As missiles rained down from Gaza and Israeli Jews and Arabs rioted in the streets last week in the working class city of Lod southeast of Ben Gurion Airport, Daniel Cohen spent much of his time in a bomb shelter thinking about the spirit of coexistence that he had helped foster during much of the last year on his Yahel Social Change Fellowship.
As he followed the news, he learned that some of Lod’s Arab residents had torched synagogues, shops, and cars and that the government had declared a state of emergency in the city and dispatched border police. Internal violence gripped Lod when a rocket launched from Gaza fell on a car, killing two. The next morning, Cohen was notified that one his English students, Nadine Awaad, 16, had been driving with her father when the two were killed by a Hamas missile.
“It got personal,” said Cohen, who graduated from Newton South High School and holds a bachelor’s degree from Rice University. “Nadine was really an incredible kid. She was really special and sweet and incredibly smart. Our class was once a week on Zoom. I had started teaching private lessons to students. I never taught her in person. Her English was really, really strong and mostly self-taught. She was really smart.”
The day after the Hamas attack, with the streets of Lod still filled with smoke, Cohen boarded a bus with the rest of the program’s fellows and drove to Jerusalem, where he is currently staying. His fellowship was slated to run through next month, but at this point he’s unsure of his immediate future.
At Rice, Cohen studied linguistics and cognitive sciences and also minored in Jewish studies and Arabic. As part of his fellowship, he taught English twice a week online and at an Arab high school in Lod’s Old City in the neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol, a mixed Jewish-Arab enclave. He’s also worked with Israeli nongovernmental organizations, attended seminars, and volunteered at youth centers, young adults centers, and community gardens.
Last week, the streets of Lod were still smoldering from the riots that took place over several nights of violence. In this city of 80,000, where 30 percent of the population is Arab, over 100 burned out cars and trucks sat charred after the rioting, and 10 synagogues, a religious school, and a military training academy had been torched by Arab mobs. On Monday, Yigal Yehoshua, 56, died days after he was hit in the head with a brick while driving.
Last week, a Jewish man was stabbed while he walked to synagogue, and two other Jewish men were shot. Arabs also have been victims of arson and violence by Jews. “This is Kristallnacht in Lod,” Lod Mayor Yair Revivo said.
“Am I surprised? Yes and no. It’s been building since the start of Ramadan,” said Cohen, whose father is Israeli and works in computer software, and whose mother is a speech pathologist at Mass. General Hospital. Despite the increase in tensions in this widely diverse city, Cohen said few expected the tensions to boil over to wilding street mobs in Lod and other Israeli cities.
“Lod is a complicated place. I think this year has only helped us see how much deeper that complexity is,” said Cohen.
Despite the violence and civil strife, he would like to return to Lod and finish his fellowship if calm is restored. He’s also optimistic that a sense of trust can be restored between the city’s Jews and Arabs.
“Almost everyone I’ve met in Lod, either Jewish or Arab, has been incredibly kind and generous,” Cohen said. “Almost everyone in Lod wants to live in peace with their neighbors, and really just wants a safe place for their children. That includes Jews and Arabs living side by side, as good neighbors. There’s no shortage of moments of collaboration, interaction, and yes, even coexistence.
“When I say there is not enough coexistence, I think on an institutional and broader level there are not enough efforts or successes in creating shared spaces for such coexistence to flourish, and too many Jewish and Arab residents live their lives avoiding the other. But the people here are living coexistence in a real, day-to-day way. It’s challenging and fragile and doesn’t always function like it should, but it’s possible.
“And watching what’s happening in Lod right now, I know that the majority of people there want to return to a safer and healthier situation. Rebuilding the city and those relationships is going to be an incredibly long and difficult process, but I know it’s possible, and I really believe in the wonderful people of Lod who are going to accomplish it.”