Welcome to new GIF Board Member Prof. Monica Wohlrab-Sahr
My GIF story:
Getting in contact with Israeli colleagues, in my case, was somewhat coincidental. I met a colleague from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on a PhD committee defense in Cambridge few years ago. We didn’t know each other before. At that time, I had already planned to visit Israel for the first time, and this colleague was excited to hear that and encouraged me to come. When I arrived, she picked me up from the airport, showed me around, introduced me to people, found me books to read in Hebrew (children’s books!). I felt welcome. We are in close contact since then. I also invited her to Leipzig. She visited my university a few times and agreed to our invitation to become a fellow in our research group next year. She also joined our research project and already contributes as a guest editor to a series of sourcebooks that is being edited within that group. I have been in Israel two times since then.
I personally think, it’s not so easy to write about one’s experiences in Israel as one could write on France or Italy. Not as a German anyway, but probably also not in general.
This is not the place to go in detail on that, but I will give some examples. On my first trip to Jerusalem, I visited Yad Vashem. After that, this colleague picked me up and suggested to go to the botanical garden of the Hebrew University. You may need that now, she said. She was right, and I was grateful that we could share this moment. The experience at Yad Vashem is always overwhelming, but I presume even more difficult for a German.
A few days later I took the bus to Bethlehem. When I arrived, a Palestinian taxi driver asked me if he could drive me. First, I was reluctant, but then I agreed. I was with him for six enriching hours. He drove me to the Christian places, but he also showed me the wall that divides Bethlehem, and we drove into the West bank. I saw the security fence, the Palestinian “villages”, and I felt tense. On my way back the Palestinians had to leave the bus and line up to be checked, whereas we tourists stayed on the bus. These were simple events, but they gave me an impression of the complex political situation in the country.
When I came the second time, my Israeli colleague introduced me to some others, and I heard several immigration stories. Then she drove with me to Nazareth. There we visited a Palestinian-Israeli Christian family, a young Assistant professor at Hebrew University and her In-law family. Her family is a Palestinian middle class family, all of them had good education and very good positions. It was interesting to learn about their situation in Israeli society, and to hear their – diverse – positions. We joined them for lunch on Mother’s Day, and afterwards we drove to the city center. These mixed cities seem like a sign of hope to me, but I know that the situation is fragile. I’m reading an Israeli newspaper frequently, and sometimes what I read is frightening. However, I will certainly come back. I do my best to learn the language, even if it’s frustrating to see how long this takes in my age.
I know that it’s difficult for a German to speak about the situation in Israel and about politics in Israel. But it’s also difficult if these issues are silenced. I’m glad that I met people in Israel who are open to discuss their situation with me and to discuss the situation in Germany as well. I’m glad that they introduce me to their country. I’m very much looking forward to work with Israeli colleagues also in the future.
On my way back from the second trip, I read the message from BMBF, and the next day I was asked if I would be willing to join GIF. I immediately said yes. I think this will open up good opportunities to share knowledge and to work together regardless of the political situation and perhaps with the hope that it will improve.