Laura Scherb is a junior professional writing and ethics, history, and public policy major at Carnegie Mellon University. She works on campus as a first-year resident assistant, the managing editor of The Tartan newspaper, and the president and co-founder of CMU in Haiti, a service organization that travels annually to Haiti. She is pictured at left with Evan Wineland from CMU and children from the Bialik-Rogozin School in South Tel Aviv. Before traveling to Israel, I knew nothing about it. In an attempt to get some background information, I went Wikipedia page hopping. It was overwhelming. Pages upon pages of biblical history, background on the struggle of the Jewish people, the best places to go in Tel Aviv, the culinary trends I was about to experience. I surfaced from my research and was less certain than before about what I was about to witness.
When I hear about Israel on the news, it is always in reference to the conflict with Palestine. From my friends' FaceBook posts to CNN alerts, it's all about war and opinions and who did what wrong and how they should be punished. It's loud, overwhelming, and, as I've learned so far this week, totally overpowering.
Did you know that Israel has one of the most gay friendly cities in the world, along with a huge gay pride parade in Tel Aviv? Did you know that Israel has the third most amount of companies per country on NASDAQ in the world, trailing behind only the U.S. and Canada? Or that they are able to recycle a whopping 80% of their water to conserve the environment?
It's such a shame that so many valuable things are hidden from sight of the world as we all focus instead on a conflict that, though it does shape Israel's history, should not define the country and the Israeli people. Israel is truly a profoundly beautiful country. They have ancient ruins next to sharp, modern architecture, and cats crawling all over the place and beaches that put California to shame, while a symphony of Muslim prayer calls, church bells, and bouncing club music resounds through the air. It's a marriage of not just two worlds but many, and it is a place way more morkav (complex) than possible to understand in one trip.
It's a shame that we don't know the beautiful things, and moreover, it is tragic that we are ignorant to some of the other struggles occurring within the country. We visited the Bialik-Rogozin School in Southern Tel Aviv, truly off the beaten path. There we learned about the vast numbers of immigrants to Israel who struggle to spend their three month visas making money to support their families, and their children, thrust into a foreign environment and struggling to learn what they can while they can. The next day, we talked with an Israeli Arab who faces the consequences of having an Israeli father and a Palestinian mother constantly, in racism and discrimination.
This country is so much more than we know. I feel as though I've uncovered what I thought was going to be one diamond only to find a cave full of gems to discover and learn from. I'm learning to look beyond the face value of a place or a person and let them show you their full, unapologetic story. I'm discovering that nothing is simple and I'm getting involved in conversations I never thought possible. And I can't wait to uncover more of this country.