Lights in the Distance

Observations and musings regarding new mommyhood and life in general.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Respect Your Neighbors...

In the town where I grew up (Niskayuna, New York - we always used to joke that "Niskayuna" was the Indian word for "Land of High Taxes"), two of the primary employers were General Electric and the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (referred to locally as KAPL). As a result, our town was populated by a mix of well-educated people from around the world. These scientists, engineers and doctors moved to Niskayuna for the quality of life and the high quality of education provided by the local schools. Our friends growing up had roots in India, in China, and in Iran, as well as a plethora of other cultures. I can remember Ernie, two houses down, speaking with his parents in Spanish, and Afshean down the block, impressing us with his Farsi. There was Mickey, who came to school in the turban representative of his Sikh background, and I'm almost certain that I can remember the saris that some of my friends' mothers wore. We were a veritable melting pot of religions and cultures, and for us kids, it was totally normal. It would have been unthinkable to separate us from our friends based on these differences, and indeed, it was probably the unconditional acceptance of this diversity at such an early stage that led me to seek out friends from other cultures throughout my school and university years. In fact, one of the reasons that I chose my university was due to it having such a large percentage of international students.

I cherish my friendships with people from other backgrounds, and revel in the knowledge gained about childhoods so different from my own. I remember discussing religion late into the night with my freshman roommate - a Catholic woman who had spent the first 11 years of her life in Peru before moving to Tennessee. Her father had been in the Peruvian military and her mother had been an American nun working in Peru, and her stories were fascinating. I remember discussing the Arab-Israeli troubles with my Lebanese Druze friend. Despite our diametrically opposing viewpoints, we were able to be friends, and I can still recall his stories about growing up in war-torn Lebanon. Best of all, I remember evenings spent during my senior year at a little salsa club in Cambridge, where my friends from Ecuador and Colombia tried to teach me how to salsa.

Cultural diversity should be celebrated. It is not something to scorn, and it should not be an excuse to remain separated. What made me think about this topic today? An article on the Haaretz website states that Jewish residents in the Kiryat Menahem neighborhood in Ramle are opposed to the opening of an Arab school in their neighborhood. They claim that it will decrease property values and cause an increase in crime. The school in question is for first through third graders, and I can only imagine what that will do to the crime rate in Kiryat Menahem. According to neighborhood Rabbi Shalom Mordechai, "They work systematically. They talk about pluralism, about high-level education. First they'll send their kids here, then the parents will come live here. That's their modus operandi." He then goes on to claim that there is no racism involved. "Nobody hates them. They have neighborhoods of their own, let them live and study there. Why do they need an Arab school in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood? I support progressive education, even appreciate it, but let them do it in their own neighborhoods," he said.

If this isn't racism, then can someone please tell me what is? Israelis often moan about the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment raging around the world. It's true - we are the current pariah du jour, and I don't see that changing any time soon. However, Israelis must look inwards as well, and stop turning a blind eye to the rampant racism within our own society. Intolerance and even hatred of those who are different is frighteningly prevalent, and jibes and insults based on stereotypes and misconceptions regarding different ethnic groups are all too common. How can we possibly expect to get on in the world community if we can't even treat our fellow Israelis with the dignity and respect that we all deserve?


Post a Comment

<< Home