Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Final Paper: Class Critique

Rachel Sherman
Dr. Amy Horowitz
Living Jerusalem
April 30, 2013

                                  Living Jerusalem Reflection: Class Critique

            I enjoyed Living Jerusalem very much. It is unlike any course I have taken at Indiana University thus far, and probably any course I might take ever. The course made an honest effort to open students’ eyes in an unbiased way, which proves difficult as nearly all information regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict has some sort of bias or agenda. I know this isn’t the place to really discuss our feelings about how the course has impacted each of us personally (that’s what the blogs are for), but the format of the course and the structure definitely affected the dynamic and how I came to view the course as a whole and my opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict that was shaped over the semester.
            Upon entering the class I really had no idea what to expect and this was typical of many other students within in the Living Jerusalem Project that I spoke to. The blogs were a great way to find a small entryway into fellow classmates’ minds about the material. I could relate to their insights, misconceptions, and confusions. I felt like some of the ideas that made me think the most were presented in the personal blog posts. I would have enjoyed reading and writing more of the personal blog posts because it allowed me to reevaluate my opinions and viewpoints and to see them next to those of my classmates’. The commentary on the blog posts had the possibility to be entirely personal and based on how each student interpreted the information. Most of the questions were open-ended, which encouraged students to take the prompts as they saw fit, but it often left me without a lot of direction and guidance. The reassuring aspect is that the class is truly an experiment where we were learning together and it was difficult to be “wrong” in a situation such as this.
            One major critique I would have would be about the class is the scheduling of speakers for each day. The speakers were individually intriguing and were very engaging in what they had to say in regards to their knowledge of the topics such as gay rights, music, social issues, political issues, and many others. The topics seemed to jump around from one to another it was difficult to often get a grasp on their perspectives fast enough, because we had just as quickly moved on to another issue, typically linked to the previous speaker, but still different enough to create confusion. In truth I think the only way to combat this is time, which we was always working against us. In the future, I would hope that the course is divided into more cohesive topics from week to week. It was interesting to see many different aspects of Jerusalem, but it made it difficult to become immersed in the specific issue we were discussing within the overarching cultural concept of Jerusalem.
            Another suggestion or critique I have about the style of the class would be to include a section about photographs and photography of/in Jerusalem. It was difficult to envision issues of specific spaces when we were not presented with physical photos. It made it difficult to connect to Jerusalem as a physical space and it prevented us from having a mental picture of the material. This was highlighted in the discussions regarding the settlements. The basic information was relatively accessible or relatable, especially about the basic human rights violations but it was entirely different when one of the final presentations showed photos of the crowded spaces and the uninhabitable conditions, often in extremely undesirable locations. If there had been a section specifically on photos or more photos included in the preface of each article, then it might have made the topics a bit more personal or relatable.
            The class structure is built for intimate discussions, but the large size of our class prevented in depth discussions in which students learned from another through intellectual debate and dialog. The structure of the class encourages students to speak among themselves in regards to the articles and speakers inside and outside of class. Living Jerusalem IU was extremely well attended, which is a testament to the class’ overall message and goal of allowing students to explore the Arab-Israeli conflict in a civil and productive manner. It became difficult, especially towards the end of the class, to discuss people’s blogs with them because they were able to hide behind their keyboards the entire semester. In the beginning, the blogs were personally terrifying because they were shared among the entire class. Students quickly realize that they only have a limited amount of time to read other blogs and have to become more selective in the ones that they choose to read. I would recommend that students would be assigned different blog posts to comment on. It would reinforce the practice of having students create blog posts on a biweekly basis and it would reinforce the practice of commenting on each other’s blogs. In such a large class, it would make the atmosphere more personal, which was challenging at times during such a large class. It was interesting to see how the blogs had the potential to be extremely personal, but each student had the opportunity to read or listen to the speakers.
            Another critique I have of the class is that we were not given the opportunity to discuss with Ohio State University about their experiences with the speakers and the materials. We were able to hear the same lectures, which gave students a fair basis, but we were unable to hear the discussions afterwards. This certainly gave students at IU and Ohio State a sense of privacy, but that sense of privacy was not present to begin with because we were asked to share our thoughts and opinions on our blogs. It would be interesting to record interactions between the Ohio State class and the IU class in terms of dynamics and their social and political views on the Arab-Israeli conflict after the speakers we encountered. In the future it might be beneficial to pair each student up with a student on each campus. This would open students up to new perspectives based on their backgrounds and general interest in the overall topic. The class is described as more of an experiment in the course description and like many experiments there are variables that can be altered in order to produce or change the outcome of that reaction.
            Another issue for me during the class was the final project. Although we were able to choose any topic we wanted for the project, the topics were almost too open and too broad. I think everyone would have benefitted from a rubric or something to indicate how we would have been graded, so we could have planned better and differently. The final project allowed each student to explore the topics we discussed during class in either a private or a public setting, or something entirely different. I liked the fact that they were all different and creative in terms of their levels of formality, but I had trouble associating a sense of finality within the class through the completion of my project.
            Some of my favorite moments in the class were during the section about Karen Armstrong’s history of Jerusalem. My biggest complaint with her book was that it read as overly emotional towards both sides in an effort to keep bias out of the equation. This is not to discount her book as an excellent introduction, because it truly was. For future classes I would be interested in looking at biased sources in order to compare them. This would allow students to evaluate the different histories in order to create one that made the most sense to them personally. By looking at openly biased sources and their versions of history, it would also allow students to identify biases within articles on their own.
            I also think that students should have been more informed about the impact they could and would have by participating in class. I think we were all encouraged to participate during class, but naturally some people responded more than others. I do not think that people realized that they could make a strong impact on the course through this participation. Conversations about the speakers, our projects, and blog comments could be molded or geared towards our class’ interests. I think more people may have participated if they could have realized that by just speaking, they would be able to shape the conversations into something that were more interested in.  
            Upon reading the course description for Living Jerusalem: Ethnography and Bridge Blogging in Disputed Territories, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was drawn in by the word “Jerusalem” in the course title, as someone that loves Israel in general, especially Jerusalem, and the cross-counts for my majors (always an added bonus). I am taking 18 credit hours and was feeling very stressed about the sheer amount of work I received within the first few weeks of class. The blogging was very intimidating at first considering I had had no prior experience with it except for a few short angst-filled posts on Tumblr in 7th grade (hardly academic or anything worth talking about). I commend Living Jerusalem as a class and as a concept for pushing students outside of their comfort zones in terms of an alternative format for a course.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Change In Opinion (Or Not)

When considering the class as a whole, it has covered a wide array of topics relating to Jerusalem from the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives. As a Jewish person within the conservative movement it was engrained in me to go to Israel and that it is without a doubt the Jewish homeland. I would nod along blindly and agree with what I was taught in Hebrew school and in my own home. I never thought to question why people feel this way or how I came to feel that way. Towards the end of my high school career I became more involved with my Judaism and took an active role in exploring the fundamentals of my Judaism through Torah. I never wanted to look into the political side of Jerusalem because I naively had this perfect image of Jerusalem. I didn't really have a personal opinion about Israel as a political power or Israeli society. I knew that I liked the idea of Israel, but that's where it started and ended. I had been to Israel through a Jewish organization and of course loved my time there Taking this class opened my eyes to the societal and political issues within Jerusalem today and others from the beginning of its history.

The first eye-opening experience occurred when we read Karen Armstrong's book. I didn't realize that I had put Jerusalem on this religious pedestal and never considered it as a city with conflicts, bloodshed, and less than glamorous moments. I knew about the history from Jewish studies classes but I had trouble placing them in context with my religious perspective of Jerusalem. I do think the two perspectives can exist side by side but I have struggled and continue to struggle with combining the two and deciding how I feel about the situation. I've also come to realize that it is necessary to remove religion from Israeli politics in order to make any sort of resolution or agreement. I still feel connected to Israel as a Jewish homeland but am unsure how I feel about sharing that homeland with others, who in their eyes, have just as much of a claim to the land as the Jewish people. Who am I to deny them of that belief?

Long story short: I can say that I do know a lot about Jerusalem and its history. My religious connection to Jerusalem exists along with my knowledge of both sides of the conflict. I tend to be an overly sympathetic person, which probably is connected to inability to deny someone of one of their deepest traditions: a home.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 27th Post

My initial difficulties with the class was the blogging itself. I have never blogged in my life and had no intention of doing so until I joined this class. Admittedly, I was terrified of the format and sharing my opinions in such a public format and considered dropping the class. The lectures and topics we discussed kept me enrolled in the course, and I still have a lot of trouble with the format. I wish that I had more knowledge about blogging, especially about political issues that are potentially incendiary to someone of an opposing viewpoint. The fact the class is so large allowed me to find comfort in the fact that realistically, only a few people would read my posts, if any. I have not had a class at IU before where each person in the class has the ability to read each response or I produced. It was definitely caused me to triple and quadruple check every post I had in the very beginning to make sure my point was clear and maybe a little less opinionated than I had originally intended. 

Also, it was interesting to see the different styles people use for various posts, especially the personal reflections. I learned a lot from other class blogs about posting styles that are accessible to the reader. 

Things I'd like to write about for the class review:
1) Relating to topics: I wish we had covered less topics, but more in depth about each topic that we did cover. At times, it felt like we were forced to rush certain topics and were only presented with two or three articles about a subject. 
2) The class size: I found it difficult to really get into discussions with people about the topics because of the class size. Maybe a smaller class in the future?
3) Maybe having the class choose a topic and work on finding a speaker of their own to bring in. Just to change things up.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Questions for speaker about LGBTQ issues in Jerusalem

Question 1: Do Al-Qaws and JOH work together in order to make political progress in within Jerusalem's governmental policies regarding LGBTQ rights?

Question 2: How do LGBTQ rights within Tel Aviv differ from those in Jerusalem?

Week ?: LGBTQ issues in Jerusalem

Learning about a social issue was a great change of pace in comparison to some of the historical or political issues. The issue is still a political one, but less so than in the United States. I sympathized with difficulty the JOH had when they tried to get bills passed in order to receive acceptance from the government in order to fund their parade, but it wasn't exactly surprising to me. Jerusalem and the social and political image is forever tied to religion. Catholics, Muslims, and Jews alike have not necessarily been the most accepting of the LGBTQ community and their rights, especially in the strict orthodox settings. In one response by Maia on the JOH website she said that she wished they could have "...put the Torah aside and considered the realities of people and their desires." I found this to be really powerful because it shows the direct conflict between religion and a real modern issue within Jerusalem. This made me think about so many other social issues people deal with in Jerusalem such as laws of kashrut, intermarriage between Jewish sects, and others. At what point are lawmakers and politicians compromising the needs of Jerusalemites with those of religious the right? It is interesting to look at LGBTQ rights within Jerusalem today and how they have have not been at the forefront of legislature because they have been dealing with more immediate issues such as war. It is sad that people have had to put their rights aside in order to deal with more "pressing problems", but war affects many aspects of life: social, economic, political, and cultural.
"City of Borders" seems to discuss sexuality and LGBTQ rights as a meeting-point between Israelis and Palestinians with Jerusalem as the backdrop. Israelis and Palestinians are affected by the governmental stance on LGBTQ rights and the process of social acceptance. The laws may change, but social acceptance may take years upon years to exist within the minds of the public, if ever. People within the religious right will not accept the LGBTQ community because it is not discussed and many attempt to use scripture to justify this argument (which is often manipulated in order to further their personal agendas).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reading Response #?: March 18th: Suad Amiry

Galit Hasan-Rokem's discussion of Jerusalem as a feminine entity brought the conflict into a new light. From Karen Armstrong's historical account of Jerusalem, we saw the number of times various groups attempted to seize Jerusalem and claim it as their own. How many times people today try to take city by force, and just like the treatment of a woman, specifically women in the Middle East, the situation requires more gentility and respect than ever. Jerusalem has been given feminine attributes since biblical times, but what Jerusalem as a woman of strength. Cities and countries of all kinds are often referred to with feminine adjectives and qualities. Hasan-Rokem removes some of the poetics surrounding Jerusalem as a city. It sort of reminded me of Issam Nassar's argument that people attempt to pigeonhole Jerusalem as a biblical city trapped in time. She reminds us that Jerusalem is a living entity just like any other.
It is was incredible to read a firsthand account of what it was like to be a Palestinian under lockdown. After reading so many dense articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is easy to lose the reality of the situation. These are real people with families, fears, and daily lives that are interrupted during each attack or threat on their homes. Regardless of the biases people may have or opinions regarding which side is "correct" or has a claim to the land, you cannot help but sympathize with Suad Amiry's fear and the fear of those around them. Reading about their removal from Nazareth and how easily the group on the bus joked about the "transfer". Her accounts about the bus and her experiences with her dog add a sense of humor to living in Ramallah as an area of dispute. Her descriptions make situations such as the attempt to distribute gas masks, while Palestinians were still technically under curfew and were not supposed to leave their homes, even more absurd than they already were.
The fact that her dog's papers allowed her to gain entry through a checkpoint had my jaw on the floor.  I understand the dog does not pose as much of a threat as a person, but it is nearly as innocent as the children that were unable to gain Jerusalem visas that she discussed. A dog. The visa meant absolutely nothing to the dog and it continued to be happy and playful as ever, completely unaffected by the situation. I found it incredible that the Palestinian veterinarian was so sexist towards a puppy. I realize that she was a symbol for sexism within the larger community, but it shows how deep the issue really runs.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Weblog 4: Music in my personal life

Music has always been an important part of my life since I was very young. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in front of the television singing along to Sesame Street and other shows. My elementary school stressed music as a way to learn about cultures, peoples, and languages and forever shaped the way I learn about the world. I was in choir throughout elementary school and was involved in 5 different choirs by my sophomore year of high school. I've always enjoyed listening to new bands and listening to things that are not on the radio. Like most people, middle school was an awkward time for me and I went through phases ranging from goth, a wannabe Avril Lavigne (see Sk8r boi), to outfits straight out of a J-Crew magazine. My taste in music changed in order to match those moods, but throughout all these different stages music was always there for me. I tutored kids for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs throughout high school and taught them Torah and Haftarah trope. Relating this outside knowledge of music with my Judaism was one of the greatest things I could have done for myself. As a result, I decided that I wanted to be a cantor and lead a congregation in something that I love as a future career. My focus has switched to more theoretical and philosophical topics within Judaism, but I've continued to study ethnomusicology throughout college. 

Music has been a constant throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It acts as a way to console people throughout tough times and as a coping mechanism. As we say in the documentary "Channels of Rage", music acts a way for people to vent their frustrations and to listen to differing opinions about the situation. It acts a way for people to share information about the day to day situation and to listen to someone discuss problems similar to theirs without having to speak words of their own. Music is a huge part of culture and is inherent in both Judaism and Islam. Both religious practices and chants can and have been analyzed as music and have similar origins and sounds on a theoretical level. The West-Eastern Orchestra shows that music can be a meeting ground for people because it exists on the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Music can also reinforce stereotypes about each side, but people that hold these personal views would have them regardless of the music they listen to or not. They would be naturally drawn towards songs that have these views. I swear this rant without a true point will end, but what I mean by all of this is that each group has their own music. Each group is creating music of the same genres as well as different genres. It has acted as a unique outlet to vent about current issues and to spread them to people in order to speak to them, infuriate others, and to create a sense of unity on either end.