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Politics and Activism

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 60

Language is a powerful tool.

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 60

Wow, part 60 already?!

We are still at the Shalem College, but we have moved to another room. Dr. Daniel Gordis will be speaking to us; he is a lecturer on Israeli society, the challenges facing "the Jewish state," and American-Israeli relations. In addition to that, he is also a two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award. He has a very Zionist view of the land; in fact, his talk to us was about what Zionism looks like today.

Dr. Gordis wanted to explore what it meant to create a new Jewish identity. He also talked to us about how Zionism has changed from what it was 70 years ago. He began with a story about himself growing up in the United States. In elementary school, he learned about the Mayflower, the Declaration of Independence, and Manifest Destiny--just like any other American student. He said, however, that he never really related to any of the American stories he learned about in history class (to be fair, who has ever related to the old white men of the 1700s?). Rather, he always felt a greater connection to a homeland that was halfway across the world.

He originally did not want to make Aliyah and move to Israel, but his wife did. So they compromised--meaning they moved to Jerusalem. He said that he's felt at home ever since. He never imagined he would be here, but here he is. He imagines a new Zionist and Jewish identity different from a time that Jews were struggling to find an established country.

To him, there is no question that this land is Jewish Israeli land. To him, the shift of Zionism has changed because of the fact that they no longer are trying to create a country. To him, the goal now is to build a country that is generous and well respected in the international community.

He went on a tangent about his students who were reading the Iliad and the Odyssey. They were Shalem students who had already served time in the IDF. This was right after the second intifada.

When they read about wars in the Iliad, one student raised his hand and said, "This is nothing like war. This is not war. What we saw was war." Dr. Gordis said his whole room fell silent. An expression of sadness and pain passed across every student's face. Dr. Gordis said that this was all the more reason that a new Jewish identity needed to be formed--because all of these young Jews had defended the creation of the older wave of Zionism.

After talking to Daniel Gordis, we went on a geopolitical tour of Jerusalem with Iftah Burman, the founder of the Middle East Learning Academy (MELA). Here is a quote from Burman himself about why he started MELA:

"Working with Jewish educational tours in Israel, I found that people visiting here sometimes have a lack of understanding to what is the true history of the different conflicts that mark the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular. It seemed a lot of misconceptions, media fed mostly, were causing a misunderstanding of what each side has done and said in the past, and what weight the different elements have.

As a result, many people found their initial viewpoint to be misperceived, after learning more about the subject from me. Over time, I found that one of the leading questions at the end of one of my lectures or presentations was 'why wasn't I aware of this information?' In 2011, I took it upon myself to supply a remedy for this problem. After all, Middle Eastern topics are on the evening news almost every night, all over the world.

The word 'conflict' seems at times to be a part of the name of this region. It has always been my conviction that through knowledge people can advance themselves and others, and solutions can be promoted to long standing issues. I wanted to create a nonpartisan, educational, innovative hub for Middle Eastern current affairs."

He took us to a lookout point over Jerusalem and gave us a detailed history of the region. After that, we went to the new American Embassy building and discussed the politics of the moving of the building to Jerusalem.

The building was built right on the line dividing East and West Jerusalem--literally, half of the building is in West Jerusalem and the other half is over a line that is drawn on maps of this region--so shouldn't we be able to argue that it's half in Palestinian East Jerusalem? No. Apparently, there is a small demilitarized zone right over the West Jerusalem line, and that is why the building is not, in fact, half in East Jerusalem and half in West Jerusalem. Rather, it's half in West Jerusalem and half in the demilitarized zone. Well played, Trump, well played.

We then watched the sunset over another lookout point--this time, the lookout point was over the "green line" that separated the West Bank and Israel. We saw the rooftops of both Israeli and Arab neighborhoods; ten years ago, a building was almost always distinguished by the water containers on the roof.

Arab buildings used to exclusively have black barrels as water containers, while Israeli buildings always had white barrels. Today, though, there is some inter-coloring of the water barrels--the black ones are usually cheaper, so many Israelis choose to buy black barrels for their homes.

After our geopolitical tour, we went to meet with Tal Becker, an Israeli negotiator who was present at the peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Stay tuned for the next section!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Allison Fishman

1. Why is Wilson Hall so complicated to navigate? Even as a senior, I still get lost in Wilson. As a freshman, I was warned about the unnecessary complexity of the building, was laughed at by upperclassman for my confused looks on the first day of school and walked and rewalked the whole hall before finding my classroom. #annoying.

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