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July 2007 | by Ari Herzog

You don’t recognize it in the United States due to the approximate 2 percent Jewish population, but almost 50 percent of the 5 million-strong Israeli population is Jewish so you see Jews everywhere.

From the pedestrian markets along Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street and Tel Aviv’s Rothchild Street, to the villages in northern and southern Israel, everyone speaks Hebrew, from the taxi drivers to the shopkeepers to the police.

I’m thinking of taking up a Hebrew language class, so I can really learn how to converse in the mother tongue. I also want to come back here, and much sooner than another 22 years.

In fact, I’ve been chatting with some other Bostonians on my trip, and we’re tempted to return to Israel for a 4-month program with the Israeli Army, going through the bootcamp and better appreciating what it means to serve in the Army. Granted, I wouldn’t want to do that now, with the conflict as it is, but I would like to return to the land of milk and honey in some context.

I hear of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I don’t see it. I see it on CNN and Fox News, but even those images are only one-sided. I’ve sat in on briefings over the past week, listening to a former consul general to New York, the Ethiopian National Project, the Jewish Agency For Israel, and an Israeli think tank.

The Bush Administration, while not mentioned specifically, is implied to be a major obstacle for mideast peace. Bush doesn’t want Israel to enter negotiation talks with Syria, because Washington considers Damascus a terror threat. And Israel listens, because the U.S. is it’s big brother. Still, insiders wish the talks to occur.

Syria is a small bit of the Arab world. I’ve heard that every Arab nation, to one degree or another, is interested in pursuing peace talks with Israel. These talks won’t happen anytime soon, though. Of utmost concern is Iran and it’s alleged nuclear bomb. Would Iran use it to destroy Israel? It’s possible… but they’d be killing themselves too. Is Iran that neurotic? The Arab league wants to stop Iran from using the bomb. In this sense, Arabs and Jews stand united against the Shah.

It’s an odd world we live in. Strange bedfellows one moment, enemies the next. Yesterday, a UJC bus from San Diego who was visiting its sister city near the Gaza Strip was caught in crossfire. Nobody was hurt, and the IDF was unaware of the pending missile or the bus wouldn’t have been there. It spread like wildfire last night at our luxurious Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv.

Today, we explored the ancient alleys of Jaffa and the modern boulevards of downtown Tel Aviv. We sang Hatikva in sync with a 1948 recording when David Ben-Gurion read the United Nations proclamation for a new state. Tel Aviv is like any other cosmopolitan city in the world, but everyone is Jewish. It’s surreal.

Half of my new Boston friends fly back to New York tonight. Another group heads out to Eilat, one girl will stay here, and I’ll go back to Jerusalem. On Sunday, about a dozen of us will fly to New York together and share our stories.

I am proud to be a Jew, and I am beginning to realize how to make a name for myself.