By: Jordy Feffer, San Diego, CA – May 23, 2018
I was raised from a young age to believe that Israel is my second home. I went to a Jewish preschool and was somewhat active in my synagogue through the time of my Bat Mitzvah. I didn’t know anything about the conflict in Israel with Palestine before I discovered Hands of Peace, let alone that a conflict such as this existed. I was drawn towards the program in the first place because I had never known Israel as anything other than the Jewish paradise I was told about as a kid. After hearing stories from both Israelis and Palestinians about how the conflict has affected their lives, I didn’t know what to expect when given the opportunity to tour the region.
We spent our first two days in Jerusalem. Immediately, I was blown away. I had never felt so connected to Judaism. I was surrounded by people who share similar traditions as me, instead of being the one in hundreds like at school. I even got to put a note in the Western Wall, something I had been dreaming of doing since I was a kid. We also went to Dome of the Rock, which is considered to be the holiest place in the Jewish religion because it houses the Foundation Stone. According to Judaism, It was from this rock that the world was created. It is also believed in Islam to be the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven. I found it very interesting that even though the Dome of the Rock is the holiest site in Judaism and only the third holiest site in Islam, only Muslims were allowed inside the Dome of the Rock. It’s something interesting to think about. We also walked through the Old City of Jerusalem. There were little shops open all over the Jewish Quarter selling yarmulkes, menorahs, jewelry with the star of David, and so much more. There were families walking around with children wearing tzitzit and yarmulkes. We visited the holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, where I learned more in depth details about the struggles of some of my ancestors and more about the need for a Jewish state. The entire time we were in Jerusalem, I felt like I was a part of something special for the first time.
Not the whole trip was rosy and cheery though. After visiting Israel, we traveled across the border into the West Bank. Looking around, I saw what my Palestinian friends had told me about in dialogue sessions over the summer. Water resources in Palestine are under full control of Israel. Because of this, each house had a water tank on the roof in case the water was ever shut off for long periods of time. The quality of the tap water is also very poor. I learned this the hard way when one of my host families gave me tap water to drink, thinking my stomach would be able to handle it like theirs. I threw up too many times to count and spent an hour or so in a Palestinian hospital getting medicine and fluids through an IV. There was trash covering the streets. In some areas, IDF soldiers were on almost every corner. One of the most difficult stops for me was going to an Israeli settlement in Hebron. The neighborhood was once loud and busy, with family-run shops lining the streets where people shopped every day. Until one day, when the Israeli government closed every single store and sealed all of the doors overnight. And just like that all of the lively Palestinians were gone. People’s merchandise is still inside the shops to this day and they have no way to access any of it. Now, Israelis live in the neighborhood. Even though people live there, the streets aren’t as loud as they used to be. Three or four young IDF soldiers are on every corner. There are no shops, no souvenirs to buy. Just quiet streets, Israeli flags blowing in the wind and anti-Palestinian propaganda on every corner. I had never felt so conflicted. It was hard for me to come to terms with the realization that Israel was not perfect during the Hands of Peace summer program, and now I was living it. It was right in front of my own eyes. I didn’t know how to think, or how to feel. I still think about that visit to Hebron almost every day. It had a very significant impact on how I saw the conflict.
Overall, I gained more insight that I could’ve ever imagined from my trip to Israel and the West Bank. More than anything, I gained passion. I am passionate about my religion and my culture and I am interested in becoming more involved with my synagogue. I am thinking about running for a position on my youth group’s board – something I would’ve never considered before my trip. Most of all, this trip made me passionate and determined to fight for a change, to fight for peace and equality for both Israel and Palestine.
Jordy Feffer participated in Hands of Peace in San Diego in 2016 and 2017. She is currently active in the San Diego Alumni Club. Jordy hopes to stay involved with Hands of Peace in the future by either becoming a chaperone or facilitator.