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Diversity and Israel

  • December 3, 2018

by Benjamin S. Sheinbein

During my summer before my junior year of high school, I participated in a trip organized by my Jewish youth group to Poland and Israel. In Poland, I visited and toured the remains of horrific events from the Holocaust. This included some time at the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, and Majdanek, sites that truly tested my emotional capacity. After traveling through such devastating remains of the Holocaust, where millions of people had suffered and perished as a result of hatred and intolerance, it was time to travel to Israel.

I have been learning about Israel since elementary school as a student at a Jewish day school. After years of study and research, it was finally time to experience Israel for myself. I traveled though Israel for four weeks; each day impressed me more than the next. What amazed me the most, aside from  personal experience at the most holy sites, was how clear it was that diverse cultures, religions and ethnic backgrounds co-existed daily. Over the first week of the visit, I had a chance to talk with Syrian Christians, Israeli Jews, Jordanian Muslims, Brazilian Jews, and Canadian Catholics.

Israel’s diversity can be seen from many angles. On our first day in country, I noticed on the bus ride from the airport that the street signs were not just written in Hebrew, but also in English and Arabic. When looking for a quick bite to eat, individuals from my group could choose between several Arab and Israeli shops and restaurants. However, there was one phenomenon that I will remember and truly cherish forever.

We spent our last Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) in Jerusalem. Friday night prayers and songs were held outside, allowing us to look at the stars, and watch the streets become empty as many prepare for Shabbat. As we gathered to begin services, the Shabbat siren sounded. The siren is a rich and beautiful tone emitted in Jerusalem announcing the weekly commencement of the Sabbath. About halfway into services, ringing church bells began to join as we sang and prayed together. Shortly after, the Islamic call to prayer (Adhan) was heard from a minaret a few hundred yards away and filled the air with its beautiful sound. All three distinct and unique religious sounds played over the next 90 minutes.  After services, we gathered to discuss what we had heard.

For me this experience perfectly exemplified coexistence among so many diverse cultures, ethnicities, and religions in Israel. The world can learn a lot from Israel. Diversity and coexistence are crucial and necessary components of any peaceful and democratic society. What I learned from my personal experience is that Israel embraces both acceptance and diversity, and strives to incorporate both in all aspects of society.

Ben Sheinbein is a member of the Indiana University Class of 2021, and a former ADL Heartland Intern.