By Tahir Temple, University of Texas at Austin
Going to Israel by way of The David Project was life-changing. There aren’t words to describe the people, the experiences, and the places I saw during my trip. Most importantly, before going to Israel, I understood that I had a purpose in the world, but I never knew how or when I would realize it. I feel as though this trip has called me to be part of something bigger than myself. The person who I was when I arrived in Israel is not the same person who has returned to campus.
I stepped on to the airplane heading to Israel thinking, “How can I, an African American male from the United States, possibly connect to Israel?“
Before going to Israel, prior experience made me think that I had to represent my community of color, because many countries didn’t have interactions with people of my color as abundantly as in the US and in other parts of the world. And prior to my arrival I thought Israel was solely Jew-inhabited, the way media portrays stereotypical Jewish people. But one of the first people I met happened to be an Ethiopian Jew, one of many living in Israel. She was a minority, and her and her community struggled with stereotypes and discrimination they way any minority person in any situation would. But she wouldn’t let that stop her from running a successful Youth Village intended to help at-risk youth thrive. I came to find out there are Arabs, Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and more, many of which live in coexistence with one another and are making immense strides for their communities. Already I knew I came with quite a number of misconceptions and that there were a lot more similarities than I imagined.
There was so much that complemented and contrasted in the great country of Israel. Muslims and Christians practiced their faith in harmony with Jews and others. Communities coexisted socially and economically, but there were also communities where information, education, living quarters, and political stances were separate and taught differently. There were Arabs and Jews working side by side to innovate and grow startups, to volunteer their time and resources to help individuals, regardless of their background, in hospitals and NGOs. I also observed Palestinian refugee camps, the borders dividing West Bank, and heard first-hand from leaders of many different communities involved in Israel’s culture and conflict. I visited the Ziv Hospital in Tzfat where we met doctors who treat Syrian refugees from across the border, injured from the civil war conflict. I met with individuals who were and are personally affected by the conflict in Gaza. I witnessed so much, and indeed it was only of glimpse of everything going on.
There is no black and white in Israel. Things were indeed at least 100 shades of grey. And while in this holy land conflict and strife unfortunately exists, there are individuals continually striving to make a difference in their communities.
Let me give an example:
During one of our speaker sessions with community leaders in Israel, I listened to a leader of the the LGBT task force talk about her story, and how she has been fighting for equality in her community, but has recognized the need to go beyond LGBT and fight for all human rights. Because at the end of the day your community’s success is just a platform to help support other communities and their endeavor to make the same progress. It’s not about being comfortable in your own accomplishments, but utilizing your advancements and your position to help others.
And this touched me. Because you could say I’m living all right. I haven’t had an encounter with the police in a while. I have food on the table and a roof over my head. My parents provided everything I needed so I could stay out of the streets, go to college and not become a statistic.
I’ve been comfortable, in short.
Still, I know I’ve been impressed with the desire to want to help people, to shape the understanding of those with the power to make a difference. However, I have been quiet in my ability to make an impact because I believe I have been “comfortable” in my situation. But The David Project Israel Uncovered trip opened my eyes to the beauty and the ugly, what occurs from when communities understand one another and learn to coexist, as well as what happens when people refuse to communicate and internalize others’ perspectives.
I've readily placed myself into the positions of receiving information, but never thought of voicing what I believed. Maybe now it's about using my voice to empower those both inside and outside my community. Needless to say I have experienced through this trip, an eye-opening realization, that my purpose is quite beyond me.
A sincere thank you to those who provided me with the opportunity to discover this and for those who journeyed step by step with me