,而现在的特拉维夫却是一片繁荣与美丽。反过来看巴勒斯坦人干了些什么,同样的一百年来他们有进步吗,遇到困难了除了抱怨报复和搞恐怖袭击还干了什么?除了洗脑自己的下一代毁掉他们的童年还干了什么?有好好的建设自己的国家吗?看着人家拔地而起日益旺盛的城市就眼红了就不甘心了,就要把土地给夺回来了,如果当初自己不去袭击人家哪里来的难民?
说到这些问题让我想起了今天去以色列恐怖主义情报中心( Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)看到的关于巴勒斯坦的煽动性的录像。这段录像上一个非常可爱天真的加拿大籍的巴勒斯坦小孩在回答他爸爸的知识问答 问题是关于一些国家的首都是什么而当问到以色列时,这个小孩使劲的挥了挥手并带着天真不谙世事的口气说: “There is no Israel” 。看到这里我真的不仅替以色列遭遇恐怖袭击的群众难过更为巴勒斯坦儿童叹息,因为他们从小就接受着偏激,洗脑式的教育,过着自欺欺人的生活。就从这一点我很欣赏以色列人的聪明的做法,与其自欺欺人,洗脑下一代不如好好学习敌人的文化和思想,洞悉他们的一切才能做好抵抗的准备。用一句中国的成语来形容就是:知己知彼,百战不殆。这也正是以色列情报中心的宗旨。

English Version:

            Three years ago, as a Chinese who just arrived to America, Israel for me was just a mysterious and distant Middle Eastern county. All the information I had learned about Israel was from the news, and most news about Israel on the TV or in the newspaper involved acts of terrorism. As I have learned over the past 3 years,  Israel is the most outstanding country in Middle East in terms of its economy, democracy, education and military.  What makes me even more curious about Israel is how it not only survived but became powerful while it has been surrounded by enemies, having fought six wars after announced independence, and having suffered from countless terrorists’ attacks.
Although I was curious about this country, I never had a chance to learn about it; however, in the past 2 years, I found a great Jewish community called Hillel of Silicon Valley through San Jose State University. Soon after I learned that Hillel House was open and welcoming not only Jewish students but everyone; I became a frequent visitor there. I made a lot of Jewish friends and learned a lot about Judaism. I discovered there are many similarities between the Chinese and Jewish cultures. For instance, we both were victims of fascism, we both have a gritty quality and hard-working spirit, and we both announced independence in the 1940s. Although we didn't establish diplomatic relations until 1992, we have had good interactions. China has helped Israel during World War II, and Israel was the first country to recognize China.
This summer, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the BlueStar program. What could be better than a ten-day trip to Israel to reinforce first hand what I have learned about Israel as a secular democracy which is also the home of the Jewish religion, culture, and literature? A special aspect of the trip is that a professional journalist will assist and train us how to improve our observation and editorial skills during the trip.
Today is the third day of the journey, although every day has a lot of events and has been arranged tightly, I do not want to miss one moment. The first day we stopped in Amsterdam. We visited the famous "Anne Frank House", took a city view tour bus, and also walked along the port. For me, the highlight of the day was the Ann Frank House. I read a few books and documentaries about the Holocaust, but I had never been to a museum or place where Jewish people actually lived. "Anne Frank House" is a very unique museum not only because it is a place where Otto Frank’s family hid from persecution during World War II, it is where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary. The diary reveals Anne’s complex world she created  while  not being able to step one foot outside of the hidden room for almost two years. Her remarkable writing talent showed us how her life was so different from an ordinary one. It was tough for a 13-year-old girl who has to go through puberty in a dark jail cell, so she wrote, “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.”
 I had a special feeling attached with this museum because I read two books that described how Jewish people had to hide in many places in order to survive, and those parts of the stories touched me. Those two books I read are “The Book Thief” and “Maus- a survivor’s tale”, and I strongly recommend these books to all. Whenever reading a book or watching documentaries about the Holocaust, I would be so emotional and feel pain in my heart because I do not only feel sorry for the innocent Jewish people, but also can truly feel empathy for the Jews as the Chinese also suffered the death of 300,000 Nanjing compatriots who were massacred by Japanese during World War II. Although not by any means are the two equal, I am moved and can relate.  I want to end the first day with one of Anne's inspiring quotes: “I know what I want, I have a goal, I have opinions, a religion, and love."
The second day we visited Tel Aviv's Independence Hall. What impressed me was a set of comparison pictures of Tel Aviv in 1909 and 2012. Tel Aviv was just a desert when it was founded in 1909, but now Tel Aviv is a prosperous and beautiful modern city. This picture made me think about a question. Where were the Palestinians and isn't obvious from the barren landscape that they did not even know or care about this piece of land?  How could this land be considered “occupied” when Jewish settlers found this virgin land with no occupants?  Contrary to what the Palestinians have done over the same hundred years, did they build such an attractive city that has developed a unique style of combining a relaxed modern Mediterranean seaside town with an edgy urban vibe?  From my point of view, I did not hear anything other than terrorism attacks or related issues on the news about Palestinians.
Speaking of these issues today reminds me what I saw today during a tour of the Israel Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. On a YouTube video, a very cute naive Canadian Palestinian boy is memorizing the names of major countries’ capitals. When his father asked him about Israel, this boy waved his arms and talking with a strong tone: "There is no Israel". Instead of being angry, I feel sorry for the boy because he is not educated in a correct, healthy, and just way. He is trained to accept the lie, be brain washed, and grow up in a world of self-deception. After visiting the IICC, I think I found my answer to the question of why Israel won six wars right after the country just established. I would like to use a Chinese old saying to conclude: “Know yourself and know your enemy, you will win every war.” 

San Jose State University

Broken Hearts and Homes

      It is (hopefully) common knowledge that the southern frontier of Israel has been treated to a barrage of rockets originating from the Gaza Strip almost continuously since the early-mid 2000's. Most of the world knows this conflict via images on the television depicting paranoid journalists frantically recording Hamas rockets flying towards Israeli cities and towns along this part of the country. Originally for me, this was a war that existed in a distant part of the world that involved people that barely had any relevance to my own life in the United States. This reality would soon crash down during my trip to Israel, specifically in regards to a brief but memorable visit to the town of Sderot.
     A town that bordered an entity that was continuously hostile and would resort to any means to inflict maximum damage, Sderot was a city filled with people who literally faced death in the face every single day of their lives. To me that reality was impossible to comprehend or even fathom from a distance, as much as I tried to place myself in their situations mentally. Although I previously felt sympathy and grief for the people of Sderot, it was not until I was shown videos depicting children running away from incoming rockets and playgrounds designed to prevent children casualties did this reality really sink in for me. I have a little sister back home in California who attends public school and it would be unthinkable to fathom the idea that a place of learning and fun would be an unsafe place. These kids are peoples' siblings, cousins, neighbors, nieces/nephews, best friends, etc. and to even think of them as potential targets for militants and insurgents.
     I am an American gentile visiting the land of Israel, so it requires a bit of extra effort to connect with and relate to the plight Israeli Jews face every day. To combat this mental roadblock, recognizing shared values and similar situations have been crucial methods in my observations. My time in Sderot embodied this approach all too well, exposing me to lifeways that only seem alien due to context and giving me a glimpse of a reality that holds a personal grip on my heartstrings.


We've heard the story

We've heard the story of the oppressor and the victim—the hero and the villain. With each entity comes the perception of strength and vulnerability as well as greed and necessity. This is the way we hear about Eretz Yisrael from its critics. And yet, someone once told me that there is a multiplicity of narratives that exist within the Arab-Israeli conflict. While I've grown to recognize the complexities of what seems like an endless battle of finger-pointing and emotional distress with a large dose of mistrust and cultural differences, I have also realized what can be understood quite simply: the polarization of Israel as the "victimizer" is not only flawed in its representation—it is a falsified, blind accusation leaving Israel's history and the plight of the Jewish people in the dark altogether.

During the last two days, I have had the opportunity to learn about Israel at its most vulnerable and its strongest moments in history. From the Jewish people's fight for independence in 1948 when they traveled back to their ancient homeland, motivated by their undying desire to live collectively in peace, to the strength of the state that has grown over the years represented in the Meir Mait Intelligence and Terrorism Center, in which we see the Jewish state after it has emerged as one of the greatest defenders against terrorism in the world, I have really been able to see the Jewish state in its entirety. In the words of one of our guides today who led us through the Intelligence museum, what other country lives next to "both their neighbor and their enemy?" And how, given this clear vulnerability of the history of the Jewish people, who have been subject to terror in almost every region of the world, is this community still demonized as the 'oppressor'?  

In the midst of all chaos, these questions are answered and the most admirable aspects of Israel come to light, for example, the ways the people of this state have actively strived to maintain their honesty and humanity. And yet, what I admire most about Israel is a part of how its enemies seek to villainize the Jewish state. Despite its atrocities, it has conducted itself with both resilience and with poise. This is a reminder that the Jewish people's suffering has prepared them in a way so they shall never fall and its success makes the state continually unpopular. As I walked through the center, the names of all soldiers who actively died in the line of duty were engraved with only their name and the date they left our world—all genders, all people, all unanimously represented. This is the way Israel helps families remember their fallen brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncle and aunts on a domestic level. As I walked through their facility, their values of integrity, loyalty, and devotion were preserved and you could feel this through the stonewalls. Their synagogue, as the first room in the Commemorations Center, allowed for families to mourn, but also to find their hope again. When they were ready to move on, they could add the loved one's name and picture to a book after collecting all of their memories and filing them into a private room.

Their composure in the midst of this conflict, despite all the brutality they continue to face, is precisely what makes Israel a villain to its strongest critics. If one should only take the time to read Israel's history and understand the state in its context, she would find that Israel could not simply be deemed the villain. To the contrary, it cannot be put in either category, for a 'hero' does not humanize the people of the state of Israel in the way it deserves.