It was a sunny and calm October morning when I met Brother Olivier. His white robes, charming smile, and undeniable wit added to his ethereal presence. Brother Olivier is one of nine Benedictine Monks residing in Abu Gosh, Israel. His days consist of pressing grapes, meditating, praying, and speaking to youth groups from across Israel. Through BINA, I was given the opportunity to meet Brother Olivier, along with several other monks, and to learn more about their day-to-day lives. I was amazed by the intersectionality I witnessed at the monastery. I found myself surrounded by Jewish, Islamic, and Christian influences. There I was, residing in the Jewish state of Israel, standing within the predominantly Islamic city of Abu Gosh, listening to Benedictine Christian monks. While sitting in front of the monastery, inspired by the crusade era architecture, abundant foliage, and religious atmosphere, I opened up my notebook and started reflecting on my time in Israel. I recognized how deeply I resonated with the intersectionality present at the monastery as it was reminiscent of my daily life as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow living in Nazareth, Israel.
As a teaching fellow in Nazareth, I constantly find myself immersed in Islamic, Christian, and Jewish settings. I work at an Arab school, live in the same place Jesus used to call home, and reside within Nof Hagalil, the Jewish counterpart to Nazareth. Since moving to Nazareth, I have learned conversational Arabic, interacted with people from all over the world, and strengthened my Jewish identity. I now feel at home in a place that once felt foreign and out of reach. I have fallen in love with my job as a teaching fellow, and most days feel as though I learn more from my students than they learn from me. My students have taught me to open my mind and my heart. Most of the kids at my school are either Christian-Arab or Muslim-Arab. They frequently ask about my religious and political beliefs (and occasionally ask if I know the latest Tik Tok dances). Additionally, the people of Nazareth have given me a wonderful opportunity to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an entirely new perspective. I feel more open-minded and content in regards to my relationship with Israel. I now listen to voices I, unknowingly, shut out and have immersed myself in the rich Arab-Islamic and Arab-Christian cultures.
For all these reasons, I feel incredibly blessed to have found the MITF program, specifically the BINA Nazareth + Tel Aviv track. Nazareth has helped me grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I will forever have a deep appreciation for Nazareth, Nof Hagalil, my roommates, my students, my host teacher, Arabic food (especially knafeh, Nazareth’s most famous delicacy!), and Israel. In Nazareth, I find myself surrounded by religion, history, conflict, and unity, just like Brother Olivier. My experience with MITF has changed me for the better and I am deeply grateful for this opportunity. In the wise words of Brother Olivier, “Jews coming to a Muslim community to hear music in a Christian church” is how coexistence is built.
From your fellow,
// Cassandra White