On Thursday, President Obama acknowledged what the American-Jewish world has dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” in his annual address to the Jewish world on the first day of Hanukkah.

“As we gather with loved ones around the turkey, the menorah, or both, we celebrate some fortunate timing and give thanks for miracles both great and small. Like the Pilgrims, the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story made tremendous sacrifices so they could practice their religion in peace,” the President said.

For those who don’t know, this was the first time since 1888, and the last time for the next 77,000 years that the first day of Hanukkah falls on the same day as Thanksgiving.

And this coincidence is pretty apropos for my being here—a melding of American culture and the Jewish world. My boyfriend and I made a Thanksgiving dinner, complete from the turkey to the yams, for his family here, which was followed up with the lighting of the menorah and the traditional Hanukkah dessert of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

But getting to that end point wasn’t so easy. The butcher had to be called days ahead of time, because even turkey cold cuts—let alone an entire turkey—is not a common request around here. And you can forget about Stove Top stuffing, canned cranberry sauce, or any type of cheese that doesn’t come from a deli. 

While you’d be hard-pressed to find an Israeli who has never heard of Thanksgiving, it’s safe to assume that the desire to celebrate a holiday based on a story of Pilgrims and Native Americans is pretty centrally located to the United States. The butcher could’ve sworn that we were ordering an entire turkey by mistake; the grocery store attendant looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for canned cranberry sauce; and it wasn’t until after I started boiling the noodles for the macaroni and cheese that I found out that the exclusively Hebrew-speaking deli service clerk sold me sheep cheese when I tried my best to convey that I wanted cheddar.

Overall, I can’t say that my time in Israel has been particularly tinted with the feeling that I’m in a foreign country, let alone in the midst of a region that has been intertwined with international turmoil since the concept of “nations” was first acknowledged. But trying to celebrate an exclusively American holiday with an exclusively American tradition will make you realize things you hadn’t before. 

And thus, the old adage, “You don’t know what you have ‘til it’s gone,” comes to mind. Always having been in the exclusive country in which my favorite holiday was celebrated made it nothing more than just my favorite holiday. In addition to giving thanks for my family and friends and health and happiness, I found myself giving thanks for Thanksgiving in and of itself, as well as the country that birthed it. Because as much as I’ve loved my time here in Israel, I have to say that my time abroad has made me realize just how thankful I am to call America my home.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is the conflict to end all conflicts. Or so it’s portrayed to us by the media. Just this past week, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier was stabbed to death on a bus en route from Nazareth to Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist. It’s an ongoing conflict that constantly manifests itself with violence, and so media coverage is as perpetual as the conflict itself.

But as I write this, I’m sitting just outside the UN buffer zone in Nikosia, Cyprus. The conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, who are currently occupying what they consider to be the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, hasn’t manifested itself with violence since the 1974 Turkish invasion. And so, comparatively speaking, the conflict here is much less publicized. 

From my experiences of observing both sides of the Green Line and with interacting with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, it’s abundantly clear that the hate here runs deep. Much deeper, I would say, than the hate that exists between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

Overall, the conflicts are similar in that both sides claim some kind of right to the land and can’t seem to find anyway to peacefully compromise over who gets what. But the differences are striking: while there is some division in Israel regarding who has the right to claim the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Israelis and Palestinians are largely integrated. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Israeli or Palestinian who hasn’t interacted with someone from the opposing side of the conflict. Palestinians own businesses that Israelis patronize and vice versa. While the conflict is undoubtedly present on a macro scale and manifests itself in violent but relatively isolated acts on a micro scale, it fails to permeate into the day-to-day, one-on-one interactions that the two peoples face. 

But the only intercultural exchanges that happen in Cyprus occur when the most well-to-do Turkish Cypriots put their children through the higher quality Greek Cypriot education system. Other than that, the amount of young Greek Cypriots who have interacted with young Turkish Cypriots, and vice versa, are few and far between. 

This creates an interesting dynamic. Rather than being able to separate the larger issue from the fact that Greek and Turkish Cypriots must have some things in common on the mere basis of being human, this stark separation creates a polarizing effect, which is tangible throughout the island. On the Greek side of the Green Line, there are giant billboards with images and stories of Greek victims of the 1974 invasion. On the Turkish side, there’s nationalistic propaganda that can be described as provocative at its mildest. Signs like “The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus FOREVER” litter the streets. Old Greek buildings are clothed in Turkish flags. 

After living in Israel for three months, I never would have thought that there could be any kind of intractable conflict that involved two groups of people that hate each other more than the Israelis and Palestinians. But with the integrated society comes a certain level of human understanding that is disturbingly absent in Cyprus. 

When the US announced in July that they had a nine-month time horizon for finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, I thought it was wishful thinking. But now, even in the midst of what many are calling a deteriorating relationship between Israel and the US due to the Iran talks, Netanyahu is going one step further from releasing Palestinian prisoners and is also freezing settlements. 

It may seem minor, but the Cyprus conflict puts the issues into perspective. While they still haven’t reached peace, and peace may indeed be far off, the environment in the area of Israel and Palestine has come a long way in its ability to foster the possibility of peace. When compared, it seems like an end to the eternal conflict just might be possible.

My past two weeks here have been characterized by an interesting dichotomy.

A little background: as reports of Q3 earnings came out, it was announced that the tech sector in Israel made its highest amount of money since 2000. It was also reported that two Israeli tech companies—Onavo and Waze—were bought by Facebook and Google, respectively. So in light of these apropos hooks, my major assignment at The Jerusalem Post has been to figure out what the next up-and-coming tech companies in Israel are going to be, and to profile them.

However, I’ve also made two separate trips to what Israelis refer to merely as “the North,” which while vague in its specific boundaries, is generally considered to comprise of the area north of the West Bank, stretching eastward, stopping just shy of large coastal cities such as Haifa. For those of you not as familiar with Israeli geography, that basically means that once you enter the North, the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are never more than 50 miles away. 

On the one hand, I’ve been exploring the height of accomplishment in Israel; nothing says economic progress like a booming tech sector. On the other, I’ve hiked paths on the Sea of Galilee that are completely surrounded by minefields and been woken up by the sound of bombings just over the Syrian border.  

In the United States, it’s understandable that different regions have vastly different cultures and experiences. But the United States encompasses roughly 4 million square miles. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. Travel 100 miles and you might as well be in a different world.

I really don’t understand how to reconcile this. If anything, the vast open fields whose only visible human touches are some shoddy barbed wire fences with rusty signs that read “DANGER: MINES! STAY ON PATH” in three different languages, make much more sense than the thousands of startups focusing on things like how to optimize the global online shopping experience. Given the political situation, the lifestyle of the former is inevitable. But how does the latter fit into the picture?

It’s something that is so key to Israel that for most people here, there is no question of how so many different realities can coexist in such a small place. It’s the status quo. It’s the way it is. It’s the way it will continue to be. Which is true. In many ways, the former can’t exist without the latter. Israel has so many existential threats that it couldn’t exist without some amount of measurable success in the modern world. And I’m not sure that Israel would have the success it boasts today if it weren’t for the undeniable determination that comes with constantly being under the threat of annihilation.

Obviously this is a massive oversimplification of both sides of the story, but I don’t think that makes it any less true. I still have no idea how both aspects of the country can exist so strongly and independently, but maybe understanding how they’re both so integral to the nation as a whole is the first step to getting there. 

When I first came to Israel to intern for the Jerusalem Post, I had no idea what to expect. I knew what I hoped for: a chance to do some reporting, most preferably of the political variety. I had no idea what my chances were of that hope being fulfilled, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, even if all that came of it was a few good connections in the general realm of political journalism, particularly in the Middle East.

On my first day, a few of the editors asked me what I’d be interested in covering, and the answer I gave was a bit of a catch-all: “Politics.” They gave me a bit of a puzzled look. I knew why; answering that question with “politics” is akin to answering that question with “news.” Here, everything is politics. Even in the world of sports, clubs and teams being politically affiliated is not uncommon, such as with Hapoel, which is a sports club that was formed as a union of Histadrut, a party which represents the working class in Israel.

But, puzzlement aside, I stood by my answer. The enmeshment of politics in every area of life here is the main reason why I’m interested in the politics of the region in the first place. I don’t have an isolated interest in the field. I’m curious about all of it. I want to help inform others about all of it. 

With the municipal elections coming up on October 22 in Israel, my editors saw that specific issue as a good one to get me started with. Politics, plain and simple. Exactly what I asked for. They wanted the cover story of the weekend magazine to be an exploration of the municipal elections throughout the country, and to do specific vignettes on the issues in Israel’s two biggest cities: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As the only person at the Jerusalem office who’s based in Tel Aviv, that portion of the reporting was a perfect fit for me.

I spent the week researching and reporting, covering everything from the historical actions and opinions of Tel Aviv’s 15-year conservative incumbent of a mayor, Ron Huldai to his competitors, two liberal members of different parties—one who is gay and one who is a Mizrahi Jew, either of which could have big implications of accepted diversity in Tel Aviv if they weren’t splitting the left-leaning vote.

I also covered the city council elections, which led me to a newly formed party in Tel Aviv this year. Unlike in the United States, Israel’s tradition of proportional representation on city council ballots encourages the constant formation of new parties. This party in specific, Simu Lev Horim, is focused on the improvement of the quality of education in Tel Aviv, and my interview with a party member on the ballot led to a completely separate piece being published.

At this point, I have an established reputation at the Post. Editors come to me and ask about my coverage of the municipal elections for other pieces they’re working on or want written. I’m the Politics Girl now. Granted, municipal elections are a pretty niche area underneath that umbrella, but you have to start somewhere. And this specific starting point seems pretty good to me.  

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NYU Junior in Tel Aviv for Fall 2013.