These past couple of years in Laos and Israel have felt isolating at times — The people I had lived, worked, and hung out with virtually 24/7 for the four previous years at university were suddenly between 6,000 and 8,000 miles away, and so I’ve had to rebuild a social life basically from scratch in both Laos and Israel. That said, the concept of yachad —“together” in Hebrew — has taken on new meanings over the course of the last year and a half. In Laos, my housemates and I built a family for ourselves out of our literal blood (motorbike accidents and other misadventures), sweat (fricken 100 degrees year-round!), and tears (missing loved ones and good Mexican food). And through hours spent playing and eating with our Lao friends, we created a new sense of yachad with people who, on the surface, didn’t have much in common with us. I have a better understanding now of how human connections, understandings, and families are created between people from every cultural background.

Here in Israel, I’m feeling a lot of new yachads with friends we’re making in Nazareth, including a girl my age who also helps with my school’s English program on Mondays. I introduced her to my housemates, and now we all hangout on most Saturdays.

Thanks to social media, I’ve also been able to feel v. yachad with people around the world, especially in the wake of our election of a large, ignorant and racist peach to the highest office in the U.S. Even being so far away, the pictures and messages that I’m seeing every day from friends in the U.S. make me feel connected to the energy emanating from such a large and diverse opposition. I feel very lucky to be from a country where people of all backgrounds and identities are able (thanks to the protesters’ cooperative/collaborative spirit and the fact that it’s legal…) to come together in peaceful protest of the government.

Here in Israel, the social media buzz surrounding the election and the Donald’s inauguration has connected me (feeling yachad!) to a community of progressive Americans in Israel. “Pantsuit Nation Israel” and two Jewish anti-occupation groups planned a sister rally to the “Women’s March on Washington” in Tel Aviv, so the fellows in Migdal Ha’emek and Nazareth met up to participate. The protest rhetoric and signs ran the gamut from girl/woman power (“Our rights aren’t up for grabs and neither are we!”) and pro-LGBTQ (“love is love is love”), to anti-Bibi (the words “existential threat” next to a picture of Bibi and Trump shaking hands), and black lives matter (#blacklivesmatter) — many of the speakers also spoke about ending the occupation and rights of Palestinians to dignity and freedom.

Spending the year in Israel has been extra special because I’ve been able to be yachad with my family here — my cousins and uncle moved here from California, so I’ve been spending Shabbats in Jerusalem with them where I eat cookies by the tub (thanks Uncle Fred!) and the delicious food that my cousin David makes, watch the lil kiddos giggle and make mischief, and hang out with my cousins and uncle. I have also started having weekly Hebrew conversations with my uncle, which is difficult to say the least, but it’s pushing me to study a bit more during the week and also to use Hebrew more in general. While I’m thrilled to be living and working in Nazareth/Nazareth Illit, most of my daily conversations are in English or in hand gestures, so getting the practice with my uncle has been awesome. I’ve also been able to reconnect with my cousins in Afula, who I had met only once before this year —even though I didn’t really know them prior to my year here, they’re the kind of people it’s really nice and comfortable to spend time with. They’re “salt of the earth,” as my dad would say.

For me, the feeling of yachad has a lot to do with a sense of connection, and as crazy at it sounds, I feel a very strong sense of connection when I’m in nature — it sometimes feels like the sights, noises, and smells are filling me up. Lucky for me, beautiful places to explore and incredible views are seemingly around every corner here in Israel. It’ll be hard to leave!

I’ve been able to explore a few new places over the past couple of weeks. My housemate Matt and I recently made a day trip to Haifa, a mixed Jewish-Arab city in the North on the Mediterranean. First, we visited the hip cafes on Masada Street, were we had coffees and delicious laffa wraps with labneh and veggies. We also visited the old market area and grabbed harissa (and more coffee) at an Arabic restaurant.

Haifa is built up the side of Mt. Carmel, so we got a work out in as we explored the city. The street art was definitely a highlight!

The Christmas / Chanukah decorations were still up, too, in the German Colony. We took a train back to Afula at the end of the day, before hopping on a bus back to Nazareth Illit. The sunset from the train station in Haifa was incredible — the picture doesn’t do it justice.

Our last BINA trip was to Wadi Ara, a valley in Northern Israel with many Arab towns. We visited the town of Qfar Qara first, where we met with a local NGO leader who spoke with us about her organizing work — she’s the founder of an NGO that brings together women in dialogue from the Wadi Ara area and from Pardes Hanna, the town where my uncle lives. She spoke to us about her upbringing in a traditional Muslim Arab home, about leaving home as a young woman, taking a job in Tel Aviv, and becoming more secular, and then about her return to her home village,her advocacy work, and her decision to become more religious again. After meeting with this organizer, we drove to a mosque in the village and met with the Imam, who spoke with us about Islam and filled us up with chocolate pastries and fruit.

We then visited Barta’a, a village that is divided in half by the Green Line. Between 1949, when the line was created, and the Six Day War in 1967, the residents couldn’t easily travel to the other side of their village, as the eastern side was Jordan at that time. Interestingly enough, many of the town’s residents celebrated Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, because it meant a loosening of the Green Line border and the informal reunification of the town. In 2003, however, with the building of the West Bank barrier, the eastern side of Barta’a fell in the “Seam Zone” the area between the Green Line and the barrier. The residents Eastern Barta’a have special permits allowing them to live there and most have Palestinian identity cards, so they can’t legally travel into Israel without getting a special permit. When we visited the eastern enclave of Barta’a, we were told that because the vendors don’t pay taxes to the Israeli government, they are able to sell goods at more affordable prices than vendors can in Israel — as a result, both Palestinians and Israelis travel to the enclave to buy goods at cheap prices. However, this has meant that the vendors on the Israeli side of Barta’a don’t get much foot traffic at all.

After visiting Barta’a, we drove to Umm al-Fahm, a large Arab city nearby. We walked through the narrow lanes there into the evening, visited a clothing shop and spoke with the owner, and finished the day at a sweets shop, where we had a lesson in kanafe-making. Unfortunately, knowing how much butter and oil makes its way into kanafe doesn’t make it more appealing. Still delicious, though!

Other than these trips, and a trip last weekend to visit my cousins and Uncle for Shabbat, we’ve just been teaching, working, exploring, and eating/drinking our way around town. On one local adventure, we found a scythe in a spice shop downtown, I ran into a couple of cuties from school, and Matt drank coffee from a gold dallah with his pinky out.

Everything at school has been great. I’ve been able to sit in on a couple of classes taught by my friend — you can see me peacefully zoning out in the final picture while she’s teaching. A few of the kids and two teachers (my host teacher is on the right) are in the middle picture.

I’ve also been able to try some new foods at school. The ground manager’s daughter made malateet cookies (anise and sesame — yum!) that he brought into school. And of course, there was a huge pan of kanafe in the teachers’ room last week celebrating the engagement of the son of a teacher.

We’ve had some of our own baking adventures, too — you can see that everything went really well up until the third batch of koulourakia cookies, which we forgot about… good thing fire alarms don’t seem to exist in our building.

In weird news, we attempted to re-dye Hanna’s hair blue. Unfortunately, Hanna accidentally mixed her dye with shampoo instead of conditioner because she couldn’t read the label, and so she woke up with v. clean hair that didn’t look any different.

I helped Matt get an internship at the HRA, so now I don’t just live with him — I work with him too. I didn’t think we could spend any more time together, but I was wrong.

One of the girls (our token Aussie) in Migdal Ha’emek had a birthday a couple days ago, so we all met up in Afula with our madricha, Inna, to celebrate over dinner.

And that’s pretty much it! Sending love and hugs, and hoping that everyone is coping as well as possible with our American Horror Story. Some links to peruse:

For resisting Trumpism: http://www.actionagainsttrump.com/

For engagement: http://votespotter.com/

For comic relief: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gneBUA39mnI

Cheers to being yachad, to spreading love, and to protecting vulnerable communities and the environment over the next four years and beyond.