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New Perspectives from an Arab living in Israel

  |   Fellowship

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Stephanie Espar, Indiana University

“How does it feel?”

This is not in regards to swimming in the Mediterranean Sea after swimming in a fresh water lake my whole life, it is not in regards to the three hour bike ride I took in Nitzana, and it is not in regards to the sting of a jellyfish after jumping off a boat.

“How does it feel to be in Israel when you aren’t Jewish?”

There are 8,463,500 people living in Israel. 1,757,400 Arabs, and of those only 122,000 are Christian. I represent roughly 1% of the population in Israel. As Imad Telhami, Arab-Israeli founder and CEO of Babcom, said “I am a minority, inside a minority, inside a minority, inside a minority.” So when I am asked, “how does it feel?” I take a moment to reflect.

I love Israel, but it is hard to not to feel homesick. All around me there is a culture that connects 8 million people from Egypt to Ethiopia, the United States to the United Kingdom. On Friday nights, these people join together to welcome Shabbat and enjoy a kosher meal.

This weekend I joined in on the meal and conversation, and it left a longing for home – for a brunch after mass on Sunday, and dinner at my grandma’s house with 30+ of my cousins, aunts, and uncles piled into a house, sitting around a table sharing a meal.  But there is a place for everyone in Israel.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel with TAMID to Nazareth. I joked that it was the one place in Israel where I was not the minority – in a city of Arabs. The first day, many of the events focused on Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Israeli relations to boost the economy in Israel. Then, we were able to tour Nazareth.

It was the first time we went out in Israel, when I was the first one to greet someone in a language that was not my native tongue – to ask directions and order a meal without tripping over my own words or looking confused. To utter, “Salaam-Alaikum,” meaning peace be upon you, to the vendor selling juice and being able to be connected with someone through culture, religion, and language.

In Israel, I found a piece of beiti wa janān (my home and my heart).