יום שישי, 25 בדצמבר 2015

48 hours of intensity (and Susan Sarandon)

Volunteering was mostly about meeting people, seeing new places, and learning from the experience of others who are already here. I must say I felt a little bit misplaced myself, not sure what to do, how I can contribute here and what is my role in all of this. Some people come for few days, some people are here for months and some came to bring supplies for the refugees. 

People come here to volunteer for different reasons although what unifies them when asked is that they all tell me they feel there was no question in their mind that they must help these refugees. The medical team here is amazing and go out of their way to help people in need.

 I met three wonderful Jewish women that came all the way from San Francisco to buy; food, and scarfs and candies to the arriving refugees. Another American family came with supplies gathered by their congregation, which I thought it was just remarkable. There is a medical team and social worker that is highly knowledgeable as is the team director. I live in a downtown apartment with the team, interestingly all the IsraAID team members who are volunteering with me here staying in the apartment define their identity as Palestinians. 

The island looks beautiful with all the Christmas lights and for a moment you might think this is a vacation resort. But then one sees the refugees on the streets and is reminded about the human story of desperation that is taking place here.

I visited the refugee camp of Moria this afternoon. I met a Palestinian family coming from Yarmouk; Father, mother, big brother (19), a sister (7 years old) and one-year-old baby. They came to the wrong camp as they were from Syria and the camp was for only non-Arabic speaking refugees. They asked to see the doctor as the baby was sick and the mom had no diapers or baby supplies with her. UN gave them sleeping bags but the older brother had wet shoes and a wet coat. As the evening came in I could see he was getting cold. The mom could not speak English so she asked me to ask the police officer if the family could see the doctor. I went to the gate with all the family and asked, “Can the doctor see the baby?” The guard told me only the mother and the baby can come inside the camp, the rest have to stay outside. I took them to the doctor and as we were waiting there. Susan Sarandon (the movie star) appeared and the big brother asked me to take the photo with her. It put a big smile on his face as I took the picture. Then he asked ”Mirit can you please take my other sister to her mom? Its getting cold and I would rather have her inside then here with me and Dad?” I went back to the guard and asked him for the second time "Can the brother and the father go with the little girl to her mom?” The guard replied again ”only you and the girl”. I hold the girl's hand as we walk to her mom in the camp. The girl held my hand tight, she was scared to say bye to her father her brother and too scared to go with me to see her mom. I gave her a candy and we walked together to the doctor. I went back again to tell the big brother and father all is well. Then they told me the baby is sick and need medical care so they are going to take her to Greece. The father didn’t want to separate the family so he asked me the last time to ask the guard if they can join his two daughters and his wife. I told him I can only try, I came to the guard I told him as Catholic it is Christmas today, how about bringing the family together? He smiled at me and let them him. They gave me a hug and kissed me on each cheek "Ya Tel-Aviv girl, Salam Alecum Tel-Aviv girl" (Goodbye Tel-Aviv girl).

The human story behind any crisis holds moments of strength and moments of frustration. Two days ago I flew at night, arrived to Lesbos Island in the evening and landed in a beautiful town surrounded by green mountains and blue water. Everything in this charming small town tells the harsh story of the arriving refugees that are everywhere; in the water, in boats, in UN buses, on their way to the refugee camp and in lines to see the doctor, to get food, to register and go by ferry to Athens and from there to Germany. 

Tonight I was helping rescue team, 42 people landed on the shore near a high cliff many women and very small children they came in the cold 40˚F. One refugee was dehydrated and vomiting; we had to give her medical assistant on the shore. The medical team and myself stabilized her and she made it to the bus. There are some amazing good souls working here. It is truly incredible how people from all over the world are coming together for such amazing cause. 

 Some refugees needed blankets, I carried a baby whose mother was too weak to hold him and I gave her water and put a blanket on the baby. Then I went down the cliff to help give infusion to the dehydrated lady. Her children and her husband were there with them the whole time, with my rudimentary Arabic I calm her down and she smiles at me. "El-Kul Quies" I told her, “Everything is going to be fine”. She smiles at me and kisses my hand as the fluids run into to her arm. We had to move her to higher ground to reach the UN bus. We put her on a stretcher we walked for 300 yards from the landing point. We came to a passage and we manged to lift her up and carry her all the way to the bus. They were about 8 men and I was still holding the IV. We came to the bus the medic took the needle out and he checked her vital parameters. Then we helped her to stand up and walk she ended up just fine. Thank God. This was my Christmas Eve December 24. It's 3am now I think I'm going to sleep it was very intense day full of emotions and challenges but there are true peace in my heart. Peace out Greece

יום שני, 21 בדצמבר 2015

Between Flights – The layover

My journey began as my son and myself left from Florida for Israel. How symbolic that my Humanitarian Aid quest takes this path? My son senses we are on the way home, his place of birth and my place of birth, our homeland, as he switches to speaking only Hebrew with me. 
Going to Israel is very meaningful for my son and I. Nothing to do with Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, or as the Holy Land, nothing to do with our Jewish identity or any other aspect of our identity. It's something much more simple than that; my childhood, my mom’s kitchen, my elementary besties, the smells, the neighborhood, my brother, my nieces, the hibiscus in the garden, and the lemon tree.

We use big words like Homeland and Holy Land. Do we even know what that means for the common Israeli who was born and raised for many generations and knows nothing else but being that? My connection with this sliver of land is all I know, I was born, raised and rooted here.
 The journey I embark on is a journey that not only crosses the Atlantic ocean, it goes further than that, it goes to the deep acknowledgment of what it means to feel misplaced. What does it mean to be where you are not from?  I left Israel in 2008 for love, for academic development and to discover what is out there that is different than me, only to reflect and reconnect to where I am from. Along the way I met people from all over the world, I met people I could never have met had I stayed put. And I learned something about the feeling of being misplaced, being an immigrant. Strange how life works,; I was the one who helped acclimate new Russian immigrants as Hebrew teacher back in Israel, and now I've become the one who is being acclimated and naturalized into the American culture as an immigrant myself.

 Immigration, changes countries, takes its toll with its pains and gains. You go out of your bubble, you learn about the other, you try to assimilate, and to bridge cultural understanding and meet new people. It also brings into question all that you know and think and believe. It often means you carry the responsibility to become an ambassador of your own faith and background. 
In my case, being a College Hebrew language teacher has made me a cultural agent, held me accountable for my thoughts on politics, my personal perspective and my views on my country, my culture and my people. Sometimes the pressure on those who immigrate is to assimilate completely, become local and leave their cultural identify behind.
 In a few days I am about to meet many who are about to become new citizens of an as yet to be determined country, sacrificing all they have to find freedom, and look for a better, safer life. I wonder what immigration would mean to them? And how will my personal journey benefit them as they seek new shelters?

יום שבת, 12 בדצמבר 2015

Hi everyone. 

Knowing there is someone there who cares about what I have to say, think, and reflect upon shows me that humans have not completely “lost it”. While writing these lines, I feel so relaxed and so peaceful, as if nothing can spoil this perfect moment of tranquility. I lay down in my living room, looking through double glass doors at the backyard evergreen beyond my porch wondering when snow will fall and what birds do when it gets so cold…My house is quiet, the cat is sleeping, and I am listening to Daniela Andrade. Nothing can beat that peaceful feeling of finishing the semester, and entering the weekend filled with good food, friends, lighting Hanukah candles and finding the spirit compels me to write here to you all that I have in my mind. 
As words don’t come easy to me, I need to be carfule and ruminate before I write.
So, I have decided to start from the beginning, not my beginning not my parents beginning but rather my great ancestors beginning, my Jewish recollection you may say.  

We wandered for 2000 years but we no longer do because we finally have a place in the world, a corner, and a spot to call home. We nurture it and we care for it and we develop that haven we call Israel because we know, we sure do know from our historical recollection that this is not to be taken for granted that this can vanish. And we know very well that this place we call homeland, the land of our fathers was there to protect us, as we were all refugees, we were immigrants we were rejected, executed, excluded and deported. Gates were too often closed for us, the world shut itself from us, we were different, we were not legal, we were refugee Jews, we were out there seeking safe haven, looking for home, safe shore safe home. Not even a century has gone by. And where are we today?

It makes me so proud that we succeeded despite years of persecution. Although gassed, shot and burned in pits the Israeli people have became successful. Once refugees, now free, independent, self-determined, innovative and dare I say flourishing.
 After all our ancestors were once refugees, fleeing from the desert in Sudan, fleeing on boats in the Black Sea, fleeing Nazis, grateful to be accepted somewhere. No one, NO country, not one single country said come to us, we will embrace you save you from horror. 

Israeli recollection goes straight to these ideas when it comes time to rescue those in need. We were brought up with these values, doing  good deeds, caring for those less fortunate is not a strange notion for us, it is not only part of our history it is very much part of our core. 

When I am asked why I am about to fly to the other side of the world, leaving my loving son at his grandparents house for two weeks, leaving lovely Ithaca, my relaxed home and my sleeping cat, I have to refresh their memory, I have to remind them who I am, a Jewish girl third generation of Jewish refugees. I have to remind theme that we were different; we were shamed, we were not accepted because others feared strangers too much. I have to remind them that we were strangers once. 

I will finish it here for now with a few lines from an Israeli song I have been chanting to myself lately …” A man needs to have integrity, a small space in the world [land], unforgettable love and true voice when praying [feeling understood/feeling heard). And a perfect moment to give and take and not… to be afraid of the fear.”