Autumn 2007: Cover Story
‘There is Hope’
By Amanda Niskar 95MPH
Amanda Niskar 95MPH was born and raised in Detroit and has worked as a bone marrow transplant nurse at Emory Hospital and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She has a doctorate in public health and is on the faculty of Tel Aviv University. Niskar also founded the Emory Alumni Chapter of Israel. Here, she talks with Emory Magazine about her life in Israel.
Courtesy of the author
EM: Could you talk a bit about your religious upbringing?
My parents are Jewish. My father believed in the Jewish traditions and holidays and was a spiritual person, but he did not believe in organized religion so we did not attend synagogue. However, learning about Israel and Judaism was important to my mom, and I was sent to an American traditional Hebrew school after public school from four years old until my bat mitzvah. I learned to read and write prayer Hebrew, studied the Torah, the haftorah (the prophets), and the history of the Jewish Diaspora (Jews living outside of Israel). I also studied Jewish traditions and customs. It was the Hebrew school that first inspired me to want to live in Israel because I read many fascinating biographies and historical books in the school library.
EM: When did you move to Israel and why did you decide to stay?
I moved to Israel in September of 2005 and became a dual citizen when I made aliya (immigrated). My mom moved here with me. I am connected to Israel like Scarlett O’Hara was connected to Tara in Gone With the Wind. The land and water of Israel are beautiful in depth of history and variety of landscapes.The people of Israel are profound with their complex histories of how and why they came to live here. The diversity of languages, fashions, foods, music, and other cultural attributes demonstrates how Israel is the center of world fascination and activity throughout history.
EM: What are your thoughts on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?
During my first visit to Israel, when I was a nursing student volunteering in a pediatric intensive care unit in a hospital in Tel Aviv, I helped a Jewish nurse care for a Palestinian teenage boy and a Jewish girl of preschool age. The boy had come from a nearby Palestinian village to a Jewish seaside town. He had been raised to hate Jews. He hit the girl with stones and put her into a coma. The girl’s father tried to protect his daughter, and the boy received broken ribs in the process. The girl never came out of her coma. The Jewish nurse cared for both patients with the best quality care available. The Palestinian boy said that we were stupid and deserved to die because we were healing him and being kind to him after he tried to kill our people. He promised that when he was free, he would continue his efforts to kill. The nurse tried to explain that the Jews only want peace and that we heal him because we value all human life. He said all Jews must die and be pushed into the sea. This was my first experience of the Palestinian-Jewish conflict in Israel. Health professionals here frequently cope with similar scenarios. Israel provides health care, food, clean water, electricity, and many other essentials of survival to the Palestinians. Why? Israel values life and always hopes for peace. Our national anthem is Hatikva, meaning hope. The conflict is very complex and deep. Many explanations exist for why and how things came to be this way. There are many strategies for resolution of the problems, but no simple answers. A child raised in hate only knows hate.
EM: What is your opinion about the security fence being built between Israel and the Palestinian territories?
If the security fence was in place when I came to Israel as a nursing student in the early 1990s, that little girl would have lived a full life instead of finding herself in a coma, as the teen-age boy would not have been able to cross the fence to hurt her. On the other hand, I met a group of schoolchildren who played soccer together, a mixed group from neighboring Palestinian and Jewish communities. The children were very sad that this fence blocked their ability to continue playing together. However, the fence was placed there because Palestinians with guns were shooting at the Jewish schoolchildren. When the fence went up, the children could play safely for the first time. There are groups who facilitate Palestinian-Jewish recreational activities for children to promote peace and understanding.
EM: Does the conflict impact your daily thoughts or actions? Are you worried about terrorist attacks?
In my daily life, I am street smart just like in U.S. big cities. If I see an unattended package, I call the police and a bomb squad comes to investigate. I walk on well-lit streets. I am aware of my surroundings. I avoid people behaving suspiciously. I walk, ride buses, and ride trains to get everywhere as I do not have a car.
EM: What are your feelings about the chance for peace?
There is hope. Working at a medical center gives me the special experience of seeing the best of humanity from Jewish and Palestinian doctors, nurses, and patients, as well as from people of other cultures and religions. One should not take away a person’s dreams, because then the person has nothing to live for. Hope is worth living for.