Today’s participant blog post comes from Adrienne Bernstein, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. The group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was taken from Adrienne’s personal travel blog, which can be found here.
Greetings from the bustling Israeli metropolis of Lod! This city will be my home for the next nine months as I take part in the Yahel Social Change program.
Why Lod and what’s this city all about?
Lod is one of many biblical cities in Israel. It’s mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament, it’s the hometown of roman soldier-turned-martyr St. George, 7th century capital of the Muslim military district, Crusader town, Ottoman industrial hotspot and a city called “Lydda” as part of the British Mandate in Palestine. It’s almost impossible to find a city in Israel that is not made up of layers upon layers of history, and Lod is certainly a prime example.
Unfortunately, Lod’s present does not reflect its rich history. Lod is the kind of city that most Israelis stay clear of.
When I was visiting the Israeli consulate to get my visa, the security guard told me, “be careful, that’s a rough place,” upon finding out I would be working in Lod.
“Let me say this,” said a concerned man I met on the flight over; “Lod is a place that needs a lot of help, but I don’t know if that will fix its problems.” I also came across this uplifting article while doing some research the night before I left Toronto.
Since Israeli independence (in which Lod witnessed one of the largest expulsions of Arabs throughout the country), Lod has never seemed to regain its footing. The city is located in the centre of the country and serves as an access point to Israel – literally, Ben Gurion Airport is under 7km to Lod’s city centre. Yet becoming economically and socially prosperous continues to elude Lod.
“But if Lod was perfect, we wouldn’t be here,” said Yahel’s founder, Dana.
The Yahel social change program partnered with Lod, not just because of the challenges the city faces, but because of the surge of grassroots NGO’s, community-building initiatives and student action groups that have sprouted up in the last few years. Many of grassroots initiatives have focused on coexistence and community building between the Jewish and Arab population in the city, since Lod has one of the largest Arab populations in Israel.
One fascinating initiative is the Genesis project: community archaeology project run by the Israeli Archeology Institute. The project is currently working to restore archaeological sites in Ancient Lod but is using volunteers from the community to help with excavation.
Our volunteer group was lucky enough to get a guided tour of Lod’s old city by two of the projects archaeologists (check out the gallery below for pictures of the old city). We stepped back in time as we visited the Church of St. George, which still includes some original walls from the church built by Crusaders, an Ottoman inn for travellers and merchants and an antique olive oil factory.
The old city, with only about a 500m radius, is a relatively small part of Lod. The rest of the city (from what I’ve seen) is comprised of maze-like neighbourhoods connected by congested main roads and winding alleyways.
Cafes and shawarma stands line busy streets and keep open into the wee hours of the night, perfect spots for picturesque philosophical discussions or just a reliable late-night snack. And to fill it out, a smattering of schools and synagogues, and mosques which sound off an impossible to miss call to prayer five times a day – a sound that will stop you in your tracks the first few times you hear it (think Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City 2).
I’ve only have been in Lod for less than a week, but I like it. It doesn’t have the modern architecture or pristine beaches of Tel Aviv, and doesn’t have the in your face buy-this-ancient-oil-lamp-only-five-sheckles-you-look-pretty-in-this-necklace-where-you-from-miss aggressiveness of Jerusalem. It’s the kind of city where passersby will say “Shalom” to you on the street. Women will stop and ask you to hold their baby while they fiddle with something in their purse. The local bakery is crazy chaotic before a holiday. Store owners won’t likely speak English, but they will take the time to find what you are looking for through a mix of sherades and “Hebrenglish,” which goes a little something like “Kama zeh…erm…nailclippers?” But it manages to get the job done.
I can’t wait to keep exploring and learning more about this amazing city. It’s a happening place and hopefully be part of the change that is starting up here.