Israel Day Five: Happy New Year!
Last night I wrote just after arriving back at the Rosary Sisters after spending the evening in Bethlehem celebrating New Years. I wrote about the events of the day, but didn’t give any details on the New Year’s Celebration itself. I have to devote some space to it on this blog, even though it wasn’t necessarily part of the curriculum, because it seems to me to be one of the most immersive cultural experiences that we’ve had thus far. Of course, the goal of this trip—and this course— isn’t necessarily to have a cultural immersive experience. At least, the goal is not to understand Israeli or Palestinian culture as it exists today. Instead, we devote most of our waking hours to exploring the ruins of ancients cities and dwellings, piecing together cultural as it existed many hundred and even many thousand years ago. In fact, our interactions with the present-day residents of Israel/Palestine are rather minimal. We’re getting to know the nuns who work at the Rosary Sisters Hostel where we stay and we occasionally see Gabi, our travel agent here in Israel. We also have had several local scholars come and speak to us in the evenings, but again our focus even during these conversations are on the people and civilizations of the past. I write this not as a complaint, but rather as an observation. I think that this trip has been very well planned and in many ways I do feel culturally immersed; only, I feel culturally immersed in civilizations spanning the centuries and millennia before the present day.
However, our time celebrating the New Year in the restaurant last night made me reconsider the value of interacting with locals today. Up until that point, I had given my interactions with Israelis and Palestinians very little thought, with the exception of showing appreciation for their care in hosting us or in coming to speak to us. However, last night, surrounded by hundreds of Palestinians celebrating a holiday, I was struck with the same sense of culture shock that I had experienced while living in Belgium, intentionally trying to absorb and adapt to the local culture. Suddenly, I became aware of just how different social practices were, from dancing to eating to interacting with one another. My classmates made some comments about how we seemed so tacky compared to them and how much we had to learn about their culture. It seems to me now more important to strive to better understand present-day Israeli and Palestinian culture over the course of this trip. Granted, the cultures present in this region today differ drastically from those cultures that we study as we visit various archaeology sites. Still, parallels and connections abound and I don’t want to miss them.