Profile of a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood in Haifa

Featured

I published a piece in The Jerusalem Post‘s Metro section about Masada street, the vibrant, bohemian center of Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood. The piece, titled “Haifa’s Florentin,” (which references a hip neighborhood called Florentin in Tel Aviv), profiles the neighborhood and describes some grassroots efforts being made here. It also examines what coexistence means for people living in this mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood.

Since the article is pay-walled, I have copied the article below. As always, let me know what you think.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Haifa’s Florentin

While the municipality could do more to renovate the ill-kempt Hadar neighborhood – one of the country’s most diverse – grassroots efforts are being made to promote coexistence and encourage community activism.

By LAURA ROSBROW

Masada Street

Photos by Laura Rosbrow

 

Approaching Masada Street in Haifa, a small bakery kiosk with “Masada” written in orange and blue graffiti welcomes you. The kiosk offers the usual fare: burekas, chocolate and cheese baked goods, and of course, pita. But on a large plate next to the cashier, the bakery displays a food combination this reporter had never seen before in Israel: halla with za’atar.

This unusual fusion symbolizes a lot about Masada Street. It is one of the few places in the country where Jews and Arabs live side by side. This street is the bohemian heart of Hadar Hacarmel, which is one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods: Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, Russian immigrants, students and foreigners all reside here.

Graffiti

 

Many of the street’s buildings are adorned with graffiti art reminiscent of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, and a good number of store names are written in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian.

The street has an alternative, grassroots vibe. A poster hung on the door of MishMash, a new vegan café and restaurant, presents an intriguing invitation: “In March, a group was created for men that will engage in a wide range of issues: sexuality, politics, emotions, ecology, and more.”

At Café Masada, the street’s signature neighborhood café, one often hears snippets of political, left-wing conversations.

One person exclaims, “I’m not an extremist! I’m just.…”

Falafel

Similar to Florentin, many of Hadar’s buildings look ill-kempt, and one can tell that the neighborhood, although colorful, could use a face-lift. Nestled between Arab neighborhoods Wadi Nisnas and Wadi Salib, Hadar has historically been characterized as a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. The peak periods of the neighborhood, created at the beginning of the 20th century, coincide with the largest waves of Jewish immigration: in 1948 when many Holocaust survivors settled in the area, and in the early 1990s when many newcomers from the former Soviet Union were first absorbed there.

However, both groups treated Hadar more like a launching pad than an ideal destination. Some Russians have stayed in the area, largely because of economic constraints. Most of the neighborhood’s residents are lower income, and many of the neighborhood’s buildings have suffered from years of neglect.

When asked about the city planning department’s strategy for Hadar, a top official (who asked not to be named) says, “The city is in the midst of renovating Yerushalayim and Pevsner streets. That is what the city is investing in Hadar. This construction is the only project specific to Hadar.”

Although this is a solid effort, it seems more could be done to improve the neighborhood’s infrastructure so that it can become a desired, long-term place of residence. Instead, the city has focused more attention on bringing young people to the neighborhood. In partnership with the Haifa Municipality, the University of Haifa and the Jewish Agency, a student village – Kfar Hastudentim – was created in Hadar in 2007, shortly after the Second Lebanon War. Students participating in the project move to Hadar and receive a NIS 14,500 scholarship. In exchange, they do community work with Hadar residents, such as facilitating youth groups, community organizing, assisting the elderly population and coexistence projects.

Inbal Levy-Leibovits, the director of Kfar Hastudentim, explains that the project’s main goal is to “stimulate a process of urban renewal.” In the long term, she hopes that the students that “have gone through this program will be dedicated to society and the country later on in their lives.” She also hopes “that some of them might choose to manifest this dedication within the neighborhood.”

So far, around 200 people have participated in the program, 50 of whom have remained in the neighborhood.

Noam Fonia, a 27-year-old Technion student, moved to Hadar a year ago and has been active in the student village.

He thinks the neighborhood is “fascinating… There are a lot of groups, communities, activities and good people.

I’m always recommending it to other students.”

He is involved with a project that helps teenagers in the neighborhood, and he likes it a lot. When asked if he plans to stay in Haifa after he graduates, he says, “Yes, I would like to stay in Hadar if I can. That’s the plan.” But he will need to find work in order to stay in the area.

Perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of activists such as 32-year-old Shai Nir, who manages Hadar’s Community Center. Nir moved to Hadar seven years ago from Jaffa. He says he moved from that mixed Arab-Jewish area because “Hadar is more mixed. It’s more like Israeli society: Arabs and Jews, immigrants and veterans, religious and secular.

Everyone is here.”

At the Elika Art Bar Café, where an Arab artist’s paintings, a Che Guevara poster and Banksy prints line the walls, an amusing cross-cultural interaction is taking place. Two older Americans are sitting with a Jewish Israeli man in his 60s. One of the Americans proudly tells the manager, who is Arab, that they are all attending their first Arabic lesson tonight. The manager smiles, says that’s great, and then continues to talk to his co-worker in Arabic.

When asked if there is a feeling of coexistence in Hadar, Fonia reflects, “On Masada Street, you see students, Jews and Arabs all sitting in one place. It’s not exactly a rosy picture; it’s more a feeling of openness.”

In fact, whenever this question is asked, the term “coexistence” feels a bit like a dirty word. Var Kevenbrov, the cofounder of MishMash, flatly states, “Yes, there’s coexistence because everyone is living here together.” She then laughs, not knowing what else to say.

Nir explains, “We do not live outside Israeli society.”

Addressing racist incidents that are reported in the media, he adds, “Of course it influences us. But we deal with this. We work in collaboration. We work together. Of course, we have a lot of work to do.”

Waheed Asakli, who manages the Elika Art Bar Café, says that racism in the Arab community has been on the rise: “Life for Arabs is not easy. Racism is increasing all the time; the economic climate is difficult.”

When asked if there is a feeling of coexistence at Elika, he simply replies, “For me, it’s not exactly true. I would say that everyone speaks his truth, but I wouldn’t call it coexistence. That’s what we’re trying to do here…Your truth is different from my truth. But if you say, ‘That’s okay’ and it’s not okay, then you’re not being real with me. We want everyone to be real.”

It appears that the words “coexistence” and “reality” do not mix.

Coexistence perhaps connotes a state of utopia where people live in harmony.

Although folks who frequent Masada Street do interact with each other, often forming close bonds, the mere word “coexistence” seems to gloss over the challenges each community faces: discrimination felt within the Arab community, economic hardships and challenges integrating the Russian community.

Even though the student village and other social groups work with Russians, their presence can hardly be felt in hip, younger areas such as Masada.

Instead of lofty ideals, Asakli hopes that Elika provides a space where “many different kinds of people are more free, true, human and democratic.”

Everything is done in the three main languages of its clientele – Hebrew, Arabic and English – so that everyone can be understood. He hopes this open atmosphere – where films and music are played, art and books are discussed, and alternative thinking is constructed – encourages people to create change.

Not surprisingly, Masada’s peak hours are in the evening. When choosing what to eat for dinner, one is likely to order street food – hamburgers, empanadas, chorizos, pizza, felafel and the like. Music is playing, people are conversing, but there’s one big thing missing: foot traffic.

Masada Street’s multicultural bohemian epicenter is only two blocks long. It is hard to believe this because there is so much activity in these two blocks.

While sitting at any café in the area, one could not see a passerby for a span of five minutes. Many of the smaller cafés have only half a dozen customers in an hour.

However, the solution to this lack of activity is complex. As Inbal Levy- Leibovits notes, “On the one hand, you want to help the local population living here and bring them up. But on the other hand, you want to re-brand the neighborhood to the outside, and make it attractive to people from different backgrounds.”

Rating the news: “In Fight for Marriage Rights, ‘She’s Our Thurgood Marshall’” – The New York Times

Featured

This story profiles lawyer Mary Bonauto, who “some say is almost single-handedly responsible for the same-sex marriage cases now pending before the Supreme Court.” I like these kinds of stories because it reminds us that social change happens because of individuals who put in a lot of work over a long period of time. This article from the New York Times is a nice, positive, instructive read.

Rating: Stuff that makes me happy.

Craig Dilger for The New York Times

Craig Dilger for The New York Times

 

Rating the News: ‘How would Obama’s speech play in Ramallah?’ – The Jerusalem Post

Featured

How would Obama’s speech play in Ramallah?,” which was written by Jerusalem Post Senior Correspondant Herb Keinon shortly after Obama’s speech yesterday in Jerusalem, captures a lot of my feelings and lingering questions about his visit. So, I’m just going to repost it here

Rating: Sh*t is complicated.

I’d love your thoughts on this piece and Obama’s visit in general.

Photo by Ariel Shasha, a student at Bar Ilan University.

Photo by Ariel Shasha, a student at Bar Ilan University that attended Obama’s speech.

Obama’s visit to Israel and the West Bank in Pictures

Featured

As I’ve been scouring the news the last few days, eagerly anticipating Obama’s visit, I’ve been affected by the photos. They show how differently Obama is perceived in Israel in comparison to the West Bank.

Here are photos of Obama flags in Israel before the visit:

Photo from Your Jewish News

In Jerusalem: “Unbreakable Alliance, President Obama in Israel, 2013.” Photo from Your Jewish News

Students in Israel make an image of President Obama from chocolate. Photo from Ariel Schalit/AP

Students in Israel make an image of President Obama from chocolate. Photo from Ariel Schalit/AP

And here are the first photos of Obama in Israel. Around 1,000 people came to greet him at the airport, including a military band, politicians, and a whole lot of journalists:

The whole scene at the airport as Obama arrives. Photo from Camilla Schick, Jerusalem Post

The whole scene at the airport as Obama arrives. Photo from Camilla Schick, Jerusalem Post

President Shimon Peres, President Barack Obama, and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They all wore blue! Photo from Ben Hartman, Jerusalem Post

President Shimon Peres, President Barack Obama, and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They all wore blue ties! Photo from Ben Hartman, Jerusalem Post

Meanwhile, this is what has been going on in the West Bank.

Palestinian protestors against Obama. Photo from REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Palestinian protestors against Obama. Photo from REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Photo from AP

Photo from AP

Photo from EPA

Photo from EPA

Obviously, many Palestinians are not pleased with Obama coming.

Obama’s already done quite a charm offensive to Israel, saying some words in Hebrew and describing the Jewish people’s 3,000-year-old connection to the land.

What will Obama do when he meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? It’s hard to imagine Obama being able to sweet talk his way out of these hostilities. Honestly, I have no idea what that kind of charm offensive could look like.

Rating the news: ‘Drinking tea with the man who killed my father’ – Ynet Magazine

Featured

This a moving story about Jo Berrya woman whose British MP father was killed by Pat Magee, a bomber from the IRA. When he was released from jail as part of final peace negotiations with Ireland, she sought to develop a dialogue with the man who killed her father. They have been in a dialogue ever since.

They both visited Israel and told Ynet their story. The piece is moving and thought provoking, and I personally doubt that I would have the fortitude to do something like Ms. Berry did. I wonder how many stories there would be like this if  peace were negotiated in Israel/Palestine?

Rating: Stuff that makes me happy/ Sh*t is complicated

Jo Berry and Pat Magee Photo: Ofer Amram

Jo Berry and Pat Magee. Photo: Ofer Amram, Ynet 

Rating the news: ‘Liberman: IDF should open fire at stone-throwers’ – The Jerusalem Post

Featured

Avigdor Liberman, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s second hand man and Yisrael Beytenu chairman (who is also on trial for corruption), wants to change IDF rules of engagement so that soldiers should open fire at stone throwers rather than use dispersal methods, such as tear gas. My first gut reaction to this article from The Jerusalem Postwas man, this is definitely stuff that makes me mad. It’s totally messed up to shoot Palestinians that are throwing stones. A gun seems like excessive force.

Rating: Stuff that makes me mad/ Sh*t is complicated

Sh*t is also complicated because of the context behind the comment. On Thursday, The Times of Israel reported that, “Six people were injured, one critically, after stones thrown by Palestinians caused a car to collide with a truck near the West Bank settlement of Ariel.” That one critically injured was a 3-year-old. She’s currently in a hospital, fighting for her life.

Additionally, violence in the West Bank has been on the rise. Here’s a good tally of attacks from The Jerusalem Post:

“A total of 139 attacks, including firebombings and the use of improvised explosives, took place in February, compared to 83 in January.
One hundred of February’s attacks took place in the West Bank – 84 of them firebombings – compared to 56 in the previous month.
In the capital, 38 attacks – 35 of them firebombings – were registered by the Shin Bet in February, compared to 27 in January.”

In general, I support a 2-state solution and hope for as little violence as possible. I don’t want soldiers to shoot at Palestinians throwing stones, but I also want stone throwing to recede.

Maybe President Obama can give his thoughts on the subject when he visits Israel this week. Although I doubt he will, considering he’s coming here on a “listening tour.”

What do you suggest?

ShowImage

Bus damaged by stones on Route 5 near Ariel, March 14 

Photo: Channel 10

So far this year, being a woman is more deadly than terror in Israel

Featured

(This post was recently re-published onto the Jerusalem Post’s blog site.) I can’t count the number of terror related articles I have read in the last year about Israel. On the other hand, I’ve probably only read a few dozen articles over the same period of time about Israeli women facing domestic violence.

With this kind of media focus on conflict many Israeli women, myself included, are more afraid of terror than their intimate partners. However, the data reveals another story.

The Women’s International Zionist Organization just announced that the number of women that have been killed by partner violence in Israel so far this year is 19this is more than nine times the number of Israeli women that have been killed in terrorist related incidents in 2012, including Operation Pillar of Defense. Only two women have been killed in terror attacks so far this year. Furthermore, the number of people in general that have been killed in terror incidents in Israel in 2012 is 14: this is five people less than the total number of women that have been killed by their partners.

As a journalist and a woman, this gives me a lot to think about. Any thoughts from readers?

PHOTO: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST

Arabs and Jews want to save lives

Featured

Some good news for once. Read my Jpost post about an inspirational group of Orthodox Jews (including ultra-Orthodox) and Arabs that save lives in East/West Jerusalem, as well as across Israel. Considering the most popular nonprofits seem to be public health related, they may be onto something. In fact, of the top 100 nonprofits around the world ranked by Global Journal, almost half of the top 25 are public health or humanitarian relief related.

What lessons do you think this group has for the peace movement? I’d love your thoughts, also because I’d like to delve into this deeper in my next post.

‘Israelis in Vietnam’ on JPost.com front page!

Featured

Israelis in Vietnam: From drug addicts to fakers, and in the middle, the heroic truth,” is my first article published directly to the Jerusalem Post’s website! No need to pay for it! And it made it to the front page of the website…so that’s cool.

Front page of the Jerusalem Post's website, 1.22.11

The piece is about Vietnam War veterans that later immigrated to Israel. I did interviews with two of them and their stories are very moving, especially regarding trauma. They are both interviewed for a new documentary in Israel about Israeli-Americans that fought in Vietnam, which airs tonight on Israel’s History Channel.

Arthur Regev, Interviewee

Dr. Jack Pastor, Interviewee

Let me know what you think.

Holocaust free speech v. hate speech?

Featured

There was a bill backed recently that would forbid the use of the term Nazi or anything associated with the Holocaust in Israel. This reminded me of the lessons I learned from writing the, “What are Holocaust humor’s limits?” article, and decided to write a Jpost post connecting the two. You agree with my assessment? Let me know what you think! I’m very curious to get others’ reactions.

Ultra-Orthodox protestors; Photo by Marc Sellem

Hipster Hitler comic with T-shirt