Mediation memories.

So today, at the real estate contract-signing (and last-minute negotiation) in a law office in Tel Aviv, my memories of my Masters degree education were revived.

Two years after finishing my course in Conflict Management and Negotiation at Bar Ilan University, I found myself on one side of a glossy wood table, glass pitcher of water serving as the barrier between us and our lawyer, and my landlord’s team.

I was able to attend a real mediation case during my studies and I learned so much from those five hours. Being involved today in a much less dramatic, but still tactical, two-sided conversation with clear ‘interesim’ was interesting. A little tense. And definitely nostalgic for something I haven’t ended up pursuing.

But I can also say, following your own thought process during a negotiation can reveal a lot about you…

Conflict management.

It’s probably only appropriate that at the graduation ceremony for Bar Ilan University’s Conflict Management and Negotiation program, I witnessed my first Israeli-Arab walkout.

I studied in the program the same years as a secularish Arab girl from around Uhm Al Fahm. She’s probably around my age, with an assertive nature and a big, warn smile – the kind that involves her eyes. She participated in class, she joked with the rest of us.

It was nice to see her at the ceremony. We nodded hellos and I noticed her family was present to support her – her religious-looking parents, her secular sisters and her little nephews. With one of her nephews, hanging around where I stood in the back of the room, I played peekaboo. He’s probably a few months older than Koala and just as charming.

As it always goes at the end of an Israeli ceremony, the musicians got ready to play Hatikva, and everyone stood. The Uhm Al Fahm clan stood… and politely, inconspicuously, walked out. As my classmate walked past, I looked up at her and matched her sigh-resembling smile.

Who am I? What do I believe? A degree in conflict management taught me a lot, but living in Israel taught me, perhaps, too much. Even if I left this country tomorrow, I could never go back to who I was before I lived here. I don’t know if it’s living next to the green line. Or that it’s become normal to occasionally shop alongside Israeli-Arabs, stand on line with Israeli-Arabs. I don’t know if it’s being exposed to a class of people who look just like me, only… only…

She chose to attend Bar Ilan, an openly religiously oriented and Zionist institution. She chose to do this degree, and she chose to participate in whatever she had to get to today. But she also chose not to go too far, not to stay for the national anthem. I suppose that’s conflict management after all: peace is a sleepy dream; conflict management is making choices.

Well, my term in Bar Ilan couldn’t have ended on a more appropriate note.

Graduation.

On the day of my ‘graduation ceremony’ from Bar Ilan’s Conflict Management and Negotiation program, I must note that five years ago,when I started, I wasn’t planning to still be at the job that was supposed to pay my way through university.

Yet here I am.

So, the degree was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe the program is better now, who knows. I’m still a bit scarred from one of the professors saying to us at the end of one semester: Don’t bother making mediation your career. It should be a side job, something nice you do aside from the job that feeds you.

Look, he’s not completely wrong, but saying it to students studying the field and not doing anything to better the situation isn’t completely right.

Anyway. I’m very lucky that the job that was meant to feed me through grad school became my career. In Israel, it doesn’t usually happen this way – you come with a profession and settle for less. I came with a bullshit humanities degree and experience in activism and journalism – and learned a lot. Both in mediation and in hi tech. I’m a different person than when I got here.

I was going to blow off the חלוקת תעודות  tonight but in the end decided I have nothing to lose. A good friend will join me; actually, a good friend I made waaay back when I first started the degree and the job.

I think she’s more happy that its completed than I am.

A degree in degree-getting.

So a couple weeks ago I shared the latest Bar Ilan update that standing between me and my diploma was a ptur in English.

One moment; allow me to rephrase that…

Approximately one fortnight ago, yours truly revealed an update on the outstanding situation regarding the university of Bar Ilan, where the accomplishment of a Master’s Degree was halted due to the matter of an exemption in the English language.

After over a month of bureaucratic ridonkulousness (yes, that is English!) I managed to get through to a wonderful angel named Simone, originally from the continent of North America, who speaks – you got it – English. Helpful since everyone else I spoke to was leading me to the wrong offices or telling me they’d call back someday.

Yesterday I checked my mailbox – and lo and behold! – received myself a nice big envelope with my completed transcript and ishur that my degree has been completed. I should be getting the official diploma at a ceremony whoknowswhen, 2010. Or maybe 2017?

No  matter. It’s only taken four years. I can now register for my extra tax credit.

And start my PhD.

Staaaam.

Israeli life on paper.

I’m covered in dust as I write this from the depths of old documents, yellowed papers, stacks of ancient bills. Call it spring cleaning, call it nesting, call it what you will but I have managed to set aside three cartonim of dead trees to recycle. 

What’s super fun about doing something like this – in what is probably the first time since I’ve had a teudat zehut – is the fact that I get to find all the bits and pieces that mark my time in Israel as an olah. Cards from well wishers, that intro packet they give you from the Ministry of Absorption, the first apartment contract (ah, rechov Lamed Hey…). 

It’s all flashing before my eyes on old crinkly papers: my first Israeli bank account, my first Orange bills, subsequently my first Cellcom bills (what self-respecting Israeli would only have one phone contract?), my university application. Contracts from my first job here, updated contracts from my first job here. Bar Ilan schedules and Bar Ilan bills. Minhal Studentim letters and ishurs and then the faxes pleaing for more money from Minhal Studentim. 

Did I mention Bar Ilan notebooks and Bar Ilan finals schedules and Bar Ilan student ID cards and Bar Ilan assignments? 

My Israeli life on paper seems to have been fairly active so far. Getting here, opening accounts, applying for jobs and internships, signing housing and job contracts, organizing trips abroad and health insurance, working on a second degree, planning a wedding, proving my Judaism in order to get married, owning a dog, continuing to work on a second degree, getting pregnant. I’ve been jobless and homeless and directionless and I’ve been hard-working and studious and settled down. City life, suburbia. Single, married. Student, employee.

While there have been many chapters to my aliyah so far, I do feel like this is the beginning of a truly new and fresh chapter; perhaps this is a ‘Part II’. Everything before has been about me and my perspective, whether on my own or as part of a relationship, and from here on in, well, life in Israel – the good, the bad, the scary – will be shaped by the existence of a unit far greater in value than just me.

Next up: Israeli family life.

The lizrael update I've been waiting for.

Don’t know about you, but I can speak for myself, my husband, my family, some of my closer friends, and probably some coworkers and ex coworkers when I say that this is the lizrael update I’ve been wanting to share for a long, long time… In fact, I can pinpoint the time. It would be here.

But now I can finally say: I’ve handed in my very last graduate school work. It was actually a couple weeks ago, but it was too good to believe on the spot so I’ve been waiting until it sank in.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no confirmation except my own calculations and last year’s assurance from a department secretary that my student file is ready to be stamped This one’s good to go. I also want to know that my final internship project has passed. As far as I know, I’ve handed everything I can possibly hand in, taken all credits and finals, and paid (or had others pay) all monies to complete my requirements. If this is truly the happy ending, then my official graduation won’t be until the end of this academic year.

But, with a little optimism uncharacteristic of an Israeli student, I will say:

No more teachers, no more strikes.

No more Minhal Studentim hikes.

Some people have already asked me, “What are you going to do now?” And in my head I’m replying, “Think up my next academic feat,” while my mouth brings forth, “Birth a baby and perhaps raise it.”

The final final.

I don’t want to make promises, because you just never know over here… But I’m %99.99 sure that I just finished my last ever final at Bar Ilan University…

…And I totally rocked it. Take that, Ethical Dilemmas in Mediation!

Here’s a portrait of the calm before the final:

It’s not the end of my degree, of course. I’ve got a lot more work to do and the mediation certification course to take. But I’m enjoying this small triumph until I start writing the next paper…

The irony of studying mediation during a strike.

I received an email today from the head of the Conflict Management and Negotiation department at Bar Ilan, apologizing for the inconvenience of the strike. He is new to the position as of this year and I found his email refreshing; isn’t this what you would expect considering the focus of this department?

He explains that he understands the frustration of the collateral victims here – the students – and he notices the irony of studying conflict management in a country and time period where the leaders can’t get their act together and come to agreement. He hopes that in the meantime we are learning from the experience and that the strike will be over soon so that we can work towards entering society with the skills needed to avoid such situations in the future. He announces that the department will do as much as possible to make sure we finish our degrees with the least trouble.

Ok, I projected a bit; he didn’t necessarily say all of that, but I got his drift and very much appreciated the sentiment. It is good to know that someone at the university is thinking of us students; even if he is involved in the mediation field and he is striking himself.