From time to time it requires a straightforward appear about your surroundings to understand that there is one thing you are missing. That was the case for Isaac Ohrenstein, 20, a 1st-year student at Harvard University.
Although studying at a Jerusalem yeshiva for the duration of a gap year amongst higher college and college, a household buddy gave Ohrenstein a tour about the Old City, exactly where he lived. Ohrenstein realized that he knew tiny about his neighbors, even even though they all resided inside a ten-15 minute stroll from him. As a outcome, he decided he wanted to discover the regions from which they hailed and find out about distinctive cultures, with the target of in search of widespread ground amongst Jews and Arabs.
In addition to the Missouri native’s US passport, which is stamped with an Israeli visa, Ohrenstein has a British passport (his father has British citizenship), creating it substantially less complicated for him to travel to other nations. His odyssey took six months, with visits to 33 nations in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Although no location is the exact same when traveling, there had been widespread themes, such as an affinity with the Jewish people today and culture. Along the way, Ohrenstein created positive to stop by the neighborhood Jewish communities, either at a synagogue or at neighborhood Chabad centers, as effectively as speak with Israeli envoys and ambassadors.
His travels incorporated a memorable stop by to the final Jewish shtetl in the globe, situated in Qirmizi Qasaba, Azerbaijan, which is close to Iran. Although there, he met with the locals and discovered about their customs and cultures, such as their language, referred to as Judeo-Tat, and their cuisine inspired by the Caucasus.
Traveling to such destinations and meeting with Israelis and Jews gave him an chance to obtain distinctive perspectives on contentious subjects. He recalled 1 poignant expertise whilst in Alexandria, Egypt, as he toured with a lady initially from Sudan, who is a professor of Palestinian research at a Canadian university. They spent the day speaking, touring, and going to war monuments from the 1973 War, as the Yom Kippur War is identified in Egypt. He discovered about the conflict from her viewpoint, and her family’s history and interactions with Jews. For Ohrenstein, the encounter helped him see the humanity aspect of conflict.
AT THE Pyramids in Giza. (credit: Isaac Ohrenstein)
Encountering antisemitism in states hostile to Israel
Although TRAVELING to states hostile to Israel, he ran the threat of encountering antisemitism. Malaysia, in certain, is a hotbed of Jew-hatred, Ohrenstein mentioned. The “striking moments of antisemitism” played itself out in a nation that essentially has no Jews and no infrastructure for Jewish life.
In a conversation with the chief rabbi of Singapore, he discovered that it is virtually not possible to do company in Malaysia if you are Jewish. Malaysia is 1 of a lot of nations that forbid entry to anybody holding an Israeli passport. On this trip, he created positive to keep away from conversations about his Jewishness.
Ohrenstein also saw the most important synagogue in Turkey that was attacked by ISIS twice. “You could nevertheless see the bullet holes,” he recounted. He also talked about that there are helmets beneath the seats – a scary reality to feel about.
He was most shocked by the “amazing quantity of receptivity to Israel and Israeli company culture” in the Gulf states. “It was unbelievable to stroll about downtown Dubai and see kippot. I didn’t even see that in Brussels,” he recalled. “It is safer to be Jewish in some Arab counties than in Europe.”
With regards to Jewish life, he mentioned there is an extraordinary vibrancy that he didn’t totally grasp till arriving, each in terms of diversity of practices and communities. He emphasized that the locals appreciated “that a person Jewish respected their culture,” saying also that “people hear you are Jewish and contact you their brother.” General, he sensed the warmth and neighborhood all through the Arab globe.
When it came to the situation of Palestinians, Ohrenstein observed that opinions depended on the physical proximity to the conflict. For instance, he mentioned people today in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan did not care substantially, whereas in Qatar there is a “real sense of affinity to the Palestinians.” In Jordan, he felt there was a delicate balance amongst the wish for Israeli tourist funds and a discomfort with serving Israelis.
In common, even though, his Jewishness was seldom an situation, as he proudly donned a kippah in a lot of nations.
Ohrenstein believes that the “Western dream remains alive in Arab states,” which see Israel as intangibly related with that dream. “Just appear at the reputation of McDonald’s, KFC and the Difficult Rock Cafe in these nations,” he noted. “The [local population] desires to travel and have the chance to retire. Undertaking company with Israel suggests acquiring to that location.”
Ohrenstein, who is majoring in social research at Harvard, with a concentrate on politics and economics, hopes to translate his experiences into developing relations amongst Jews and Arabs. In certain, he sees hope coming from the Abraham Accords. At some point he plans to make aliyah in the meantime, he will be interning in Israel this summer season with a venture capital firm.
“I definitely want people today to see that performing [a trip like this] is achievable. I felt incredibly boxed in at yeshiva and in an American bubble in Israel,” he mentioned. “I keep in mind sitting in the beit midrash (study hall) and booking flights. This trip definitely broadened my horizons and let me construct relationships. It is one thing that provides hope.”
He joked that people today initially believed he was crazy to embark on this journey. They had been concerned about his security and felt he could possibly be wasting his time. But now, he mentioned, they see the energy in connecting with other people and the worth of interaction to dispel hate and bring people today across the area, and the globe, collectively. ❖