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Yearly Archives: 2021
The Arts’ Pandemic Pivot
When Covid hit last March, ballet was the first thing in my life to be affected. I distinctly remember having tickets to see San Francisco Ballet perform on March 14th, a Saturday, and being so disappointed to find out earlier in the week that the performance had been postponed. At the time, I thought that this rain check was disappointing, but little did I know that soon after my whole life would come grinding to a halt. Next came the school closures and the suspension of ballet classes at my studio. As I watched many industries turn to Zoom, I saw that the arts were falling behind. My grandfather, a professional jazz pianist, was suddenly out of work, and I saw pleas from desperate artists flooding my Instagram feed every time I opened up my phone. My high school, which had a specialized arts program, came up short in funding for the next school year as a result of our major fundraising gala being switched to a virtual format. In short, the arts didn’t have the luxury of creating a semblance of normalcy in a virtual world.
Over the past year, I’ve seen artists do what they do best: think creatively. By mid-April, I began to see videos popping up of dancers creating DIY home studio spaces. Soon after, many dance suppliers began creating small rectangles of flooring meant specifically for in-home space constraints. I had a lot of fun setting up my own in-home dance space, and I’m actually thinking about keeping it once life goes back to normal. The convenience of rolling out of bed and taking class is unparalleled, and I love being able to work through classes on YouTube at my own pace.
In the dance world, the next creative solution that was born was outdoor classes. I never thought ballet could be effectively done outdoors until I saw the tents my studio set up. Fully floored and outfitted with barres and lights, they almost resembled the studio experience I had grown so used to. In some ways they surpassed it, with the fresh air and lack of mirrors creating a new type of sensory experience.
As we get closer to seeing live performances as a reality again, I couldn’t be more excited to finally reschedule that San Francisco Ballet performance. As it turns out, it never really was canceled, just postponed for an extended chunk of time.
Experiencing the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict
Unexpected changes feel like the theme of this year, especially for those of us on gap years. A few weeks ago, I spent four days in an intense seminar on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I listened to twenty-three speakers with a range of opinions and diverse contributions aimed at resolving or easing the conflict. The seminar gave me some clarity on my political views, and also emphasized how stagnant the conflict has been in the last few years and especially since the beginning of the pandemic. Visiting some of the most contentious, awful places of tragedy in Jerusalem and the West Bank gave me the sense that although things have been stagnant for some time, the lack of progress had not meant an acceptance of the current situation but that it was only a matter of time until things boiled over. With recent escalations during the last few weeks and on Jerusalem Day, the celebration of the Israeli presence in Jerusalem, and the capture of the city during the Six-Day War of 1967, we are now in the most intense state of conflict in seven years.
My opinions that slowly crystallized and became more nuanced during the conflict seminar I participated in now feel irrelevant. In a matter of days, I’ve learned that opinions stop mattering when people are dying. I’m living in such a different social environment than the one I see on social media. In Israel, it feels like, regardless of what people believe, everyone just wants the suffering to end. It feels impossible to engage with people across the world arguing over which side is right and whose situation justifies violence. Frankly, I find it impossible to understand hatred and the spread of false information when I only feel pain for those around me. Sure, I disagree with certain actions and policies but it’s not something I can think about right now, let alone rationally.
I don’t know what this period of my gap year will mean for me in the long run. I will not forget it, nor do I want anyone to live through this reality. I know that this last month will require months of processing, and I’ll slowly derive meaning and a sense of purpose and action. Sadly, in less than a month my program ends I’ll fly back home. In a weird way, my year is ending similarly to how it started. I’m ending my year in a sort of quarantine, unable to go to parts of Jerusalem and Israel that are unsafe right now. This means I have the privilege of spending my last moments more intimately hanging out with my friends in our apartment, supporting each other through these difficult days. I don’t know if it diminishes from the moment to acknowledge the beautiful connections during times of pain. We hold on to each other more tightly, and hopefully the love we feel for those far from us, that fuels emotional arguments on social media, will be the hope that pushes us out of this moment.
As I’ve begun thinking about moving onto Duke’s campus next fall, I’ve been wondering how much I’ll miss living in my dorm in Jerusalem. As much as I am looking forward to moving into college dorms, I’ve only now started to appreciate how good I have it here. Of all the ways I’ve changed and grown over the last eight months, the comfort I feel living full time among other students and the amount I’ve matured socially has really become apparent. I believe that’s largely due to the fact that I’ve not only lived in the same building as sixty-five other students, but I’ve been on the exact same schedule as all of them too. Whereas in college, I’ll likely run into a few dorm mates occasionally and spend a few social hours a day in my hall, this year (largely due to Covid) I’ve spent most of my free nights together with my entire program in our small building. Although it felt a little overwhelming at first, living in the same apartment with four other people makes getting bored pretty difficult, and when I am bored I know I have dozens of friends within a thirty-second walk from my door. Because of our constant social atmosphere, within eight months I’ve gotten closer with many of these kids than I did with some of my closest friends back home. Although I considered myself to be very independent before I came, and still do, I believe I’ve gotten incredibly comfortable with the uniquely intense social environment of my program. I’ll get back to my apartment after a long day of classes, and the first thing I do after setting my bag down is walk into our next-door apartment to relax with five or six dorm mates instead of resting on my own. I’ll always be thankful for the special living situation I had this year, with all of the comfort, daily excitement, and close friends it’s allowed me to gain. So, for anyone who is scared of transitioning from solo life to dorm life, I can confidently say diving straight into something as intense as this will certainly get you acclimated quickly.
The Israeli-Jewish Springtime Trifecta
Here Goes Nothing!
The Power of a Bike
Greetings from France!
I think the best place to start this post is a summary of the last two months. On February 25th, I made the long flight from San Francisco to Toulouse, France. Though I was undeniably nervous about the trip, I’m becoming more and more used to picking up my life every 3-4 months and completely changing scenery. I really only lost it saying goodbye to my puppy (my family never sends enough photos of him), and I think that’s a fair concession.
Life here in Toulouse is great. I’m going to make a bit of a bizarre admission: I came to France thinking I hated language classes, just hoping I could suffer through them and still enjoy this incredible country. That is no longer the case! I am LOVING learning French. There has been a tangible progression of my skills, and I can literally feel my brain rewiring to start thinking in French.
Most days consist of me going to my French language class from 9:15 to 1, and then grabbing lunch with friends or going on a walk! With numerous COVID restrictions in place, almost every day ends up with me in one of the gorgeous parks here in the city. I’m very much an outdoors person, if you couldn’t tell by my 7 week backpacking trip, so getting to be among trees and flowers feels like a daily recharge. Honestly, there’s magic to living anonymously in a foreign city—it’s even picturesque when I run out to grab groceries.
Going on these adventures during COVID has made me increasingly aware of my responsibility to society—not in a global, philanthropic sense, but in a safety precautions/not spread COVID sense. I recognize the privilege of being able to travel right now, and to the best of my abilities try to make sure that I’m taking the necessary precautions to ensure my safety and the safety of those around me.
Unfortunately, because of this very point, my time in France is being cut short. As if it weren’t already obvious, the theme of my gap year is “adapt on the fly.” Since Easter weekend, France has increased its COVID restrictions as the healthcare system is overwhelmed by a third wave. I will be leaving France sooner than expected and continuing my gap year plans in Spain; taking MORE language classes, visiting my family and enjoying a chance to reconnect with my culture! Its a bittersweet end to an incredible time in France.
In a Flash
This past week, Israel had two of its most important holidays: Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaaut. Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, is a day full of sadness, stories, and broken hearts, as the entire country remembers its fallen soldiers who died to protect the country. Then, right when the sun sets on Wednesday evening, the entire country shifts in a flash to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s joyous Day of Independence. So how does an entire country transition so seemingly seamlessly from sadness to celebration? And why are these two contradictory holidays so close together?
Yom Hazikaron started with a trip to Jerusalem. Some of us on the program, including myself, left very early to spectate the bitter struggle between an organization called “Women of the Wall” and the religious men who pray at the Western Wall everyday. We watched as the members of the organization tried to bring in a Torah to pray with at the female section of the Western Wall, while religious men and women blocked their path. The whole situation was extremely messy, with both sides truly dedicated to their point of view. The Women of the Wall sincerely believe in the statement they are making for all Jewish women, illustrating their strong push for equal opportunity between men and women within the religion of Judaism. At the same time, the religious men and women believe that trying to change the time-honored customs of the ancient religion is foolish, and that God does not want these traditions changed. It was very interesting to be a bystander to this conflict, watching how both sides at the Wall thought the other was delusional.
Following the event at the Western Wall, we went to our old campus at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem (where we spent the first semester studying), to listen to speakers and watch films about Yom Hazikaron. To begin the day of remembrance, we stood in silence on the grass, waiting for the long wail of the siren. Throughout the whole of Israel, a siren flares up in remembrance for the fallen soldiers. All life stops, and every single Israeli stands for a minute or two, simply listening to the scream of the siren and honoring the day. Various Israelis came to the campus to speak about their lost siblings, children, friends, and fellow soldiers. I felt such a deep connection to the fallen soldiers, realizing that I have been living in a country that these brave troops died to preserve. My connection to the day was magnified, not only from living in Israel for the year, but also because of my age. If I was born in Israel, at eighteen years-old I would currently be in the Israeli army, enlisting along with all my friends. The story of one soldier, Benaya, was especially impactful. Benaya’s brother explained to us how Benaya served in a unit that discovered and cleared out the underground tunnels used by terrorists. After leaving a seemingly clear area, Benaya’s squad walked back to the rest of the unit. A terrorist, hidden beneath a secret entrance, popped out and fired round after round from a machine gun at the retreating soldiers. Miraculously, every single bullet struck Benaya and no one else, as the rest of the squadron quickly took out the terrorist. Benaya’s brother showed us a film of Benaya’s life. Clips were shown of Benaya as a kid, Benaya with his brothers, and most impactfully, Benaya returning home from duty one weekend to surprise his mother. I could easily picture my own family, and I could imagine the crippling, heartbreaking toll it would take on them. Later, a couple of my friends and I bused up North to Holon, where we ran a 5K along with hundreds of other Israelis in remembrance of Benaya. I witnessed each of his family members speak, viewing pain just as fresh as in the video we were shown earlier. Finally, at the end of the day, my friends and I made our way to the bridge overlooking the highway by our apartment. We waited there for the last siren, watching as speeding cars slowed down, pulled over, and stopped. Israelis got out of their cars, and we all stood together as one community.
While somber, I felt such a sense of communal support, knowing that throughout all of Israel, we were all hearing and thinking and remembering the same ideas.
Then, in a flash, Israel transformed. The sun went down, flags went up, music started blasting, and people began flooding the streets. Israel’s day of independence had arrived. I asked my Israeli friend where I should go Wednesday night in Tel Aviv to celebrate Independence Day. He replied: any street! We quickly mobilized, and went to one of the busiest streets in Tel Aviv.
Already, hundreds of people were dancing, laughing, singing, and spraying fake snow out of canisters for some strange reason. Large pick-up trucks pulled up, with giant speakers in the back. These “Nachman” (named after Rabbi Nachman, a venerated teacher of old) vehicles were driven by religious Jews, playing festive Israeli and Jewish songs. My friends and I danced all night with Israelis from all over, celebrating the holiday. The party continued throughout the whole next day, everyone full of joy for the existence of the Jewish state of Israel.
So how does a whole country shift moods in just a flash? How do we jump from a solemn day of remembrance to a joyous one of celebration? Perhaps the two days are not so different after all. The men and women that died serving Israel died with love and dedication for the country in their hearts. They sacrificed their lives to protect Israel, preserving its existence for now and for the future.
Yes, we can never forget the lives lost, never fully overcome the pain of the fallen young men and women, torn from their families and friends. However, we can celebrate what they died to protect and be grateful for the gift of protection and existence that they gave the people of Israel. In some ways, the days are one and the same. We would not have fallen soldiers if we did not receive independence, and no independence without soldiers risking their lives on the battlefield. Israel as a whole must be able to never forget the past and prices paid, but never stop being grateful for their sacrifice and hopeful for the future.