On June 6th a busload of some 40 “Wexners”, representing not only alumni of the Israel programs but Wexner Heritage and graduate Fellowship alumni, boarded a bus at the entrance to the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Kochav Yair bound for Tayibe, an Israeli Arab village down the road. The ride spanned less than 5 kilometers (even though it took 40 minutes at peak traffic time) — but allowed many to embark on a cultural journey, with interactions they had never before experienced.
As the bus crawled past Tira towards Tayibe, one could see cars that were filled with Arab commuters returning home following a workday that began with a Ramadan pre-dawn breakfast or with Jewish residents of newly-built Zur Yitzchak rushing home to pick up children from daycare. Dana Savoray-Hadar (WIF Class 17), Wexner Israel Program Associate Director, explained that the idea for our learning tour was the result of a process that began when the Israeli program had once scheduled its Summer Institute during Ramadan, making it extremely difficult for Muslim Fellows to attend. While the mistake was an innocent reflection of a general lack of awareness in Israeli society, it pointed out a need for greater sensitivity; so, as one of many “glimpses” routinely offered our Israeli network of leaders, an opportunity was created for those less familiar to get a “taste” of life in an Arab village.
The visit began with a panel led by Yishay Sorek (WIF 22) and several speakers, including Yifat Ovadia (WIF 24), which gave us insight into a wide range of problems and some of the attempts at solutions, such as NGOs like Collective Impact, created by Wexner Israel Alumni to solve a problem in Israeli society. A walking tour and visit inside a mosque provided an opportunity for many members to see things they had driven by… but never stopped to experience. The day ended with a "Dvar Torah" of sorts, animatedly given by Youssef Abu Jaffar (WIF 23), who explained five things we needed to know about Ramadan — including Midrashic-like stories of Moses and Mohammed haggling before finally arriving at the number of daily prayers for each religion (three versus five). His delightful words emphasized the spiritual bonds between us and were followed seamlessly by the Muezzin’s Call to Prayer, heralding the end of the fast and the beginning of a sumptuous feast.
We shared traditional delicacies with our hosts from the Haj-Yahye family (one of Tayibe’s two major clans). Over coffee we made introductions. “What surprised you?” I asked several participants.
“We’re so close… and yet I knew very little about what goes on next door.”
“The number and vast diversity among Israeli NGOs, all dedicated to social justice.”
“The infrastructures in town are much newer than I remembered.”
However, perhaps the most surprising thing was that the tour took place in such a positive atmosphere...or at all. As fate would have it, our visit took place one day after the tragic shooting of Mahmoud Taha (age 27) by a civilian security guard during a protest outside the Police station in Kfar Kassem, barely 20 kilometers away. That tragedy had been provoked by intense dissatisfaction in the village with local police in dealing with crime and especially following a recent double homicide. Our Tayibe visit went as planned, but sent us home with a hunger for doing more.
In an exemplary display of leadership, Wexner Israel Fellowship alum Luay Badir (Class 27), who lives in Kfar Kassem, posted a message the morning after the Tayibe trip, calling upon members of our community to meet with key figures in Kfar Kassem the very next week. So, on June 14, fifteen of us cancelled meetings and cleared our schedules in response to Luay’s call to action. Our Kfar Kassem visit included meeting with the bereaved families and a blunt and open discussion that began before the end of the fast. Our frank exchange was interrupted by the call to prayer and yet another traditional meal. However, this time we continued with our serious dialogue well after the coffee.
When I asked other "Wexners" this time what surprised them, two immediately answered: “the moderation and composure” of the families who had lost their loved ones.
What didn’t surprise me was this: as members of a greater Wexner community, we place a premium on learning…and find a higher meaning when we act upon what we have learned.
Get To Know The Author
Danny Grossman, a Wexner Israel Fellowship alum (Class 7), is an independent consultant for strategic, diplomatic, security and public affairs. Among his clients are Professor Alan Dershowitz, author Steven Pressfield and Dr. Jim Gordon, whose Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) helps both Israelis and Palestinians deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Danny also acts as regional coordinator for the CMBM, whose work with Israeli and Gazan children was recently featured on CBS's "60 minutes". Danny is also a senior advisor to ILTV, a new English news internet station and to SpaceIL, Israel's entrant in the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) competition, which plans to plant an Israeli flag on the moon by the end of next year. Originally from the USA, Danny served for six years as an f-4 navigator with the US Air Force and was named 9th Air Force “Top Gun”. After making aliya, Danny served in the IAF, flying fighter aircraft for over 20 years, including nearly 200 combat missions, and earned a medal for a strategic reconnaissance mission to Iraq.