As I relaxed on the beach earlier that afternoon, enjoying Hillel’s Beach Blowout with my fellow Jews, I received a text message from Lana, my Palestinian friend with whom I spent three weeks on the Olive Tree Initiative educational mission to the Middle East. She invited me to the hookah event, and given our friendship and my new-found appreciation for unconventional intercultural relations, I enthusiastically agreed to attend.
Although called for 7:30 pm, the event did not get moving until around 8 o’clock. Lana explained this with the term, “Arab Standard Time.” Sound familiar?As the UAS veterans set up the hookahs, I sat awkwardly to the side, feeling the weight of my kippah press down on my ability to be outgoing. I expected for there to be moments like this, and I resolved to stick around until the smoke got flowing. And it eventually did, by which point I was conversing lithely with students ofJordanian, Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Palestinian backgrounds, each offering a nuanced experience of Arab-ness. And I wasn’t the only non-Arab there, either. There were students whose families were from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and even California!
UAS being a apolitical group, I did not expect to hear much about Israel, and I didn’t, until Lana and I brought the Israel-West Bank– Jordan trip we had just taken. And even then, the conversation did not go beyond people expressing admiration for OTI’s accomplishments. My Jewishness wasn’t even brought up until a girl in the group told me that she, too, was Jewish, and that she had recently visited Israel as well. We discussed our Middle East experiences casually with our hosts, as if it were any of the other mundane school-related topics covered that evening.
The conversation flowed freely as the blackberry-vanilla-peach-flavored clouds billowed through the air. While my lungs filled with soot, my mind welcomed the reality that a kippah-clad Jewish student can schmooze jovially with a group that is as eclectic as the one that the United Arab Society brought together that evening.