Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Growing Pains

"Our lives begin to end the day the day we become silent about things that matter." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm suffering from some serious growing pains. As I become more cultured, educated, blah blah blah, the more I realize that many things are not as I thought they were. Or, rather, they are not as I was taught to think they were. I'm realizing that people will say things without knowing if those things are true. And people will choose not to educate themselves about a topic out of fear that they might learn they're wrong. How stupid? How frustrating?

Anyways, I digress. On an unrelated (except completely related) note, I wrote the following report during my internship with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition on Louisiana's addiction to incarceration. If you're interested in becoming more educated about the criminal justice system in the US, please read it. (Click here for my report)

Peace, love, and justice, ya'll

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Texas Legislative Internship Program

I have seriously neglected this blog since returning from my internship in Israel, and in that time I have completed another internship- this time a bit closer to home. 

As part of Texas Senator Rodney Ellis' Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP), I was selected to spend this Spring 2015 semester as a policy associate with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC). During my time with TCJC, I analyzed and drafted policy and lobbied at the Texas Capitol for various criminal and juvenile justice reforms. 

I have just finished a report on mass incarceration in Louisiana (attached), sparked by my time here with TCJC. It features many of the bill analysis I drafted during my internship, as well as bills from the TCJC legislative agenda. 

It is an incredibly interesting read, in my opinion, and I am very proud of the criminal justice education TLIP and TCJC have provided me during this internship, which I used to write this report. This is an important and relevant issue in our country, and especially in Louisiana, at this time. I am returning from my internship with a passion for criminal justice reform and the knowledge and experience to do something about it. You can view my report here :)   

One of the coolest things that happened during this internship was TCJC's collaboration with the John Legend! I got to spend the day in the presence of a nine-time Grammy award winning musician, so that was the bees knees. 

Also notable, I am in love with Austin, TX. The city is whimsical and electric, and I cannot wait to get back here after graduation! I'm leaving AUX in a few days, but I'll be back in about a month to spend 6 weeks working with TCJC on implementation, etc.

Here are way too many pictures of my epic semester: 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Childhood Whimsy

I remember thinking, "why in the world do they call it Hot Springs when the water is so darn COLD?" My earliest memory of childhood adventure is camping with my grandparents in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

It seems like only yesterday that my grandpa pushed me into the freezing cold spring at the Charlton Recreation Area for the first time. "It's easier if you just get it done all at once- like a Band-Aid," he'd say. And he was right. My older siblings and I would swim in that freezing cold spring for hours, until my grandma would call us back to our tent site for supper. With purple lips and wrinkled fingertips, we'd slowly slink out of the water, sulking. Our only comfort was grandma's reassurance that we could come again tomorrow. 
That freezing cold water I was telling you about.
Back at our little campground, we'd roast marshmallows for smores and listen to my grandpa tell outrageous stories about his Native American lineage or his service in the military.  While I sometimes pretended to be miserable because there was no television or too many mosquitoes, I honestly loved every second. I loved the simplicity and complexity of the forest. I loved that every kid in the campground with a bike was an immediate new best friend. I loved the freedom of exploring the park on my own and the togetherness of sharing a one-room tent with my entire family. I loved the moments that turned into stories and have become memories. I love that even though my siblings and I live very different lives now-a-days and are often far apart, we will always have the memories of those camping trips in Hot Springs. 

My grandpa passed away many years ago and my grandma finds it harder and harder to travel, but I will forever remember them as they were all those years ago in Hot Springs, Arkansas- lighthearted and adventurous, telling stories and making jokes, learning us and teaching us. I look forward to one day taking my nieces and nephews and future children back there, and telling them stories about their great-grandma and great-grandpa and how much fun we had in the good ole' days.

Grandpa Bill is the handsomest fella on the back row, and the only person in this photo not smiling.
Sweet Grandma Betty is the lovely lady in the red picnic-blanket style flannel shirt.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wake up call

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." -The Wizard of Oz

The following is an excerpt from an Associated Press article updated 37 minutes ago: 
A terror group abducted the three teens missing from the West Bank, Israel's prime minister said Saturday, as soldiers combed the rocky terrain and searched homes to try and find "intensive operation" was underway to prevent the teens from being taken to the Gaza Strip or elsewhere. 
The Israeli military identified the teens as Naftali Frenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. (Frenkel is a U.S. citizen) Israeli-Palestinian tensions already were strained at the time of Thursday's kidnapping, in part because of the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government that has the backing of the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday that Israel has thwarted more than a dozen kidnapping attempts by Palestinian militants so far this year. "It appears this event slipped under our radar, but we will not rest until we free the youths and put our hands on the terrorists who are responsible for this operation," Yaalon said. "As long as we don't know otherwise, our working assumption is that they are alive," he said. 
Two of the three missing teens are from settlements in the West Bank, territory Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and that Palestinians are demanding as part of their future state along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Hamas ruled Gaza for seven years, after violently taking over the territory from the Palestinian Fatah group in 2007, and remains the de facto power there despite the unity deal. Palestinians have been involved in other kidnappings in the West Bank. 
Last year, a Palestinian brought an Israeli soldier to a village in the West Bank and killed him in hopes of trading the body for his jailed brother. In 2001, a Palestinian woman lured an Israeli teenage boy over the Internet to the West Bank where he was killed by waiting gunmen. The woman was released in 2011 along with over a thousand others for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who had been held captive in Gaza by Hamas-allied militants for more than five years. 
I returned to the kibbutz where I live, Kfar Etzyon, on Friday afternoon after spending four days in north Israel.  North Israel was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was able to see some incredible things; this contributed to the illusion that I am on vacation in a beautiful country.  I am not on vacation, and while Israel is a beautiful country, it is a country constantly surrounded and engulfed by serious and life-threatening conflict.  
It was a shock to learn that while I was romping around Haifa and Cesaria, enjoying the sea and sun, three teenage boys had been abducted after leaving Kfar Etzyon. As I mentioned in previous posts, the kibbutz where I live is close to the West Bank and has, as a result, endured many tragedies at the hands of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This kidnapping is one more act of terrorism the people who live here have been forced to endure.  There is a lot of speculation and rumors, but it is my understanding that the boys were leaving Kfar Etzyon, where they attend school, when they were kidnapped.  Most likely, the boys were trying to hitchhike back to their homes (a very, very common thing to do in Israel because gas is over $9 a gallon, not everyone has a vehicle, and to ride the bus is often not much safer than to hitchhike. I, myself, have hitched a ride since I've been in Israel). 

This act of terrorism has gained international attention, and it is a very strange feeling to see an article on Yahoo homepage about something terrible that has happened in Israel when I am in Israel and the thing that happened was that three boys were abducted about half a mile from where I sleep at night.  This was my wake-up call. As safe as I feel in the kibbutz, as much as I love the people I work with, as much as I love the Israeli spirit and the beauty of this country- this is Israel. 

It is a country that has been swarmed with conflict and terrorism since before I was born. And the conflict exists still. The terrorism persists still. I came here to experience a different way of life, and to do meaningful work for UNICEF.  To see people sacrifice so much to protect the land of Israel is, by far, more beautiful than any of Israel's famous sites or attractions.  It inspires me to work even harder on my CRC report, because no child should grow up in fear of being abducted and used as bait in exchange for the release of thousands of terrorists.  

Please pray for these boys, for their families, and for Israel.  Pray for peace.   

Shalom, Ya'll. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Working for a Living

So, questions have been raised about whether I'm getting any work done here in Israel, or rather just vacationing my heart away.  Well, I hate to burst the bubble, but it isn't just camels and ocean over here, ya'll.  I have a job. And it is hard. And awesome. And it doesn't translate that well into photographs, if you know what I mean. 

I am the head of my "project", which is drafting a report on Israel's implementation on the UN treaty Convention on the Rights of the Child.  My final draft is due July 7th so that my boss, Galit, can send it to the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and New York for review before final submission. So, no pressure.  I'm not sure if I'm allowed to show you guys any of my actual work, but its technical and would probably bore your pants off anyways.  But if your into this sort of thing, it is really cool! 

In an effort to prove to my Dad that it isn't all butterflies and rainbows over here, I am going to walk you through a typical workday.

At 6:05 a.m., I leave the kibbutz. It takes about 2 hours via the bus to get to my work.

The bus stop where I get off in Tel Aviv 
My view every morning
This is a"mobile library" parked outside my work
Recycling bins are everywhere!
Walking into my office building
Buzz #13 for UNICEF
Directions to our office. Too bad for me, they're in Hebrew!
The previously mentioned stairs to the left.
Creep City.
Almost there!
We made it!
Seating area for guests
Our beautiful receptionist, Kim!
Where the magic happens.
I love my boss and my co-workers. It is so cool to be working on something that matters on such a global scale.  And Galit plans to take me to the Knesset to meet with some of the members of the Israeli legislator! Super. Awesome.  That's about all the work news I have.

Yaniv and Robin took me to the Old City of Jerusalem today, soooo.... here are the pics :)

Love and miss you guys!! 

Shalom, Ya'll!