As Mitzvah Corps Israel closes out a busy week of traveling around Tel Aviv and the Negev Desert, we prepare for our final Shabbat together. This Shabbat, we will study this week’s Parsha, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 -30:1). Within this parsha, a census is conducted and the land of Israel is divided by lottery amongst the tribes and families of Israel. When conducting the census, only men of a certain age (20-60 years old) are counted.
This week’s parsha, specifically who is and is not counted within the census, thematically aligns with our group’s discussions pertaining to who is, and is not, counted as an Israeli citizen today. This topic was on the forefront of our minds while spending time in South Tel Aviv this week. After stepping off the bus, we initially noticed that our new surroundings were a stark contrast to the clean, new Tel Aviv we observed earlier that day; the infrastructure was in disarray and largely unattended to by the government. Quickly, we learned that South Tel Aviv is predominately comprised of people who are of lower socioeconomic status, many of which are asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. As a result of human trafficking, many of the asylum seekers came to Israel unintentionally. After arriving, they were given a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv and Israel has yet to grant the almost 50,000 asylum seekers official asylum status. As a result, they remain undocumented within the state, are not counted in Israel’s population, and do not receive the same resources that all other Israelis do.
Keeping in mind who is, and is not, counted within Israel’s census and, in extension, receiving resources from the state, we pondered many questions. These included: Why will Israel not grant these individuals refugee status? If Israel is a Jewish state, should non-Jews be counted in the census? And does Israel, a state providing safe haven to many Holocaust survivors, have an obligation to help those who have fled political persecution? Many of these questions, in different forms, have continuously come up as we have traveled throughout Israel and will continue to arise as we travel to Jerusalem after Shabbat.
We look forward to our final days of thoughtful conversations and spending time together before taking everything we have learned and experienced together back the United States!
Basha, Jackie, Aaron, and Michal
Mitzvah Corps Israel 2017 Program Staff