We walked together to the German colony, cutting through quiet shady neighborhoods dotted with corner cafes, to get to the poet Linda Visquit’s house. Linda is an American who immigrated to Jerusalem with her husband in the ’70’s. She gave us homemade fruitcake and read us some of her work. It was delicate and illustrative, as floral and shadowy as the paintings in her gallery. I’m no poetry expert, but luckily she didn’t expect us to be; rather than interpreting the poems for us, she just let us absorb the effect. They seemed to deal a lot with her experience of being transplanted in a new environment, which is a topic a lot of us can probably relate to.
After leaving Linda’s, we went to see Gilad Meiri, whose work and manner were very different. Gilad used simpler language to discuss more political and social rather than personal topics, and many of his poems aimed for humor rather than elegiac drama. He took care to explain his work, pointing out details in specific words that could change the whole meaning of the poem. His philosophy focused on the idiocy of bureaucracy; as he told us, people are all stupid. It might have been offensive, but coming from someone who has witnessed decades of social turmoil, the adage could be understood to mean that the institutions we value are often excessive, ineffective or harmful.
We got a little free time for lunch to explore the German Colony, a neat little neighborhood full of cafes and bookstores and beautiful houses. Then we reconvened and used public transportation for the first time to go visit United Hatzalah. Hatzahal is an all-volunteer emergency medical organization, and NGO with government endorsement and astounding success. Nation-wide, they responded to about 220,000 medical emergencies last year in an average of 3 minutes, arriving fully equipped to solve a myriad of crises. They were a really impressive group with self-developed innovative technology. What I appreciated most about the organization was their commitment to cross borders; they encompassed Israeli citizens of all ethnicities and religions and served an equally diverse group, even in violent conflict-ridden zones. Organizations like this one put everyone on the same team and forge the path to peace.
Michael Brown, a volunteer in the organization and the son of a Northeastern professor, had a coffee with us and talked about his experience on the job and in Israel in general. He offered a lot of insight and a very optimistic outlook on the possibilities for peace. I liked his description of the Israeli people: they’ll yell at you for bad parking one minute and rush to help you if you trip the next. He said they’re a tough people who have seen too much war, but a compassionate and unified people as well.
Later in the evening, our group gathered in the biggest apartment for a quick security brief. Tensions have been high in the country lately, and although we have nothing to compare it with, I think we can all sense that tension in the city. But now that we’ve been fully informed, I personally feel very safe. The more concerning thing to consider is all of the Palestinian and Israeli people who have to go through this week without that feeling of security.
– Maggie Clark