A visitor from Vermont blogs the faces of Israel
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A visitor from Vermont blogs the faces of Israel

Writer Judith Hertog sets out to upend the discourse of folks back home, and ends up surprising herself

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

  • Guy Trichter, 27, at Habonim Beach, lives in Tel Aviv:
"The 'country'... It's just some lines they drew on a map 80 years ago." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
    Guy Trichter, 27, at Habonim Beach, lives in Tel Aviv: "The 'country'... It's just some lines they drew on a map 80 years ago." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
  • Maya, 42, at Akiva Gur Garden, Bnei Brak, lives in Bnei Brak: "For me, the hardest part of becoming religious was the clothing." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
    Maya, 42, at Akiva Gur Garden, Bnei Brak, lives in Bnei Brak: "For me, the hardest part of becoming religious was the clothing." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
  • Gavriel Weinberger, 57, at Ikea, Netanya, from Shavei Shomron: "...the settlements are the best environment in which to raise kids" (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
    Gavriel Weinberger, 57, at Ikea, Netanya, from Shavei Shomron: "...the settlements are the best environment in which to raise kids" (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
  • Beni Bengi, 47, at Frederika Shoes, Sokolov Street, Herzliya, lives in Kfar Saba: "I have already started over once, and I don't want to do it again." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
    Beni Bengi, 47, at Frederika Shoes, Sokolov Street, Herzliya, lives in Kfar Saba: "I have already started over once, and I don't want to do it again." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
  • Alumah L., 24, on the 480 bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, lives in Jerusalem: When you read an ancient text, it actually talks to you." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
    Alumah L., 24, on the 480 bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, lives in Jerusalem: When you read an ancient text, it actually talks to you." (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)

Judith Hertog was tired of hearing uninformed commentary about Israel.

Hertog, a Dutch Jew, lives in Vermont with her Israeli husband, whom she’d met during her university studies in Israel and who now teaches Asian studies at Dartmouth, and their two children.

But she found that local comments, whether pro or anti-Israel, were often uninformed, and came with little comprehension of the “real situation,” said Hertog.

One acquaintance posted journalist Helen Thomas’s anti-Semitic comments about Israelis “getting the hell out of Palestine” on her Facebook page. Hertog found that jarring.

Judith Hertog, a creative writer who set out to find Israelis of all types during a year of exploration (Photo credit: Eyal Hirsch)
Judith Hertog, a creative writer who set out to find Israelis of all types during a year of exploration (Photo credit: Eyal Hirsch)

“The only way to really respond is to show how complex it is,” she said. “I wanted to show how different people are in Israel, the varieties and opinions.”

She wanted to find a way respond to all such polarized, extreme opinions.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The family was planning on spending the year in Israel during Hertog’s husband’s sabbatical, in order to be closer to their family and give their children a chance to learn Hebrew.

Hertog, a writer, had planned to work on a book. Instead, she has ended up spending most of the last months working on a photography blog, talking to Israelis all over the country, and posting their pictures and quotes on her website.

Called “Views from a Real Place,” it’s a collection of images of people that Hertog has met. She asks each one the same questions: “What are you doing here right now, what is your occupation, where is your family from, how do you describe your religious or national identity, what are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land.”

And what she’s found is that everybody has a story.

“Everything’s surprising about it,” she said. “People aren’t what you expect them to be. I set out to subvert other people’s prejudices about Israel and I find out that I constantly upset my own expectations. It’s wonderful when that happens.”

Nada Mansoor, 33, on Jaffa Road in Tira, where she lives: "Believe me! I’ve done things a man can’t do!" (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
Nada Mansoor, 33, on Jaffa Road in Tira, where she lives: “Believe me! I’ve done things a man can’t do!” (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)

Hertog found her variety of subjects as she made her way around the country this year. They’re often shopkeepers or people sitting in cafes — “because that’s who has time to talk” — but she’s also interviewed people on the train, on the beach and with her kids in tow.

Arieh Kalenski, 73, at the Mifgash Shiri lottery booth, on Brodetski Street in Tel Aviv, lives in Herzliya: "...masochism is in human nature" (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)
Arieh Kalenski, 73, at the Mifgash Shiri lottery booth, on Brodetski Street in Tel Aviv, lives in Herzliya: “…masochism is in human nature” (Photo credit: Judith Hertog)

With the year winding down, Hertog’s project hasn’t necessarily answered any questions, although she did see that the acquaintance back home with the Helen Thomas quote “liked” her photography project on Facebook.

There’s some satisfaction in that response. For herself, however, the questions continue to present themselves.

“We always have this question of what it would be like to be back here,” she said. “So I wanted to meet people who are positive about Israel. Unfortunately, I haven’t met that many of them.”

“But when everything seems so negative, it feels good to talk to people, even people I completely disagree with, because when you speak one on one, you discover the humanity of people. I think the conflict makes people more aware of society.”

Hertog and her family will return to Vermont in June, but before they leave, she plans on wrapping up the project with a final interview, her own.

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