IAS English Liaison, Elana, shares her experience in and around the Givat Haviva environment
In addition to Living Arabic’s Intensive Arabic Semester, our programing offers students the ability to study Arabic in an individualized, personally tailored manner, which includes activities and lessons students can choose from. Individual tracks can also be arranged through the I-Track program, which places students in a larger network of program participants in Israel. Here, Elana, who privately studied spoken Arabic with Program Director Meriav Hofi for several months and currently works as English Liaison for Living Arabic, shares her experience being a part of the Arabic at Givat Haviva network and environment.
My interest in Arabic study started as a senior at Bates College in Maine, after I returned from a semester abroad in Uruguay. Having connected very deeply with the experience of language learning there, I set my sights on new language acquisition. As a Religious Studies major, with a focus on Islam and interest in geopolitics as well as interfaith work, Arabic study was a natural choice. When I learned about IAS at a JStreet conference in 2012, I was extremely excited to find such a program which focused on spoken Arabic and also offered a chance to have a first hand learning about the Israeli-Palestinian occupation and conflict.
Planning on attending the program in Fall of 2013, I set out for some travels in Europe in the summer, a few weeks before the program was to start, while I was many thousands of mile away from home, the fall semester was cancelled. Scrambling to find an alternative for study, I stayed in contact with IAS staff and after weighing options, decided to come study one-on-one with Meirav for a month before attending another program for Arabic study in Jerusalem. After two weeks of study and time spent traveling around the Wadi Ara area, seeing sights, meeting people and starting to form personal relationships, I decided to continue my stay for another 3 months—the period I had intended to study for in Jerusalem.
In those first few weeks, with the guidance and support of Meirav, who not only served as my tutor, but welcomed me into her life, inviting me to join her family for holidays and meals and introduced me to many people in the area (both Arabs and Jews) I had a taste of the kind of possibility for personal relationships I could develop if I stayed in Wadi Ara. While the program cancellation initially came as a shock, in the end it actually developed into an enormous gift. Through introductions Meirav—my only initial contact—made, I developed relationships with people that have ultimately changed my life; having initially planned on being in Israel for only a few months, I have now been here for more than a year.
I am now working as an English Instructor at al-Qaesmi College in Baqa al-Garbiyye , the third largest Arab city in Israel and the home of most IAS Arab host families, work I found through a very dear friend, actually the first person Meirav introduced me to, from Baqa
In addition to connecting me with Palestinian-Israelis, Meirav also opened my eyes to a new possibility of living. Over the last year I’ve had the privilege of living in a a geodesic dome in a beautiful garden home (picture above) Meirav’s daughter designed and built on their Kibbutz. This home is close to nature and has taught me a great deal about living sustainably and close to the earth, a born and raised New York City Girl, I now live with a compost toilet and a semi-outdoor living room.
Throughout my time here, I have been warmly welcomed by nearly everyone I have met, truly gaining a new family and incredible support system. I’ve been taken under the wing of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian’s living in Israel and learned so much about Israeli culture and society, gaining new insight into its conflicts and difficulties. Through seeing many different corners of Israeli and Palestinian life, I deeply grappled with sometimes-impossible feeling paradoxes and gained nuance in my political views and ways of listening and speaking to those around me. Though I initially came to learn Arabic, my journey has been about so much more than language, over the last year in Israel, I have experienced enormous personal growth, developing incredible relationships as well as new and old passions. I have earnestly, in all of the cliché ways, found myself in profound ways.