Israel is the Holy Land.
At least, that’s what they say. At a glance, it’s a land of marvels and missionaries, Jews and Christians and Palestinian-Arabs. Desert sprawls brush up to the Mediterranean waves, and the northern heights look down over the inland seas.
But, beneath the aesthetic facade, Israel is fighting for breath. The sands are soaked in conflict. Corruption runs thick in the Knesset, and soldiers wear their burdens heavy across their shoulders.
They say it is a holy land.
They are right.
Israel is not the sum of its problems, but the culmination of its peoples. There is determination and there’s the sanctity of tradition. There’s strife, but there’s reconciliation. And, Israel might not be a place of financial wealth, but it’s cultures are myriad, and its richness comes in community.
We, the newest Yahel Volunteer Fellows, arrived in early September. There’s twenty of us, not counting the coordinators, and ten of us were placed in Rishon Lezion. Our neighborhood (called Ramat Eliyahu), runs the northern length of the city, which is about a about a half-hour drive from Tel Aviv and an hour from Jerusalem.
Ramat Eliyahu is not beautiful by the typical Westernized standards.
Garbage cakes the streets, and apartment buildings crumble along the edges. It is as depleted of color as it is resources, and unfortunately, the Ethiopian-Jewish immigrants who make up forty percent of the neighborhood struggle daily to make ends meet.
However — like Israel — what Ramat Eliyahu lacks, it makes up for in community.
The Matnas, or community center, is always crowded with people coming to read, take classes, or participate in group activities. Children from all faiths and families meet in Gan Manashe park for games, their parents chatting closeby on the walks. At dinnertime, when the sun dips and the temperature cools, the sweet scents of Wat and Tibs will fill the air, and although there’s a bustle of busses and scooters and automobiles, the clamor is less frenetic. It’s more like a metropolitan serenade.
It’s the music of Ramat Eliyahu.
We, the newest of Yahel, are still strangers. We have much to learn about the struggles our neighborhoods face — whether it’s children who’ve fallen behind in their studies, or immigrants without social and financial support. Soon, though, we’ll be helping firsthand. We’re not here for pictures, and we’re definitely not tourists. We’re here to give ourselves fully to those who need us, and in doing so, add to the city serenades.
It is true that Ramat Eliyahu isn’t beautiful by typical standards, but if you walk the streets, and talk to the people, you’ll find beauty of a different sort.
You’ll find a community.