Eric's journal from the Israel – Jordan tour
 July 1 to July 10, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - Day One

We left home 7:30 a.m. Monday for the Portland airport and met the rest of the Geese at 9:15. The flight was delayed, and we studied a map of Israel over coffee.  The first impression one has is that much of the country is labeled “disputed.”

The ensuing trip was long and uneventful.  Our wait in Newark was only two hours instead of four since the earlier plane was late.  Security for the 11-hour Tel Aviv flight was tight, as expected.  We were curious about an Israeli law that mandated no one leave their seats 45 minutes before touchdown.   They even locked the bathrooms.

We were met at the airport early Tuesday morning (middle of the night US time) by our expeditor, Shmulik, (or Samuel) a long-time Embassy employee and FSN (Foreign Service National)—the backbone of the Foreign Service system since they stay put in their respective countries while American personnel circulate every several years.

PAO (public affairs officer) Andy Koss—and the person largely responsible for launching Old Grey Goose International—met us outside with our other driver, Danny, who had been a security guard before working for the Embassy. FSN, Elena Mischel, who organized the tour, also was there to greet us.

We were transported to out Hotel, the Sea Executive Suites, which turns out to be quite luxurious compared to our usual accommodations.  In addition to a view of the Mediterranean Sea, we have actual suites with computers, printers/fax machines and kitchens.

After reviewing our tour schedule with Elena, we rested for a couple hours but decided not to sleep for fear of being up all night. At 2:00 PM we gathered for a rehearsal, and at 3:00 we left for the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Yaffo (Jaffa). 

This Center serves the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in the city and surrounding neighborhoods through cultural activities, workshops and exposure to traditions from the different religions.  The Community Center was established in 1993 for the purpose of bringing together Arabs and Jews with a goal of mutual recognition and cooperation.  Its location in the heart of a city that has been integrated for many years offers a unique opportunity for long-term interaction among members of three religions.

We met with Ibrahim, the Center’s director, and he explained the philosophy of this one-of-a-kind Israeli center.  The goal of mutual cultural exchange and appreciation is very similar to Old Grey Goose International’s (OGGI) mission, and it was great to see that their main avenue of interaction is music and the arts.  The director is an impressive and dedicated man who works tirelessly to improve relations among his 350, or so, constituents—especially by encouraging interaction among children.  He was familiar with the Seeds of Peace organization in Maine that does similar work.

We attended a rehearsal for a dance performance to be offered the following day.  Children from the ages of four to 17 participated.

Our performance was outside, and we met the soundmen who will be with us for 10 days: Matty and David.  We gave them OGGI Israel tour caps and they were very proficient taking photos, video and working the sound equipment.

We played for about an hour, and the audience of various ages was enthusiastic.  The setting was similar to a school yard with the exception of the Sea in the background, as well as a walled off beach area where they are constructing a walk-way. It turns out that this is where American Patriot missiles were staged during the first Iraq war.

We ended the performance by calling a line dance which was appreciated by both the dancers and audience.

After the performance we gathered in the “American Corner” which provides resources to young Israelis interested in the United States.  We met with Tamara who was happily reeling from her first day of “English Summer Camp” during which she expected 20 campers and was greeting by 100 instead. We planned our return scheduled for Thursday, when we will offer a workshop for the campers.

Finally, at about 9:00 PM, we ate some schnitzel at a sidewalk café.  Already, we are beginning to appreciate the complexity of relationships in this troubled part of the world.  It was encouraging to see the Arab-Jewish Center and to hear about their good work.  But they are a drop in the bucket and severely underfunded.  We learned that the Arab schools offer Hebrew and Israeli studies, but the Jewish schools do not reciprocate.

Off to bed covered in luxurious down quilts and pillows….

Continue to Day Two     >>>>>

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