Soren Barnett ’20, Onward Israel Diversity and Social Justice, Haifa, Israel: Blog 3/3

Hello or שלום!

In this blog 3/3, I will be covering: Internship at the LGBTQ+ center, educational programming through Onward Israel, conclusion.  For a more complete report and background, please read the other two parts of my blog!

Internship at the LGBTQ+ center

After the Moadonit ended for the summer, I went to the LGBTQ+ center on Wednesdays and Thursdays for just a few weeks.  I thus wasn’t able to get too involved but was able to attend a protest here in Haifa that advocated for Trans* rights and for both women of same-sex couples to have legal parental rights over their baby, instead of the mother who didn’t carry the baby having to adopt the child.  I also attended Jerusalem Pride, which is one of the more controversial ones and attracts some religious, alt-right-like groups of protestors.  In talking to some of the people from Haifa at these events and my boss, in addition to just living, I’ve gained a better understanding of what it’s like to be LGBTQ+ here in Israel and some of the political and social struggles that are currently occurring.

Educational programming through Onward Israel

Through Onward Israel, we had a number of “evening activities” that were often just fun, but one was an interesting history lesson of Israel, which I and some peers with better backgrounds on the topic challenged and discussed.  We also had three “seminar days” – one to Tel Aviv, one to Jerusalem, and one to the North.  During these day-long excursions, we were shown some very different perspectives in Israel and I really learned so much from the various people we met with/activities we did.  In Tel Aviv, we learned about Yemenite Jews in Israel (and tried both Yemenite bread and some Ethiopian food), met with a Hassidic Jewish man to hear about that part of Judaism and Hassidic beliefs, and we went to visit a community that is essentially a secular Yeshiva.  In Jerusalem, we got to do a fascinating graffiti tour by a young graffiti artist and we talked to an orthodox Jewish out gay man, who told us about what it’s like to be gay and religious and about the work he and his organization do to help LGBTQ+ religious people.  Just the other day in the North, we first visited a wind farm to learn about some sustainable energy sources, we went for a fun walk in this little stream, and we learned about organic farming at a kibbutz.  At the kibbutz, we fed some cows and chickens and also learned about a fascinating program within the kibbutz that is a rehabilitation art program for people with mental disabilities and mental illnesses.  These three seminar days provided me with opportunities that I don’t think I would be able to easily access on my own and they gave me so many different perspectives within Israel to consider, as well as many topics to continue learning and thinking about.

My breakout seminar similarly gave me so many different things to think about.  There were different themed breakout seminars that all Onward Israel participants had to choose one from before the program started and then during one’s breakout seminar, we got to spend a weekend learning and also meeting participants from other Onward programs.  For my seminar, I spent the first night hanging out with and then camping with some young Druze folks that are part of a Druze youth group in their village.  I spent hours talking and connecting with three teen girls who asked me many questions about being non-binary and LGBTQ+, as the Druze culture is quite strict and conservative, and I in turn asked questions about their lives and culture.  The following day, we took a tour of some Druze holy sites and learned more about the Druze religion and culture (supposedly only about 20% of Druze are actually religious), as well as their place in Israel and relationship to the country and government (we were coincidentally there just a day after the Israeli government passed a law demoting Arabic, which the Druze speak, to a special status language from an official language, which hurts the Druze, so it was interesting experiencing that with them).  Later on the second day, we travelled to a kibbutz for Shabbat and we learned about the values and systems in place in their very pluralistic community, which was also very interesting.

Throughout my free time over the past two months, such as in the evenings and on the weekends, I have done many activities and travelled all over Israel, which I have learned countless things from as well.  From taking free salsa lessons in Haifa, to visiting the famous Baha’i gardens in Haifa, to camping on the Sea of Galilee with some Israelis, to going on an incredible tour in the West Bank (the picture above is those from my program that I did the tour with posing with some kids we met in a refugee camp in Ramallah), I’ve gained many new perspectives from talking to many people and strangers, practiced my Hebrew a lot, and gained a lot of knowledge and self-confidence that I hope to take with me.

A small part of me expected to come to Israel for two months and come back with all of the answers to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That obviously did not happen.  But I now am aware of so many different perspectives that have further complexified my view of the politics and I have also made connections with so many wonderful people and strangers who I definitely intend to come back and visit.  I gained language skills, a better cultural understanding, and many contacts in Israel, and was able to positively affect some of the people I met, which was the next step toward my goals of solving problems and helping people in this region.

Thank you for reading my blog and feel free to contact me with comments/questions at!

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