What it's like to be a Palestinian guide at the Museum of the Jewish People

February 15, 2022

An increasing number of Arab tour guides are taking courses so they can bring their clients to the redesigned "Museum of the Jewish People," on the campus of Tel Aviv University

 

GETTING TO KNOW "THE OTHER"

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a lengthy article from Haaretz, that some of you may find interesting, about the Israeli-Arab and Palestinian tour guides who have been taking guiding courses at the newly-reopened and redesigned "Museum of the Jewish People," on the campus of Tel Aviv University.

Not mentioned in the Haaretz article is that Israel hopes that its covid-battered tourist industry will soon enjoy an influx of visitors (who will require Arabic-speaking tour guides) from Arab countries, as well as local Israeli Arabs.

There are now almost daily flights to Tel Aviv from Israel's new Arab allies including Morocco, the UAE and Bahrain and tourists from these countries have started to arrive. All of this was unthinkable a few years ago before the Netanyahu-brokered peace accords.

(Incidentally, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is visiting Bahrain today, and moreover Saudi Arabia now allows Israeli planes to use Saudi airspace to fly to the Gulf and Asia. Bennett arrived last night to a red carpet welcome and was and escorted through the airport by the Bahraini foreign minister, both men smiling and chatting as they did so.)

INSTILLING A CULTURE OF EDUCATION

Ayub Salah, from the small Muslim town of Yarka in northern Israel, says he is enthusiastic about the guiding course at Tel Aviv's "Museum of the Jewish People," and hopes to bring his clients to the museum in future. "I think it's superb, a 10 out of 10. I've been a tour guide for 10 years and I never knew about all this," he told Haaretz. "This museum here is for Arabs, Christians and Bedouin, to get to know the Other. Without knowing the Other you don't respect them. Do you see? We are already building our own museum, so I'm getting a lot of tips."

Khalid Abu Tir, an Arab Muslim guide from the village of Umm Touba, near east Jerusalem, who specializes in tours for Christian pilgrims around Israel says:

"Look, it's really interesting. I've heard reactions like, 'What are Arabs doing here?' pretty often. When I enter a synagogue with a group of Christians, do they have to be Jewish to be there? No. They learn about the people. You come here tomorrow with schoolchildren? You don't have to force them to convert to Judaism. You teach them about this nation, its history."

Odeh Mula, from a Druze town in northern Israel (and a cousin of a Likud party Druze Member of the Knesset, Patin Mula) says: "When I show my groups that two billion Muslims have produced 13 Nobel laureates, while 15 million Jews have received 182 Nobels between them, I tell them, 'People, take the strong points from the Jewish people, learn from them.' How did they achieve what they did? Very simple: a culture of education, which brought prosperity, brought successes, brought about great and influential figures throughout history. I aim to instill a culture of education in people."

 

OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO IMPROVING AND SAVING LIFE

Tom Gross adds: Before the Haaretz article, here is a repeat of an item I wrote in a dispatch in 2020:

I should hardly need to point this out, but given the amount of antisemitism there is on and off the internet, including about "avoiding Jew Jabs" to fight Covid, and claims that Jews "create viruses to kill gentiles" (conspiracy theories that date back to long before the Black Death, almost to the advent of Christianity), people may not be aware of the full extent of Jewish Nobel Prize winners for medicine. Here is a partial list of some of the Jews who have helped improve the health of us all.

Of course, there could have been many more, had not over half the world's Jews been killed in pogroms and then in the Holocaust.

(This list does not include other outstanding Jewish scientists, such as Jonas Salk who discovered the Polio vaccine but was never awarded a Nobel Prize.)


1908 Mechnikov, Elie, jointly for his work on immunity
1908 Ehrlich, Paul, jointly for his on immunity
1914 Barany, Robert, for work on the physiology and pathology of the vestibular apparatus
1922 Meyerhof, Otto Fritz, for his discovery of the fixed relationship between the consumption of oxygen and the metabolism of lactic acid in the muscle
1930 Landsteiner, Karl, for his discovery of human blood groups
1936 Loewi, Otto, for discoveries relating to chemical transmission of nerve impulses
1944 Erlanger, Joseph, for discoveries relating to the highly differentiated functions of single nerve fibres
1945 Chain, Ernst Boris, for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases
1946 Muller, Hermann J., for the discovery of the production of mutations by means of x-ray irradiation
1947 Cori, Gerty Theresa, Radnitz, for discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen
1950 Reichstein, Tadeus, for discoveries relating to the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects
1952 Waksman, Selman A., for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis
1953 Lipmann, Fritz Albert, for his discovery of co-enzyme a and its importance for intermediary metabolism
1953 Krebs, Hans Adolf, for his discovery of the citric acid cycle
1958 Lederberg, Joshua, for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria
1959 Kornberg, Arthur, for discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid
1964 Bloch, Konrad, for discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of the cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism
1965 Jacob, Francois, for discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis
1965 Lwoff, Andre, for discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis
1967 Wald, George, for discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye
1968 Nirenberg, Marshall W., for interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis
1969 Luria, Salvador E., for discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses
1970 Katz, Bernard, for discoveries concerning the humoral transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanism, for their storage, release and inactivation
1970 Axelrod, Julius, for their discoveries concerning the humoral transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanism, for their storage, release and inactivation
1972 Edelman, Gerald M., for discoveries concerning the chemical structure of antibodies
1975 Temin, Howard M., for discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell
1975 Baltimore, David, for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell
1976 Blumberg, Baruch S., for their discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases
1977 Yalow, Rosalyn, for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones
1977 Schally, Andrew V., for their discoveries concerning the peptide hormone production of the brain
1978 Nathans, Daniel, for the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics
1980 Benacerraf, Baruj, for their discoveries concerning genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions
1984 Milstein, Cesar, for theories concerning the specificity in development and control of the immune system and the discovery of the principle for production of monoclonal antibodies
1985 Brown, Michael S., for discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism
1985 Goldstein, Joseph L., for discoveries concerning the regulation of cholesterol metabolism
1986 Cohen, Stanley, for discoveries of growth factors
1986 Levi-Montalcini, Rita, for discoveries of growth factors
1988 Elion, Gertrude B., for discoveries of important principles for drug treatment
1989 Varmus, Harold E., for discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes
1994 Rodbell, Martin, for Discovery of G-proteins and the role of these proteins in signal transduction in cells
1994 Gilman, Alfred G., for discovery of G-proteins and the role of these proteins in signal transduction in cells
1997 Prusiner, Stanley B., for discovery of prions - a new biological principle of infection
1998 Furchgott, Robert F., for discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system
2000 Greengard, Paul, for discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system
2000 Kandel, Eric R., for discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system
2002 Brenner, Sydney, for discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death
2002 Horvitz, H. Robert, for discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death
2004 Axel, Richard, for Discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system
2006 Fire, Andrew Z. for their discovery of Rna Interference - Gene Silencing by double-stranded Rna
2011 Steinman, Ralph M. for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity
2011 Beutler, Bruce A. for discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity
2013 Schekman, Randy W. for discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells
2013 Rothman, James E., for discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells
2017 Rosbash, Michael, for discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm

NOBELS FOR CHEMISTRY TOO

The Israeli Nobel prize winners for chemistry Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko discovered a protein that has helped lead to drugs for various diseases.

And Ada Yonath (of Israel's Weizmann Insitute) also won a chemistry Nobel Prize for 'ribosomes' which led to medical advances. Yonath was the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel prize in the sciences and the first woman in 45 years to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLE

WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A PALESTINIAN GUIDE AT THE MUSEUM OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE

What it's like to be a Palestinian guide at the Museum of the Jewish People
By Moran Sharir
Haaretz
Feb. 10, 2022

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.HIGHLIGHT.MAGAZINE-what-it-s-like-to-be-a-palestinian-guide-at-the-museum-of-jewish-people-1.10604311

Meira, a guide at ANU -- Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, leads a group of visitors around the museum's upper floor.

They pass by a guitar that belonged to Leonard Cohen and an embroidered collar worn by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She points out an interactive display devoted to recipes of different communities.

Displayed in the children's exhibition entitled "Heroes -- Trailblazers of the Jewish People" are renderings by illustrator Yirmi Pinkus of something of a who's who of the Jewish people: Freud, Kafka, Leon Blum, Gertrude Stein, Jonas Salk, Helena Rubinstein, Bob Dylan and dozens of others.

Nearby are 52 portraits by artist and designer Lena Revenko, each representing a different Jewish community worldwide through one of its greatest sons or daughters.

Here the visitor will find the Austrian confectioner Franz Sacher, the creator of the Sachertorte, the South African politician and anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman and the iconic American baseball player Sandy Koufax, who declined to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers because it fell on Yom Kippur.

"THE DUDE"

Meira gives her group a few minutes to wander freely among the exhibits. They peruse exhibitions spotlighting the achievements of the Jewish people in the realm of culture, among them a large photograph of The Dude from the Coen brothers' film "The Big Lebowksi," a model of E.T. (created for the 1982 film by Steven Spielberg), and a ladle signed by Larry Thomas, who played the Soup Nazi in "Seinfeld."

Between the displays there are quotes by great gentiles, such as Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, exalting the uniqueness and genius of the members of the Mosaic faith. The museum, formerly called the Diaspora Museum (Beit Hatfutsot), is newly revamped but emits an old and pleasant aura of pride: how good it is to be a Jew.

Knowledgeable and energetic, Meira tries to squeeze as much as possible into the brief time allotted to her. She talks about the Inquisition, the Emancipation, about the medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela and about Gene Simmons from the rock band Kiss, about Maimonides' innovations with respect to halakha (Jewish religious law) and the choreography of "West Side Story." Her audience of 15 consists of men and women in their 40s and 50s who also make a living by guiding groups.

Anyone who thought that the Jews are a stiff-necked people has obviously never met any Israeli tour guides. From my experience, being among the guided isn't easy. Tour guides tend to be amassers of information and connoisseurs of controversy who like to parade their knowledge before a captive audience. That particular recent morning the group listened to Meira attentively.

Even before their tour got underway, one of the participants -- we'll call her Revital -- asked in a voice that echoed around the first floor: "Does the museum differentiate between Judaism before and after the period of the Enlightenment? Because those are two completely different things, you know." Meira answered her patiently.

THE BATTERED TOURIST INDUSTRY

This a low period for tour guides in Israel. Those who relied on a foreign clientele have found themselves in an employment and identity crisis during the two-year coronavirus crisis. About a month and a half ago, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli stated in a cabinet meeting that "it's legitimate to sacrifice the tourism industry," and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested that guides should look for a different profession.

He later retracted that comment but that didn't change the depressing reality or mitigate the affront. Tour guides typically enter the profession with a passion -- for traveling, for knowledge, for speaking before an audience. Many of them are now returning to previous professions, others are trying to reinvent themselves within the new boundaries dictated by the pandemic.

A four-day course is now being offered to tour guides, within the framework of what is called the G2G: Generation to Generation program sponsored by the Social Equality Ministry in cooperation with the Education Ministry and ANU -- Museum of the Jewish People (anu means "we" or "us" in Hebrew). The goal: to encourage the guides to bring their groups on a visit there.

Meira's group is in a hall on the ground floor hearing lectures on the history, essence and distinctive nature of the Jewish people. Are we talking about a religion or an ethnic group? What's the connection between a 17th-century Jew in Holland and an Australian Jew in 2022? "Are Messianic Jews represented in the museum?" Revital asks.

Other participants try to understand what the institution's mandate is -- for example, why the guitar of a Jewish musician is on display if his music has virtually nothing to do with his Jewishness. Is circumcision a sufficient condition for a person to gain entry to the museum's pantheon? Good questions.

Also in the hall were a few individuals whom my grandmother might call "nisht fun undzeren" -- meaning, "not one of us": that is, Christian, Muslim and Druze tour guides who had come to learn about the People of the Book, its past, its diversity and the celebs it has produced. This is the first time that non-Jews are participating in the museum's tour guide program.

ISRAEL'S DRUZE

During the lunch break, the three Druze members of the group sit together on the terrace of the Aroma cafe branch in the museum. "I've only been a tour guide for three years. The pandemic struck just when I got started, so I am not so active," says Odeh Mula, silver-haired man from the Druze town of Yarka in northern Israel (and a cousin of Likud MK Patin Mula).

"The non-Jewish people of Israel don't have a museum culture," Mula says. "I once took pensioners from Jadeidi-Makr [an Arab town near Acre] to the center of the country and I combined it with a visit to an art museum in Caesarea. Of the 17,400 inhabitants of Yarka, I'm a million percent sure that more than 10,000 of them have never been in an art museum in their life. We lack the museum culture, and when I say 'culture' I even go beyond museums: We are lacking in culture. We are a people whose culture has not yet crystallized. I would like to take a second-grade class from Yarka or Julis and show them that a people that respects its culture and its religion -- and stays united and forges a culture for itself -- is a strong people. We Druze are a community and not a people, but it's time for us to become strong and express ourselves more intensively."

Mula continues to speak, his restraint belying his ardor. "My father, whom I still help bathe every morning and keep at home at the age of 87, went to school until the fourth grade and was very limited when it came to knowledge about the outside world. So this is a drastic change for us, because Jews lived in France and were exposed to museum culture and literature as early as the 19th century, and encountered many types of culture there. I don't know if my father even happened to go to a movie theater in Haifa when a film with [the Syrian-born actor] Farid al-Atrash was playing. Maybe he saw three movies in his life. I've seen 200, and I'm positive that my son will take even more interest in culture."

You're saying that the Druze culture hasn't become solidified?

"It's nonexistent. When it comes to heritage, the Druze have no heritage other than their religious one. The wooden plow that my grandfather and my father used until the 1970s has existed for 2,000 years among all the Eastern peoples. I can't call that my heritage. There is a heritage in the religious context."

Dr. Raja Faraj, from the village of Yanuh in Western Galilee, is listening patiently to our conversation. Sporting glasses and a mustache, he's wearing a fedora. "I used to be a school principal," he says. "I have published four books in Hebrew and four in Arabic on historical topics: for example, a study about the relations between Jews and Druze before 1948, and on the subjects of pedagogic entrepreneurship as a lever for education in the coming generations, reincarnation."

THE HOLOCAUST

Faraj adds proudly that while serving for two years as the Education Ministry's inspector-coordinator for history in the Druze community, he introduced the study of the Holocaust into the curriculum.

"I view the Jewish Holocaust from three aspects," he continues. "The first is human, universal and interpersonal; second is a civil aspect, whereby I, as a citizen of Israel, am interested in the people that is building this country -- how they feel, how they are continuing on their path after the Holocaust; and the third aspect is the similarity between the history of the Druze people and that of the Jewish people. These are two small peoples that were constantly persecuted and were compelled to move from place to place. If we draw on these three points of view, the headline for me both as an educator and as a father is that I want my Druze son and my Druze student to also learn from the experience of the Jewish people when it comes to curatorship and museology."

What is there to be learned?

"The Druze Heritage House is now being built in Isfiya, near Haifa. I think I can learn from the curating and contribute my part as a historian of my people's heritage. I picked up a lot of ideas here that can be copy-pasted."

"I THINK IT'S SUPERB"

Ayub Salah, a tour guide from Yarka who specializes in Islam, is also enthusiastic about the museum course. "I think it's superb, a 10 out of 10. I've been a tour guide for 10 years and I never knew about this thing. This thing here is for Arabs, Christians and Bedouin, to get to know the Other. Without knowing the Other you don't respect them. Do you see? We are already building our own museum, so I'm getting a lot of tips."

Was there nothing that has bothered either of you here?

I tell my groups, 'People, take the strong points from the Jewish people, learn from them.' How did they achieve what they did? Very simple: a culture of education.

Faraj: "One aspect didn't stand out as much as I would have wished, as a member of a minority: I am referring to the context of and the connections between the Jewish people and other cultures and other peoples. That should be reinforced."

Salah complains that the exhibit about Benjamin of Tudela (a 12th-century rabbi who documented Jewish life in Europe and Asia) doesn't mention his encounters with Druze. "If I bring people and groups here," he says, "they see it written in red: 'a nation among nations -- not the 'Chosen People -- in Hebrew and English. Why not in Arabic?" (The exhibits have no explanations in the Arabic language.)

NOBEL PRIZES

And don't exhibits of the greatest Jews in history give you "the Chosen People" feeling?

Salah: "That's not written here."

True, but isn't that the message they're trying to convey?

Mula: "When I show my groups that two billion Muslims have produced 13 Nobel laureates, while 15 million Jews have received 182 Nobels between them, I tell them, 'People, take the strong points from the Jewish people, learn from them.' How did they achieve what they did? Very simple: a culture of education, which brought prosperity, brought successes, brought about great and influential figures throughout history. I aim to instill a culture of education in people."

Is your experience here, as Druze, different from Palestinians from East Jerusalem who visit here?

Mula: "Definitely. They reject it all from the outset, they automatically defend themselves in every encounter with the Jewish people. Look at the approach of [Joint List MK] Ahmad Tibi in the Knesset -- he always needs to defend himself and be on the attack. I respect him. A tour guide from East Jerusalem who came here asked me, 'Why would I bring Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Beit Hanina here?' So I told him, 'I would bring a Druze pupil here and show him the strong points about the Jewish people, so he'll learn from the content."

Faraj: "Bravo!"

Mula: "So he says, 'Ah, there's something to that. We can work with that.' If I bring a class from the 10th grade in Yarka to the museum here, and there's a kid of 15, who in another 20 years will serve as a council head -- by the way, as of now there isn't a single theater in any of the country's 16 Druze locales -- maybe he'll build a theater. As council head, he'll say, 'Folks, I'm leaving any work involving paving and improving roadways for two years, accumulating a budget and building a theater, building a movie theater, building culture. A people with no culture is a disintegrating, weak people."

Salah: "In short, this is a nice place. It's a real 10. You have to know how to bring the audience here."

As we speak, Wissam Suleiman is sitting alone, smoking. He describes himself as a Palestinian Israeli, from the local council of Bu'eine Nujeidat in Galilee, who has lived in Jaffa for the past 20 years. "I am a fellah and but also a bit of an urban type," he says.

Suleiman relates that he is active in the protest by guides seeking government compensation for the beleaguered tourism industry during the current crisis. Before the pandemic he worked with Italians, Germans, Swedes, Britons and also Israelis, "in the mixed cities in general and in Jaffa in particular. I lead tours that focus on urban development and upheavals in contemporary Jaffa, from 1948 to our day. Jaffa hasn't emerged from 1948; it's still stuck there."

Why are you here?

Suleiman: "First, because of the money."

You get money for taking part in this course?

"Yes."

From who?

In contrast to you -- and I'm talking about the Jews -- we are more open to learning from and becoming acquainted with the other than you imagine.

"From the museum itself. They're recruiting Arabic-speaking docents. They don't have any, and they want to attract an Arabic-speaking audience -- from the north, for example."

Will there be an audience for this, do you think?

"Very small, I would think, but you have to start somewhere."

Why?

"Because it's too complex and rich a subject for a target audience of Arab schoolchildren. You need to bring university students, perhaps, people from a public that is slightly more informed about contemporary Israeli and Jewish affairs."

Could there be opposition from home?

"No, no."

Won't parents say, "We have enough just teaching about our own people -- why teach about the Jews?"

"First of all, we don't have enough things of our own [being taught] in Arab schools, be they Druze, Muslim, Christian and so on. In contrast to you -- and I'm talking about the Jews -- we are more open to learning from and becoming acquainted with the other than you imagine."

Wouldn't it be odd for you to come here with a group of non-Jews and tell them about the Jewish religion?

"Why odd? It's very attractive."

Neither you nor they are part of this people.

"True. The truth is that it's easier here to explain things to Catholic tourists or to non-religious Jews. French or English liberals who come to Israel. Learning is the finest experience, it's the best thing a person can do."

I've heard reactions like, 'What are Arabs doing here?' pretty often... You come here with schoolchildren? You don't have to force them to convert to Judaism. You teach them about this nation, its history.

If a Jew, say, were to direct films that have nothing to do with Jewish subjects, would you display him here?

"If he is successful and if he's famous and influential -- yes. Because his Jewishness influenced his way of life."

Isn't there a feeling of boasting here in the exhibits about how Jews have a great many celebrities and scientists and thinkers?

"Clearly, clearly. Every museum is boastful. The very existence of this building is a certain type of boasting. But that doesn't detract from it."

Don't you see here an implicit assertion that we Jews are a special or even chosen people?

"That is the basis of your belief -- that you are the Chosen People. So what's the big deal?"

And you wouldn't have a problem guiding a class from Jaffa or from the Galilee and passing that message on to them?

"I wouldn't transmit the message that [the Jews are] the Chosen People, the exalted people. I would convey a message of, 'Look at how this people preserves its culture, its values, how it unites and empowers those who promote cultural, musical, literary, philosophical, political activity and so on, across the world -- and yes, we should behave like that. We need to empower ourselves, we must uphold our heritage, we should not lose ourselves and should not be ashamed of who we are, whether we are talking about our Palestinian ethnos, our Arabic language or our Christian, Muslim or Druze religion."

"OUTSIDE THINKERS"

ANU -- Museum of the Jewish People, as it is now called, opened about a year ago on the campus of Tel Aviv University. (Full disclosure: Much of its funding came from the Nevzlin family, which is a co-owner of Haaretz.)

The new name doesn't sit so well on the tongue (the previous one was perhaps better) but the museum is undeniably well endowed and extremely impressive. In their conversations with participants in the courses, the senior staff at ANU like to emphasize that it is the world's largest Jewish museum, the product of 10 years of planning and construction, and that it is no longer the Diaspora Museum, but something entirely new.

On the second day of the course, participants in Meira's group hear a talk by the museum's chief curator, Dr. Orit Shaham Gover. She tells about the decisions that were made parallel to collecting and displaying the artifacts in the museum.

Dr. Faraj stands up to make a remark: "I want to tell you a bit crudely, please excuse this, that I didn't see in the museum's three floors [displays relating to any] personalities, key figures from different religions, communities and civilizations that influenced and shaped not only the Jewish people but also the Jewish religion."

As examples, he mentions the biblical figure of Jethro and the seventh-century Berber warrior-queen Dihya al-Kahina. Shaham Gover replies that quite a few "outside thinkers" who influenced the Jewish people are represented in the museum, noting that there is a portrait of Al-Kahina on the second floor. As for Jethro, he was omitted as part of a sweeping decision to avoid references to the Bible in order not to get embroiled in the debate concerning myth versus history.

Speaking with a French accent, another guide asks why there isn't more mention of French Jews in the museum. The chief curator's response is that in her eyes the French have not been short-changed. Revital interrupts her to say, "Why is an LGBT couple displayed? That's not a form of Judaism, you know. It's obvious that there are Jewish LGBTs, it's almost an affront, I would say. If I were from the LGBT community, I would be offended by it." The curator is compelled to answer her, and in doing so, displays greater forbearance than the Jews showed in 2,000 years of exile.

During the break, Khalid Abu Tir, a guide from the village of Umm Touba, adjacent to the post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, sits over on the side. "Half of Har Homa is actually on our land," says Abu Tir, who specializes in tours for Christian pilgrims around the country but had been out of work lately. "I did what Lieberman requested: I switched professions."

What do you do now?

Abu Tir: "I'm a bus driver."

Then why are you here?

"Look, it's really interesting. I've heard reactions like, 'What are Arabs doing here?' pretty often. When I enter a synagogue with a group of Christians, do they have to be Jewish to be there? No. They learn about the people. You come here tomorrow with schoolchildren? You don't have to force them to convert to Judaism. You teach them about this nation, its history."

Do you feel that the museum is strictly confined to history, or that there's also an attempt to convey a message or preach about something?

"On the contrary: The truth is that when I first came here I was upset as an Arab person -- I thought there would be racism in the lectures, but thank God I didn't find that. That's what encouraged me to return. Yesterday I told myself that I would come for the first day, and if I see that it's moving in the right direction for me -- okay; if not, I'm not obligated to be here. And I'm very pleased and happy that it doesn't conflict with my religious beliefs."

Ayub Salah and another course participant, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, pass by. Salah says: "Here, I've brought you another one!" Seeing me speaking with Abu Tir, Salah says, "If you could, please let us know afterward how this went. It's important for me to know what his approach is."

You could ask him.

Salah: "It's important for us to know what's being talked about."

Abu Tir: "What do you mean, 'to know what's being talked about'? Is there some secret that needs to be talked about?"

Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew. So what happened? He is the most influential Jew in the world. He wasn't mentioned here!

Salah: "No. I mean: What's your opinion of the museum, how do you see it, what does it contribute to you?"

Abu Tir: "What do you mean, 'contribute'? If you take a group of Christians to a synagogue, do they need to be moved by the visit? They need to look at it."

Salah: "No, you didn't understand me ..."

Abu Tir: "Don't tell me I didn't understand."

Salah switches to Arabic. The only words I understand are "Jethro" and "Nabi Musa" -- a reference to the West Bank site near Jerusalem associated in Muslim tradition with Moses' burial place.

Abu Tir: "We're not getting into religion now."

Salah: "But there is a connection."

Abu Tir: "You go to the United States and visit a monastery -- what do you care what's there? If you're okay with it, go in; if not, go home."

Salah: "If you're not impressed, you won't bring any group."

Abu Tir: "If there's work, then why not?"

Salah: "What I mean is, you bring Arabs here, take the positive things. You don't understand."

Abu Tir: "Don't say that I don't understand again. There's a difference between Jaffa and here. Jaffa is archaeology, the sea. Here there's history."

Salah: "God forbid, it was not my intention to offend, just the opposite." He says a few more things in Arabic in an apologetic tone, and walks off.

Abu Tir: "This is the work of a guide: You take a group of children to the museum, you have to teach them. You didn't bring them so as to exert influence over them. You came in order to tell them: Here is where Jews came from Morocco, from Egypt and all those stories. Two, two and a half hours, then goodbye and see you later. You don't have to marry them or convert them. You don't have to ask questions of what and why."

The day progresses with another lecture and another tour of the museum. Outside the hall two guides, one wearing a cap, are arguing about aqueducts. Revital asks a member of the staff why there is no mention of the Subbotniks, 18th-century converts to Judaism from Christianity in Russia.

Ruby Azrak, 49, from Beit Hanina, who guides Christian pilgrims, relates that while it's hard not to work, at least she has more time for the grandchildren. She says she's fascinated by the museum's course: "Judaism for me is something I like to delve into and learn more about, it's an experience. From the first day I've been here in the auditorium, listening to the lectures, my head has been somewhere else: How I can bring groups here?"

Have you considered bringing pilgrims?

Azrak: "Yes. Christians pray to the Bible every day; Jesus was a Jew, so Judaism and its whole culture relate to us. The more you understand the Jewish people, the more you understand yourself."

Don't you find it odd that Jesus isn't mentioned here as a famous Jew?

"I asked people here about it: 'You mention the false messiah Shabbetai Zvi, [the 17th-century mystic] whom the Jews didn't like and who converted to Islam, who didn't even remain a Jew. Jesus was at least born, lived and died as a Jew; he didn't convert. So what happened? He is the most influential Jew in the world. Millions and billions of followers. He wasn't mentioned here! At least something small, even negative, that he did this or that. A mention. He was a Jew."

What did they say?

"That they had thought about it and there were discussions, and that the subject is a red line for very many Jews. It's sensitive. I also asked how they define 'Jew.' They told me, 'Anyone who considers himself a Jew.'"

Awad Jalal, who lives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah, guides tourists in Hebrew, Arabic and English. "We are usually afraid of people we don't know," he says. "In the United States, where I lived for more than 20 years, they say, 'The enemy is the person whose story you haven't heard yet.' My great aunt, who lived with my family in Isawiyah for many years, always blamed the Jews for everything that wasn't right, and said: 'God will curse the Jews.'

"If she were still alive," he continues, "I would take her to the museum and ask her which Jews she is cursing. Is it Layla Murad, the Egyptian singer whom she would have liked without knowing she was Jewish? Or would it be Jerry Seinfeld, whose series I used to watch in order not to feel lonely when I lived alone in San Francisco? Or is it Bob Dylan, whose music I liked listening to, but never knew his Jewish name of Robert Allen Zimmerman?

"Maybe it's too late for my great aunt," Jalal says, "but it's still not too late for thousands of Arab students who attend Israeli schools separately from the Jewish students. The time has come for them to get to know the moving Jewish stories that are told here. There is no doubt it will improve their perception of their Jewish neighbors. Otherwise, how will Arab children revise the negative images of Jews that they encounter in so many places?"

 

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