The other day we hosted a day-tour from the Tel Aviv region of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, the veteran immigrant welfare organization for us North Americans. They were quite a heterogeneous group of 18 new immigrants and old-timers, singles, couples, orthodox, secular, left and right. The day included the peace sculpture garden and lookout point in the Arab village of Kaukab, text study of Josephus overlooking the ruins of Yodfat, a simulation game on creating a new community on a mountaintop here in the Galilee, and a visit to our neighboring village of Sha'ab. It was a beautiful day, and we had a nice time together.
In preparation for the visit to Sha'ab I gave a brief background lecture on the history and the current state of relations between Jews and Arabs in the Galilee. I always try to keep my presentation as balanced and objective as I can, but I can't completely avoid revealing my own biases, so I tend to irritate those who are angry with the Arabs for their stubborn and persistent refusal to become Zionists In any case, the discourse remained friendly, and everyone enjoyed the visit to the junior high school and the meeting with the principal. I had thought that a group of the kids in our leadership training program would meet us, and we could divide up for home hospitality. However, only one, M., turned up, frustrated that all of her friends had other commitments. A recent high school graduate, M. is quiet and gracious and, it turns out, more responsible than a number of her peers. I asked her if she was interested in entertaining the whole group, and she called home and reported that we would be most welcome.
M.'s family lives in the center of the village, right across from the mosque. There are six children. Her father is a construction laborer, currently unemployed. Her mother is a homemaker. We sat in a circle of plastic chairs on the porch, and were plied with the ritual refreshments cold juice, bowls of fruit, and Turkish coffee. M.'s English is quite good, though for her parents we had to translate questions into Hebrew. M. is planning to work for a year to save for college, and hopes to study social work. She and her family make it clear that they are content with their identity as Israeli Palestinians, and have no desire to be anything else or to live anywhere else. When asked why she, unlike many of her peers, is not married yet, she responded that she wants to study first, and besides, she hasn't found the right man yet.
The group's response to the encounter was most positive; for some, I think it was a really moving experience; most Israeli Jews have never visited the home of an Israeli Arab. On the way out, I thanked M.'s mother, and commented that I thought M. was a terrific kid. She beamed and clenched her fists and said, "Yes, M., she's a 'real man!'" And I was struck once again by admiration for Arab girls like M. who are balancing on a high wire between their rootedness in and loyalty to traditional village culture and the wide open possibilities of modern (or post-modern) Israel. I have now encountered quite a number of such young women, and I find their situation fascinating. Some fall off the wire, into assimilation or emigration or into Moslem fundamentalism or an early and often deadening marriage. But many keep their balance, and manage to live in both worlds, partaking of the challenge of academic study and career which almost inevitably leads to a critical look at the strictures of traditional society yet without abandoning their roots. To some extent they become participant-observers in their own lives.
I have confidence that M. will be one who will keep her balance, with grace. After all, she's a real man.