No1  How is this summer in Israel different from your other summer experiences? 
This experience is similar to other summer adventures as I love to travel (Central America and Middle East) and volunteer with youth (counseling summer camps, coaching ultimate, doing nonprofit work).

My first visit to the Middle East was in 2012. My sister and I came on Taglit and we extended our stay to explore the countryside together. We were able to travel freely with our backpacks so we moved from place to place, hiked far distances, and experienced the authentic Israeli life and culture. It was different then as the country was not in the midst of war. 

Two years ago, I did not have the same challenges I face today. Now I have to be weary of traveling to certain areas and the potential risks (demonstrations, protests, missiles, etc.). For example, I cannot run or hike far from town as a rocket might fall in “open space” near me. I often travel with a buddy and I always tell friends or neighbors where I am going and when I will be returning. It gives me a sense of security to have someone watching out for my safety. I also am acutely aware of how I present myself to others. In the past, I felt more comfortable to freely express my Jewish identity and now it is something that I conceal when I travel from place to place. 

Last summer, I was at the tail end of my study abroad program in Costa Rica. I spent five months studying, volunteering, and traveling around the country. It was pura vida. During the summer, I usually have the freedom to be who I am and go where I want. I have learned that this kind of freedom is a privilege not to be taken for granted.

No2  What has made your summer in Israel special?
The Middle East is my home away from home. Israel has always held a special place in my heart. This summer has been more eventful in comparison to my first visit two years ago. My experiences staffing a Taglit-Israel Outdoors trip, coaching for Ultimate peace, and spending extended periods of time in the West Bank have made this summer stand out from years past. 

I had an incredible summer volunteering and traveling in the region even during this time of conflict. I arrived to Israel with an amazing group of Jewish adults as a staff member of Taglit. I am grateful I was able to share their first experiences of Israel and travel with them after our trip to unconventional places and events (i.e. Burning Man Israel).

Once I finished the Taglit trip, I volunteered with an organization called Ultimate Peace. Ultimate Peace is a nonprofit that brings separated groups by conflict together to create peace and friendship using the unique sport, ultimate Frisbee. Arab Israeli, Israeli, and Palestinian youth work all year round in their own communities learning and practicing the sport, and then these groups come together on multicultural teams at Camp Ultimate Peace. It has been groundbreaking in promoting acceptance between people and renewing dialogue to many families and communities in the region. My commitment to the organization is fundraising before camp, coaching in communities in Israel and the West Bank, and helping with camp preparation. I have been a volunteer coach of Ultimate Peace since 2012. 

My last visit I had the opportunity to coach communities in the West Bank: Bethlehem, Beit Sachur, and Jericho. The ultimate practices in these communities were a few hours long and in the past we only stayed for the practice and dinner. This year there was a mentor coach living in Beit Sachur and working with these communities. This provided a unique opportunity for me to spend quality time in the West Bank learning and understanding the Palestinian people and culture. 

This summer has been very special to me as I have made strong relationships and lifelong friendships throughout my journey. I especially feel very blessed by my local friends in Israel and the West Bank who have welcomed me openheartedly into their homes as a guest. These are the things that have made my summer special. 

No3  How do you see life in Israel right now with the events happening in Gaza?
This is a tricky question. Everyone is experiencing the conflict differently. In general, I would describe life in Israel right now as tense. I have neighbors who will not go too far from home because they fear missiles will rain down and they will not be near a shelter. I have friends who have strong relationships with Arab-Israelis and Palestinians and cannot share in the celebration of breaking fast during Ramadan. There are many Israelis who have been separated from their families and called from reserve duty to serve in the war. These experiences are the reality for a few local Israelis and Arab-Israelis. However, most of the people are going about their lives and praying for peace. They want an end to the war. 

No4  What have you learned or experienced so far that you never thought you would?
I have spent over ten weeks in Israel. During this time, four innocents boys were kidnapped and murdered, three Jewish and one Muslim. The whole region has heard too many sirens and witnessed hundreds of rockets on both sides. The IDF has lost over fifty young men fighting to protect Israel’s right to defend itself. Over 1,700 Palestinians have died in Gaza in Israel’s effort to end Hamas. Everyone is paying the deathly cost of this cycle of hate and violence. As a promoter of peace in the Middle East, this war has been a rude awakening to the large capacity of hate and violence in the world. I struggle to keep my faith in humanity during this time.

I believe this war has caused irreparable damage socially, politically, and economically for the State of Israel and the future state of Palestine. I believe renewed dialogue between the people is necessary to make peace. All groups separated by conflict have the right to live in peace. 

No5  What will you miss the most about Israel when you return to Omaha?
I already miss it here knowing that I will not return for some time. It will be after my Peace Corps service until I can reunite with my friends and family in the Middle East. This summer has been eye opening and life changing for me. The light memories of falafel every day and Frisbee every night will be missed dearly. Whereas the dark times of missiles overhead and news of death and destruction I wish had never happened. Praying for peace in the Middle East.