STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: From Tel Aviv to the West Bank: 10 Days and Four Unexpected Discoveries in Israel
By: Leonard Robinson, III
Over winter break, I had the opportunity to join American journalism students, who were interested in international affairs and government, tour Israel to take a glimpse into Middle Eastern affairs and life.
In this article, I explain four of the most unexpected discoveries that I made during my ten days in the Holy Land.
1. Israelis are trilingual and many have been to America
If an Israeli asks where you are from, simply saying “America” probably won’t suffice. Frustrated with my answer, a man in Jerusalem sarcastically stated, “Duh, why else would I be talking to you in English!” Israelis are taught Hebrew and English all the way throughout high school and must be fluent in English to graduate from university. Many speak other languages beside Hebrew and English to include Arabic, French, and Spanish.
I was pleasantly surprised by how many Israelis were not only profi- cient in American geography when I talked of living in Maryland and growing up in Texas and Louisiana, but the amount that actually have traveled here to the States, experiencing the vast cultural differences such as those between the northeast and southern states. Israelis are some of the most well-traveled people in the world, partially due to their mandatory military service, but also to the travel mentality that encourages young people to take a gap year to travel between military service and resuming educational and career opportunities. “Some of the most popular destinations are Europe, Latin America, the United States, Africa, and occasionally Asian countries, such as the Philippines,” explained Assaf Boker, our tour guide who traveled to Latin America and the United States. “You can literally walk on the streets of Israel and ask random people and they’ll tell you where they traveled.”
In addition to this, quite a few Israelis were born in America and immigrated to Israel with their families at a young age. An example of this is two young kids we met at an Argentinian Jewish kibbutz in Syderot who were born in New York. Among the children who followed American basketball, there was an interesting mix of Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards fans.
2. Oh the food! (And yes there was plenty of hummus!)
Like every major city, Israeli food trucks offer delicious falafel, schnitzel (chicken), and rice dishes for less than 25 shekels (7 USD). Interestingly, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s throughout Israel are mostly kosher and often have humorous titles for famous dishes. For example, in Israel, a big Mac is known as a “Big America.”
3. There’s a stray cat on every corner. Literally.
If you love cats, there was an abundance of your furry friends around Israel from the streets of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea to the cobblestone alleyways of Jaffa. Stray cats are such a normal sight for so many Israelis that locals joked that “the only thing in the Middle East that can be domes- ticated is a dog!” I observed quite a few stray dogs but not nearly as many compared to the stray cats!
According to some Israeli scholars and historians, stray cats may be entrenched in Israel’s history. They argue that during the time of Britain’s occupation, Israel had a severe rat problem, leading the British to respond by infiltrating the island with cats. As expected, the cats began producing much quicker than the British expected until when the Brit- ish left in 1948 it was too late! Others argue that a lack of fear or stigma of stray animals as carriers of unknown diseases or coherent legislation on a national legislation as the culprit for
If you’re a foodie, Israel’s freshly produced vegetables, salads, and fruits were blended into nearly every meal, along with freshly caught fish from the Sea of Galilee and warm pita bread. In addition to all of this, some of the best hummus that I’ve ever had in my life was in Israel; now I refuse to eat it anywhere else!
4. Many Israelis are supportive of President Trump’s decision on the American embassy.
In December, President Trump announced his decision to move the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. Many Israelis celebrated the decision, expressing excitement about the United States’ continued commitment and optimism for other countries to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Many in the international community, including Arab neighbors with Israel, warned President Trump against the decision.
After 10 days, I knew that I would never forget the New Jersey-sized, Mediterranean Sea bordering country and their locals who I taught awful American slang to, danced the night away with, and learned unmeasurable amounts about love, faith, politics, and countless other lessons. I credit them with providing me with such an amazing experience and the ability to share a glimpse with so many others back home.
Leonard Robinson is a first year student at the University of Baltimore where he plans to study Government and Public Policy
Photo courtesy of Leonard Robinson