I have just returned from a trip to Israel. My visit was to gain a better understanding of the country – its people, its culture. The primary function of Nia "The Business" is to support Nia teachers. I have long recognized that each market is unique, regardless of people's commonality to share their passion for Nia and their love of movement. Nia teachers all have similar goals and challenges but this commonality in no way provides a cookie-cutter path to success. Los Angeles and New York might as well be different countries, sharing little in terms of culture other than language. Put Fairfield, Iowa in the mix and it is easy to see the vast variety of dynamics faced by the well-intentioned Nia teacher. Nia is now in 42 countries. This testifies to its adaptability. That said, the path of each Nia teacher is unique and each is a pioneer in his or her own microcosmic world.
There was only one Nia teacher in Israel for some years. It has only been in the past few years that the teacher community has begun its growth to what is now 24 teachers. In a country of 7.5 million, this is hardly a drop in the bucket, yet it is impressive and holds great promise. Nia teachers thrive in community; it is part of my job to support and nurture the communities as best I can. So I took two weeks and traveled to one of - if not the most - significant centers in the history of the world. I will not attempt to educate here on the history of the region; it is simply enough to say that my understanding and knowledge of the vast complexities of this small yet huge region is elementary at best, and within hours of my arrival, I was humbled by a profound sense of awe.
I had never been drawn to the Middle East. As a lover of travel, my list of places to visit is long and although present on my list, this part of the world has always been a low priority. Now, I cannot wait to return.
My experience was essentially focused in and around the Jewish Israeli culture. Out of 7.5 million inhabitants, the Jews account for 5.5 million. Muslim communities seemed to always be off in the distance, perched on a hillside. There are Muslim communities within the Jewish communities and the two often shop in the same stores and share the same reverence for the holy land – and both are passionate about their hummus. Trust me: Armenian, Muslim, Christian or Jew, if you serve the best hummus there will be a line outside your door. Hummus is one thing all agree is good for you.
I do not mean to minimize the struggle of the Middle East, but I will say that I was surprised to see the different communities sometimes living virtually side by side. (This of course does not apply to the Gaza strip and the West Bank.) To see the region on a map or to follow news reports in no way gives one an understanding of how the dynamics of the region functions day to day. Jerusalem (the Old City, surrounded by a wall) is divided into four quarters and Israel into three distinct regions. I felt like every turn revealed yet another virtual line. This sounds extreme and yet on a less radical scale, we have similar dynamics in America. I assure you, there are neighborhoods in LA that I try to avoid and would most likely not be welcome in should I "cross the line." Is it not the same in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Miami?
I have been blessed in my life to be exposed from an early age to a respectable variety of cultures. As a result, I have always been a border jumper, a line crosser. (If my mother had any idea of the precarious situations I put myself in over the years, she would have doubled her bi-weekly visits to the neighborhood church.) As risky or blindly naive as I may have been in this practice, I never climbed a wall with barbed wire on the top. In Israel, there is such a wall. And yet one of the dreams the Israeli teachers shared with me is to one day bring together people of all faiths and do Nia, looking upon the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. And why not? I will certainly do my best to support this dream. Not that they need my help; they are a passionate community full of movers and shakers.
In Israel, people are doers - they do not dream casually. Dreams are plans with every expectation of becoming real. Remember, this a country and culture that has effectively built itself over 62 years. For me, being in Israel was like being in the center of a cultural revolution on the frontlines of life.
There is a Nia teacher in Jordan. She is the first - but I suspect not for long. She is a powerful Muslim woman and her love of Nia, life and expressive movement is contagious. I am sure she will come to the Jerusalem Nia Jam; most likely she will bring a bus full of students. And the community in Bahrain will surely come as well, joining the community from Marrakech. I promise the Romans will be there, along with the Buddhists. I will drive that bus. Call me naive; I am okay with that. I am in good company. I prefer "optimist" and of one thing I am certain: the world loves an optimist – Ruth told me so. In brief, I do not think the Nia community in Israel needs my support as much as I need their inspiration.
So stay tuned…next stop: Nia Jam Jerusalem, hosted by the love of movement, the love of being in a body, the love of being in community, the love of creating positive change...and the love of Nia, our teacher.