Today, I had the most fascinating and fabulous day.
I started the morning in Shefa’mr (Shefaram) in Hebrew. Shefa’mr is the most pluralistic city in Israel. A community with Druze, Muslims, and Christians, it is one of the rare places in Israel where people of different faiths live next door to each other. As a matter of practice. Not like Jerusalem, where there are different groups largely in different neighborhoods. Literally side by side.
It’s one of the reasons I wanted to visit. The other reason is it, like the North, is absolutely gorgeous. Take a look at a slideshow of some of my pictures:
Before walking around town, I needed some breakfast and got delicious hummus and pita and falafel from a Druze restaurant. According to the owner, apparently the town loves Argentina’s soccer team. Someone even went to the World Cup in Brazil to cheer them on. You’ll see from the pictures below I took today that he’s telling the truth, although you’ll also see there seems to be a (rival?) Brazilian fan club:
Not what I expected to find when I came to live in the Middle East. Which makes it all the more interesting and fun to discover! I love finding things that challenge my assumptions.
In the village, I visited churches, mosques, and a Druze holy site. There’s even a synagogue. There’s even an ice cream shop that sells KNAFE ICE CREAM! If you don’t know what knafe is, it’s this. And it’s delicious, even as ice cream.
I was the only tourist in town today. Not sure how many come on other days, but I definitely didn’t meet another outsider- not even another Israeli Jew. And by and large, people were really nice. It’s important to remember there are toxic and kind people everywhere (and a whole lot of people somewhere in between). I’ve learned that people of all backgrounds live in gray space and nuance- it has frankly allowed me to see Arabs as people. Rather than exoticizing them as all good or all bad or “Christian ones are good and Muslims are bad” (as many, many Israeli Jews say)- I’ve worked really hard to get to the point where I just see them as people. Complex, like me. It has added a softness to my Arabic that makes the language gentler and even more fun to speak.
I met with all sorts of fascinating people today- the Muslim woman who keeps the keys to the synagogue, the zany ice cream store owner who couldn’t believe a Jew could speak Arabic like me, the Druze women who wanted me to explain Donald Trump to them.
There’s a gentleness to Shefa’mr. It’s kind of a preview of how this place could look with more peace and harmony. More mixing and less hatred. Or perhaps a view into a past here that once was. Like my cover photo of a Greek Catholic Cross in front of the mosque, Shefa’mr is about living together. In the words of a Druze woman: “one of our neighbors is Christian, the other Muslim. Yes there is racism like anywhere else. But we share in our sorrows and we share in our joys together.”
Before I visited Shefa’mr, when I was deciding whether to go, a Jewish Israeli told me: “why would you go there? What is there to see?” When you meet someone like this, ignore them. She’s missing out and it’s truly sad to live in such ignorance of the beauty at your doorstep. Shefa’mr is gorgeous and I did some amazing peaceful thinking there today.
After a thoughtful and inspirational morning in Shefa’mr, I hopped on a bus and then a train back to Tel Aviv. I hate coming back home to Tel Aviv these days. The city is loud, the people are often rude, there is an intensity to life here that just sucks sometimes.
Luckily a friend had invited me out for Purim, today’s Jewish holiday. In the U.S., we tend to eat hamantaschen, read the megillah, have carnivals for kids, dress up in costumes, and if you’re a young professional maybe go to a party. It’s fun and it’s decidedly low-key compared to what I experienced today.
Tel Aviv Purim is Jewish Mardi Gras. It’s Carnaval. It’s Jewish Sao Paolo going nuts- and it’s amazing. I don’t drink. I do dance. I do love to talk to random people, including shirtless Jewish boys who are feeling friendly. Purim is party after party- in the street, in the club. Everyone is happy. I have never, ever seen so many Israeli Jews smile and laugh at once. And it goes on for several days- today was just day one.
I’ve never been to a cooler Jewish party in my life. It’s huge. And fun. And for this one moment in time, Israeli Jews let go of the stress and basically don’t give a f*ck. They just relax and have fun.
I had such a great time. I suppose the intensity I hate in Tel Aviv has its occasional advantages. I can’t imagine a small town in Israel- Jewish or otherwise- putting together this level of festivity. It’s amazing.
I haven’t yet experienced all the holidays in Israel. I have experienced most of them. Purim is now my favorite Israeli holiday. It’s like New Orleans filled with cute Jewish boys, dance music, and silly (sometimes racist) costumes.
If I had it my way, every month, maybe even every week would be Purim. Israeli Jews need release. And perhaps if they had more of it, more of them would be nicer and relaxed.
My day started with Druze, Christians, and Muslims and ended with a street fair in Tel Aviv. Few people here live like I do. And I encourage more to do so in the way that they can. Cross boundaries. Speak Arabic in the morning in the hillsides and rock out to Britney Spears at night. Discover the secret Argentinean fan club in an Arab village and then flirt with half naked men in Hebrew as the sun rises.
I’m happy I found my way today. My way to a good day, a fantastic day. A day that even ended with flirting with a non-Jewish German I met while walking home to my apartment- he’s a nurse at the hospital around the corner!
This place where I live is both terrible and full of magic. As I drift to sleep after an incredible day, I’m glad I lived today the way I did.
May it inspire us to find the stars shining where we least expect them.