I recently returned from a week-long trip to Israel. I had heard so much about conflicts in the region, yet found it difficult to come up with my own perspective – free from source/media bias. So, I decided to go to Israel and learn for myself. While this was an enlightening trip with memorable moments at every turn, one day sticks out from the rest.
We visited David Leichman in Kibbutz Gezer (a Kibbutz is a self-sustaining, farming community in Israel – essentially an agricultural co-op). David was part of the original group that came from the U.S. to revitalize Kibbutz Gezer (then defunct) in the mid-1970s. Historically, the Kibbutz movement was associated with socialism, but since David, Gezer has undergone a financial transformation where members live in a tight-knit community while having regular jobs outside the kibbutz as well. Kibbutz Gezer is located near Ramla, a small city where Israelis and Arabs live as neighbors, shop at the same market, and generally interact as a community.
David took us to Samir’s – his Arab friend’s restaurant – where we ate an incredible Mediterranean meal but no dessert (this is very important). I specifically mention that Samir is Arab because his tight friendship with David is so uncommon. Samir’s goal is to create a community to show the world the great art and pop-culture developed by young Arabs. David and Samir work together to foster goodwill between Arabs and Israelis. In a world where there is so much conflict and cause for skepticism, David and Samir are a shining example of cooperation and love that transcends religious differences.
After eating at Samir’s, we returned to Kibbutz Gezer where David had us “sample” his world-renowned homemade ice cream (often dubbed “LeichCream”). David taught us about the home ice-cream-making process, a painstaking and scientific series of boiling, freezing, straining and mixing. Eleven – yes, eleven scoops later, I could barely move.
Taken as a whole, the trip was an incredible way to gain some understanding that although there are significant barriers to peace in the Middle East, this is a time for hope and optimism. Relationships like David and Samir’s demonstrate the progress on a micro-level. As they continue to share these relationships and educate groups like ours, they build a foundation for lasting peace. Perhaps the most personal take away, though, is that I can now confidently share my first-hand perspective with my community.