Category Archives: dissertation

The other baby

I know that those of you reading this blog (at least, these days) are mostly interested in updates about Alon.  Which I completely understand – he is quite a cute kid (not that I’m biased or anything) and it’s definitely fun to see pictures and videos of his interactions with the world.

Still, those of you who are long-time readers may remember that the blog was originally a vehicle for Neil and I to share information about our research endeavors around the world.  So I thought it only fitting to post a picture here of my other baby.  No, this is not a pregnancy announcement.  I am referring to my dissertation – recently completed, and defended this week.  It’s not nearly as cute as Alon, but on the other hand, it became a part of my life years before Alon was even a figment of my imagination.  Here it is in all of its printed glory:

photo-5Neil, Alon and I flew to Bloomington IN for my defense, and all three of us have been enjoying being here.  I’ve been able to have a few reunions with friends (and introduce Alon to their kids), Neil has reconnected with some colleagues at a conference this week, and Alon has discovered the joys of Bloomington playgrounds. Seriously, the parks and playgrounds here put Nyack to shame big time.  He is plugging for us to apply for positions at Indiana University so he can continue to explore the many slides in this town (and he has become quite the slide expert).  I can’t say I haven’t thought about it – Bloomington is a pretty awesome place, aside from the slides, too.

Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t add a post to this blog without including at least one picture of Alon.  Here he is, smug and happy at the playground this morning – and finally wearing his hat.  Enjoy!



Wrapping up

Well, believe it or not, 9 months have passed, and it is time for my fieldwork in Israel to end – tomorrow morning I will be heading to the airport to get on a plane back to the United States.  I can hardly believe it myself – in fact, I can’t really believe it at all!

It is hard to sum up 9 months in a single post, so I thought that perhaps I would just leave you with some statistics about this year and my fieldwork (and various other things):

– number of days in the field: 263
– number of days in the field without Neil: too many! (215, to be exact)
– number of times I questioned what I was doing here and whether this project makes any sense: too many to count, but thankfully not a majority of the time.
– number of people interviewed: 103, not counting informal conversations with professors and practitioners
– number of interviews conducted: somewhere around 110, including follow-up interviews with some individuals
– number of hours observing: somewhere between 150-200
– number of nights chaperoning rowdy 15-year olds: only 2, thank goodness.  Those kids are great but I was really exhausted at the end of that weekend!
– number of bus/train trips to various parts of the country for interviews and observations: about 100.  I got to know pretty much every single train stop in Northern Israel this year.
– number of coffees drunk while conducting interviews in coffee shops: too numerous to count.
– number of times I was invited to a participant’s home and plied with food or drink: a lot.  I still can’t get over hospitality in this country.
– number of falafels eaten: I’m not sure, but on average, it probably comes out to about once a week.
– number of times I walked from my apartment to Yaffo and back: endless.  In fact, I probably walked an average of at least 6-8km on a daily basis this year, for fieldwork and otherwise.
– number of funny, interesting, and helpful people I’ve met throughout this year: almost everyone.

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.  And now, with the number of hours left until I depart at just over 24, there are a few more things I need to tie up.  See you on the flip side!!


Another week has gone by and here I am just a little bit deeper into my data collection.  I wanted to just highlight a few milestones I’ve passed:

– yesterday I conducted my 50th interview [not all with alums, some have been with staff and past staff of both organizations].  When I think of how long [how short?] I’ve been here, 50 seems like an awful lot.  Now it’s time to sit back, interview a bit less, focus on what I’ve already collected and think about how to focus the rest of my interviews [both in terms of content and in terms of who I interview].

– this afternoon I FINALLY received permission from the Ministry of Education to conduct my observations.  Of course, the powers that be must have the last laugh: no sooner had I read the email stating that I can move forward with my observations than I received yet another email – this time from the director of the organization in question, stating that all activities are on temporary hold until some financial issues are resolved.  So, I have permission, but currently have nothing to observe.

Ah well.  At this point at least I know I can move forward once group activities resume…

Excuse the silence, please…

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to write a short note apologizing for my silence the last few weeks.  They have been full of coffee shops [where I tend to do most of my interviewing] and phone calls to set up appointments in coffee shops.  And, I am still waiting for Ministry of Education permission, although signs are pointing in the direction of obtaining that soon.  Fingers crossed…

I’ve also spent some time, particularly the last few weekends, away from Tel Aviv and from my dissertation.  Yesterday I was up north, visiting a friend and her fiance, and we traveled through the Galilee to the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] for a swim, then to Degania A – the first Kibbutz in Israel, and where this friend and I lived when I moved here in 2001 – for a picnic, and then down to the Tel Aviv area for an afternoon at the beach.  A busy day!

…And a nice distraction from the things I am encountering here on a daily basis.  One of the other reasons I haven’t been writing, I think, is because I have been struggling with how I feel about being here and about the way that Israeli society as a whole is moving.  Through my research I am hearing many, many different perspectives on the nature of Israel as a Jewish state, a democratic state, neither, both, something in between…I’m having a hard time coming to clear conclusions about my own feelings, but I can say that it is emotionally exhausting to be here – and becoming harder and harder to do so, or rather, to live as an Israeli Jew in “Jewish Israel” while learning more and more about the structural inequalities that exist here and how they impact non-Jews [Palestinians, refugees, foreign workers] in a concrete, daily way.

It gets harder to be part of conversations like one I was part of recently, in which I was told, in reference to an Arab woman who works with the person I was speaking with, “She’s just like an Israeli!” [ummm, she is an Israeli], and “Not like the rest of her primitive family.” These are people I had met for the first time that day – it’s not so easy to stand up and disagree with what is being said.

And it gets harder to be vague about what I’m doing here.  I wrote here about the political contentiousness of my topic, and things in that regard have not changed.  But I keep asking myself, why is it so hard to be proud of what I am doing? Why am I so reluctant to get into the political discussions that inevitably arise when the subject of my dissertation comes up?

These are daily struggles for me – struggles which, as I stated above, make my life here immensely fulfilling but also emotionally draining.  The “spaces I create for conversations,” as my roommate refers to my interviews, are learning experiences in multiple ways.

Fieldwork woes, and Sukkot around the world…

Dear readers,

Yesterday was a bit of a crazy day.  For those of you who don’t know, I have been in discussions with the Israeli Ministry of Education here – apparently, one of the organizations I am researching works under the purview of the Ministry (MoE), so [as I discovered in August when I arrive here] I need their permission in order to conduct observations of group activities – part of what my research plan includes.

Anyway, I got an email yesterday from the MoE that required some telephone follow-up, and during the telephone call, the MoE official I spoke with suggested that I have been working in a problematic manner and may have to destroy all of the data that I have thus far collected.  Well. My heart stopped for a second – I mean, it’s not that I have collected that much data, but the whole premise of this conversation was basically to tell me that I actually needed MoE approval for all of my fieldwork, not just for my observations, and that any data I may have collected thus far, since it was done without MoE permission, is not usable and must be destroyed.

After a few deep breaths I tried to calmly explain my perspective to the MoE official – which may or may not have succeeded.  This morning I sent off a whole new set of paperwork to the MoE Chief Scientist’s office in an attempt to rectify the situation.  We’ll see if it works.  In the meantime, here’s what I have to say: pice mille felicabron.  You know what I’m talkin’ about.

Yesterday was also an opportunity for me to see my roommate, who has been gone day and night during the last week during the holiday of Sukkot, which is the focus of her own dissertation project.  She had a rare morning off, and the two of us decided to head to Tel Aviv University, which was hosting a festival exhibit of Sukkot from around the world.  I brought my camera with me so that I could show the Sukkot to you as well – each was accompanied by a short description of the Jewish community in the country (or of what has happened to what was once a Jewish community there).  Here is a sampling of what we saw:

Representing Brazilian Jewry, the 2nd largest Jewish community in South America

A Sukkah representing Uzbekistani Jewry, titled "The Sukkah of Peace"

This Sukkah is built in the image of Sukkot that were built in the southern villages of Morocco before the Moroccan Jewish community largely immigrated to Israel after 1948

A Sukkah built in the tradition of the Jewish community of India. Note the many colors.

Decorated in the tradition of Ethiopian Jewry, most of which immigrated to Israel in three secret airlifts in the 1980s

Representing German Jewry and Jews who returned to Germany after the fall of the Former Soviet Union

An "Israeli" Sukkah, which according to the explanation at the festival is supposed to represent the connection between the community, natural resources, and the centrality of the natural area. According to my roommate, this particular Sukkah is not considered "kosher" because the tree around which it is built provides shade. To be a kosher Sukkah the shade must come only from branches placed upon the booth itself.

Representing American Jewry, the 2nd largest Jewish community outside of Israel. This particular Sukkah is one of 12 that were exhibited at Union Square in New York City as part of "Sukkah City," an international Sukkot project exhibited for the first time this year.

Today it is back to interviews, planning interviews, and transcribing interviews.  Sukkot ends tonight and I am hoping to see my roommate again soon…

Lack of pictures explained…

I feel the need to explain to you all why my blog posts are not as visually appealing as Neil’s. Basically, it comes down to this: his research can be photographed without fear of confidentiality loss, and mine cannot.  In other words, trees aren’t covered by university Institutional Review Boards…*

But people are.  And it occurs to me that I haven’t told you all about my people [aka my research participants], so maybe now’s the time.  My research project is essentially an attempt to figure out what happens, down the road, to participants in two different organizations bringing Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel together.  So I’m interviewing lots and lots of people – alumni of both organizations as well as current and past staff/board members [in order to figure out how the programs themselves have changed over the past few decades].  Both organizations have been around since the 1980s, meaning that there are lots of alumni at various life stages.

…and as a result, even though I’m less than two months into my research, I’ve had interviews with people in a variety of places, too.  My interview locales have ranged from coffee shops to offices to living rooms; from the suburbs of Tel Aviv to a kibbutz to an Arab village, with lots of time in Haifa and Yaffo.  I anticipate that the range of places and spaces will only expand as this year continues.  I have to say I am finding my fieldwork even more interesting than I anticipated, although of course not without its frustrations, too.

In any case, I thought you’d like to know what I am actually [supposed to be] doing here and why it doesn’t include awesome photographs.  I’ll leave those for Neil, although now that he’s headed back to the USA it might be a while…

*sadly this is going to make giving aesthetically-pleasing conference presentations, especially presentations meeting Neil’s standards, somewhat difficult.

Small world – or, the power of the social network…

Purely by coincidence (aka, via Facebook), I discovered today that a classmate of mine from Fletcher (the institution where I studied for my MA) is in Tel Aviv. (This is not surprising.  The “Fletcher Mafia,” as the sum total of the institution’s alumni are affectionately called, spreads around the world.  No matter where you are, if you look, you will find a Fletcher grad).

After a few email exchanges we progressed to a phone conversation, and she invited me to join her, her boyfriend, and a few friends for dinner.  Over dinner my friend and I discovered that we have been more-or-less stalking each other this entire month.  She has been seeking out contacts who might help her land a job here, and looking to volunteer and possibly study Arabic.  I have been seeking out contacts who were active in coexistence programs here, and have been looking to volunteer and continue my Arabic studies.  We’ve been in most of the same places, and met with the same people…yet somehow managed to not run into one another.

In any case, my friend invited me to join her in Haifa on Monday when she meets with someone she was connected with via yet another Fletcher student. As it turns out, this person’s name has been mentioned to me at least 3 times in the last week by staff at one of the organizations I am studying – he is an alum and a former staff member who apparently has much to say about the place.  So I’m going to go with her and introduce myself, in the hopes of setting up an interview with him later on.

This particular set of coincidences makes me think about two things: one, how small a world the coexistence world is here in Israel.  Everyone knows everyone else – which I guess is definitely good for me and my research here this year.  The second thing is how important social networking is.  I used to be a real skeptic, but more and more I am seeing the power of “who you know.”  I still have my doubts about some aspects of social networking – especially as it undermines meritocracies – but for integrating oneself into a particular field, especially a small one, it is priceless.