These past 15 months, no matter how “hard” or “easy” any of us had it, we’ve learned a lot. Good stuff even. Our learning, you could say, has been one of the pandemic’s silver linings. To acknowledge some of those Silver Learnings, we’ve invited friends from different walks of life to share what they’ve learned from the pandemic. Our guess is you’ll hear some voices that sound like your own, and some that offer a window into a world you’ve not known but from which we can all now learn.
Juliet Wishner grew up in Billy’s congregation and is dedicating her life to creating social change in America and Israel/Palestine. After graduating from Ardsley High School (Ardsley, NY) she studied international studies and sociology at the University of Michigan, completing her studies in 2020. She firmly believes that through creating connections and relationships, we can form a long-lasting shared society.
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When I told people I was moving to Israel for nine-months in the midst of a global pandemic, they looked at me as if I was crazy — what on earth would convince me to do this? I am here as a part of a program called Yahel Social Change Fellowship. We work in two cities, Rishon Letzion and Lod, with marginalized communities that lack resources in many sectors.
Upon landing in Israel, I immediately went into a two-week quarantine with four strangers—soon to be my roommates. We looked longingly at the neighborhood that would become our home. It was a very interesting way to be brought into the community, for from our windows we observed what life was like in the neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu. We saw all the elderly men and women in traditional, white Ethiopian clothing juxtaposed with the children running around in neon t-shirts. We heard the music that played from cars passing around, spewing words and tunes not familiar to us. We smelled the falafel that the cart across the street from us made all day, everyday. Except Shabbat, when we saw, heard, and smelled nothing.
While quarantine was a huge challenge, it made me appreciate the neighborhood I am in, and to this day, every time I open the door to leave our apartment I feel extremely grateful — for freedom, for the neighborhood, and for the people. It is no downtown Tel Aviv, but Ramat Eliyahu has been my home, and I could not be more happy with it.
Being in Israel during the pandemic also made me appreciative of governments that take public health seriously. Quarantining was an intensely hard experience, as was our six-week lockdown, where we could not leave a .3-mile radius around our apartment. It was frustrating being forced to stay inside while seeing my friends overseas living a life where Covid seemingly did not exist. Looking back, though, I feel so lucky to have been somewhere where the government acted with extreme caution and desire to save lives. It was pretty difficult watching the lack of action in America — as Israel handled this issue and I felt safer, I watched as my home country steadily became worse.
As if this year wasn’t crazy enough, in May there was a war in Israel. The amount of death and destruction that was perpetrated by both sides of this conflict was heartbreaking and demoralizing. I watched as the shared society I have worked, and will continue working, to build crumbled before my very eyes. It felt like hope was lost — how can I be hopeful for peace when something like this happens?
Yet amidst all of the violence and anger, I have been moved by the connections that refuse to be broken. As I sat in a bomb shelter, one of the first people to text me was my Palestinian friend Samir who lives in Ramallah. We refuse to let the current situation damage our friendship, for that is how we all lose. Seeing all the posts on social media and hearing about how the war is being discussed internationally is extremely overwhelming. However, here on the ground, everyday I am finding people who refuse to let their narratives be written for them. From attending protests for peace to engaging in roundtable dialogues with Israelis and Palestinians, I have found a lot of strength: if they are not letting this break them, I sure as heck am not letting it break me.
This past year has been a real test of my spirit. There have been so many times I wanted to give up hope: in governments, in people, and just in humanity. Yet time and time again, I am reminded to never lose hope; in the darkest of times, light shines the brightest. I truly feel if I can make it through this year — living in a foreign country during a pandemic and war — I can make it through anything.