U. S. Servas

promoting world peace one conversation at a time…

Servas Trip to Israel by Regine and Tim!

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This article is intended to inform and encourage new members (as we were) to optimistically engage the wonderful the hosts that they will find on their list and how excited and receptive our hosts were in Israel. Where did we stay in Galilee? This is ANOTHER very interesting story and one that made our travel VERY special and dear to our hearts.   We stayed with 2 families we had never met before.  At a Christmas party last year we heard about and joined United States Servas (www.usservas.org) which is this wonderful 60 year old organization dedicated to world peace.  Servas operates in 126 nations (truly global) with 15,500+ members worldwide offering members free access to other member’s homes for a minimum of two nights (may be longer if host offers) with NO reciprocity or exchange of money expected. The host offers a bed and typically a couple of evening meals will be shared with the host family as well. The mission of the organization is to foster peace through cultural exchange and understanding by allowing people around the world to know each other by sharing a couple of nights lodging. meals and good conversation.

When you initially receive the list of “hosts” in a country you will be visiting, it is just like contacting friends by alerting them: Hey I am in the area, are you available? What a great opportunity to meet people and understand better their country, their cultures and their lives.  We learned this through staying with  two  “host” families in Galilee (this was the only region we had the opportunity to try use our list – elsewhere we had other accommodation pre-arranged).  So we had the pleasure of sharing intimacy with two wonderful Israeli families. It was a very touching experience.  Conversations helped us understand some aspects of Israeli life and the delicate balance between Jews and Arabs – and their daily challenges in the countryside well away from the greater Tel Aviv reality – often considered the “other” Israel….hip, young, urban, sectarian and on the move, more like NY/Miami than Israe

ImageThe first Galilee couple were Alon and Inbal (and 4 kids – see photo). Their oldest daughter left home the week we arrived to begin her 2 years of compulsory military service (3 years for men).  Alon is a ‘sheriff’. Constant vigilance against possible theft that is needed in spite of bright security lights shining and patrols all night long around the village.  His challenge is to be the peace maker and not escalate the anger when theft (cars, cattle, electronics. etc) occurs. He has for instance organized meeting between the head of the Bedouins and other villagers to see how they can live together in peace and reduce youth violence… He has served in this role for 10 years.

Inbal’s dad was killed in combat during the 1967 war (Israeli’s count time much as we do unfortunately…by war era.  For us it is WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq/ Afghanistan, for Israeli people they have 6 or so wars since the end of WWII where each generation participated in the military and their generation’s conflict and often times someone dear was injured or lost their life). Inbal’s peace work focuses on what Jewish and Arab people have in common – their love of the land and its plants. She is compiling a book of native plants and their spiritual message to us –  part of her healing to bring understanding to both sides of the things they have in common.

While we ate dinner a young members of the Sheriff’s ”community watch” (24 hour patrols with M-16s slung loosely from their shoulder’s) dropped by to check in with the him.  The sheriff is ALWAYS on call…..The headline in the Jerusalem post this morning shouted that “80 Rockets and Mortar shells fired from Gaza Strip Landed in Israel….3 near dead including 2 foreign workers…retaliation likely …worst shelling in a decades …?”  This made us understand better the response of a   family near Jerusalem: one potential host told us that she was sorry, she wanted to host us, but could not since her grand kids were coming to stay because they live near the Gaza strip which is unsafe since the bombing started again.  This is the reality of being in a country at war.  Now every new house is required to be built with a bomb shelter which adds an enormous cost (around $20 000 per home)… Similar we suppose to requiring us to build hurricane ready houses in Florida…but for natural disasters, not preventable human tragedy (?).

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Here is a photo with our second  hosts: Arie and Mira are at the back with two of their four children (one son had been adopted as a baby from Ethiopia). Their oldest child just finished his required military service that week and was transitioning …it’s a way of life in Israel for all. Their Canadian-Israeli friends Frank and Elaine came to dinner too. Here we experienced our first Sabah diner. The tradition for the more religious Israelis  is that men put a kippah (small cap) on their head and our host provided one for me (Tim) and Frank.  Arie began the meal by reading a short Hebrew prayer, then he circulated a glass of wine we all sipped from and gave each of us a piece of bread… which concluded the ritual. We found touching to see the reality and simplicity of this sharing wine and bread as in Jesus’ last meal!  Simpler that the Catholic mass rituals we grew up with.

Elaine teaches English to classes of mixed young Jewish and Arab students. A conversation ensued about education – is it true that Arab schools receive less funding than Jewish ones?  Nobody knew for sure. Mira’s experience is that Arabs can enter university preferentially with comparable grades to Jewish students. Indeed, this Israel program for Arabs (much like that for minorities in the US) is to encourage a higher level of education among young Arabs – hoping that better education will help relationships.  Perhaps so, perhaps not. Peaceful coexist is not always obvious or linear. People around the table were concerned about potential adverse impacts of the middle-east Muslim extremists and conflicts on Israeli-Arab young people.

This wonderful Sabbath meal was followed the next day by a wonderful tour of well preserved local Roman ruins. Elaine and Frank proposed to guide us to the nearby site that contained a very well preserved Roman city.

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The site of Zippori is still being excavated and Elaine had participated in many of those early efforts. We walked down through huge water reserves system and through underground tunnels historically distributing fresh water to various parts of the city.  Elaine also showed us some things from the area that reminded her of play things from her own childhood. She enjoyed going back and was always amazed at the excavation progress – she pointed out with excitement the Roman paved road with the groove marks from the chart wheels, another paving stones was engraved with a an ancient Jewish Menorah and another stone with kids games from over 2000 years ago. She made the day so much fun! We ate a cactus fruit, sucked on dried up carob beans, chewed anise seeds, and picked and ate little sweet white pomegranates. What a treat this visit was.  This is what is amazing with : You meet people and spend such quality time with them!

In the evening, after a walk at dusk over the hillsides with stunning sunset view of the surrounding landscape, looking at the same vista as the Roman, Tim played music with Mira, our host and I enjoyed looking at Arie’s woodworking tools and projects!  It was soon time to go to bed as everyone else was getting up early to start the work week the following day and we were on our way to Cana (see photo below)

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Arie gets up at 5am every day and drives 1.5 hours to his work with a high tech Tel Aviv medical equipment company. He travels a lot elsewhere as well in his work. It seems that everyone travels long distance to go to work. Mira also travels over an hour drive each way (north) providing counseling for WWII Holocaust victims.  Getting to know these hosts and their kids and friends, was truly one of the high points of our seven week visit to Israel. From now on anywhere we travel we will always seek to visit and stay with families and encourage anyone we encounter or know or can reach to do so as well. It truly helps bring the world closer and each of us to live in the lives of others, even if just for a very short time.

Thanks for reading,

Regine Maligne and Tim Lynch

U.S. Servas Travelers

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Author: United States Servas, Inc.

Servas is a worldwide cooperative cultural exchange network established in 1948 and composed of member hosts and travelers working together to foster peace, goodwill and mutual respect. Servas seeks to realize these aims by providing opportunities for person-to-person contacts between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Our mission includes providing approved US and international travelers with opportunities to be guests of Servas member hosts around the world.

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