The first time I remember learning anything about Israel in school was second grade. A section of the curriculum had been set aside for “world studies,” focusing on four countries on four different continents and learning a bit about their history and language: Israel, Kenya, Japan, and France. As part of the lesson, we watched a Sesame Street special about Big Bird travelling the globe. One of those stops happened to be Israel. There are only a few bits of information I can honestly say I remember from that class, besides the image of Big Bird wearing a yarmulke, and those are:
Flag: blue and white, Star of David
Location: Middle East
Textbook, simple, and as I learned later on, very over-generalized. Like any country, Israel is far more complicated than a second grader’s color book map could possibly depict.
Nowadays, I might skip on over to the CIA's World Factbook to pick up tidbits like this:
Ethnic Groups: Hebrew (official), Arabic (official in specific regions), English (foreign affairs)
Geographic Coordinates: 31 46 N, 35 14 E
Religions: Jewish 75%, Muslim 16.9%, Christian 2%, Druze 1.7%, other 3.8%
Government: parliamentary democracy
All great and wonderful, probably helpful on an eighth grade report or the background section of a research paper, but when all is said and done this probably makes up about .0001% of what makes Israel, well, Israel.
So where else could a little girl from a Connecticut suburb look for information on this mysterious country afar?
Music and books.
I have never been a churchgoer, but as a lifetime chorister, booklover, and member of a mostly Christian family, place names such as “Israel,” “Jerusalem,” “Bethlehem,” “Nazareth,” and the “Red Sea” became household items. I still have all my melodies and harmonies from dozens of Christmas carols and hymns memorized, even though I haven’t sung in a choral setting in two years. Through school, choir, and my own curiosity, I collected religious, cultural and political history, piecing together a quilt that might someday show me an image of this region and this country that had intrigued me for so long. Once I got to high school and I had a little more say and resources in my education, my learning only swelled.
Now here I am, nearly twelve years after that Sesame Street special, a college kid studying in Washington, D.C. about international relations and the Middle East. And I find myself about to embark on an Alternative Break trip to a country I had only dreamed of seeing in real life.
You could say I’m excited.
Perhaps a little nervous…
Most of it won’t kick in till we land (a habit I’ve acquired from over a decade of stage fright suppression), but just this week I’ve caught my mind subconsciously wandering down corridors I didn’t know I’d built. Regardless of rationality, I’ve asked myself questions such as:
What if my host family only speaks Hebrew?
What if I do something I didn’t know was offensive?
Do I know the address for the nearest embassy by heart?
Will I look too “American”?
Will my body freak out if I don’t have caffeine every morning?!?!?
Maybe some of these questions have answers; maybe some of them are better left for “figuring it out.” Either way, I am confident in my trip leaders, Heidi and Annelise, and the rest of this diverse, talented, and passionate group of students. I can’t wait to meet up with everyone again next week at the airport!
During the trip I will be keeping a running journal on my experiences and observations while in Israel. I hope to share as many entries as possible here!
This blog post was written by Lucette Moran.