Sandwiched between Kfar Saba and the predominantly Arab town of Tira, Beit Berl College, the nation’s largest teacher’s college, houses a groundbreaking social history project whose goal is to increase understanding and cooperation between different segments of Israeli society.
Known as “The Time Tunnel,” it is the brainchild of Dr. Boaz Lev-Tov and Dr. Kussai Haj-Yehia, professors at the college. Beit Berl contains a diverse mix of Jewish and Arab students and offers teacher education tracks for both the Arab and Jewish educational sectors. Lev-Tov, who heads the school’s history department and co-directs the Time Tunnel project with Haj-Yeia, explains how the project came about.
“I came to the school as a lecturer and they told me that they wanted to do something that combined local history, Jews and Arabs, but they didn’t know what to call it.”
Together with Haj-Yehia, he developed a project that traced the history of daily life in Israel over the past 150 years, tracing the minutiae of people’s lives – the food they ate, the clothes they wore, the music they listened to – all the minor routines that together make up the mosaic of people’s lives. This project is known as the Time Tunnel.
Lev-Tov explains that historians in Israel have traditionally surveyed famous people and major events, but have ignored “history from below,” which attempts to understand the course of human history through the everyday lives of the common man. The Time Tunnel project is an attempt to trace the important events of history via the daily routines of everyday life.
“In order to understand the political history of today, we have to look back at the social history of the 1950s, what happened in the ma’abarot (transit camps). The most important resource for this is oral history.”
Lev-Tov and his staff train high school and college students and teach them proper interviewing skills. Researchers ask detailed questions. Says Lev-Tov, “If the subject says, ‘I had a hard day,’ that is not enough. We want to know what was so difficult about your day. How much money did you make when you worked? How many hours did you work?” The students interview individuals from different groups, ranging from haredim, who recount their lives as members of a separate group in Israel, to Ethiopian immigrants, who describe their journey to Israel and what they experienced when they arrived.
“We believe that this is an excellent platform to create connections between different groups and create mutual respect.”
Lev-Tov explains that when different groups perform the same types of interviews, that it can lead to greater understanding.
“If an Israeli student interviews his Jewish grandmother about her wedding in the 1950s, and then an Arab student does the same with her grandmother, it creates a commonality.” Students from both groups sit together and discuss their findings.
The Time Tunnel project has been operational for eight years, but Lev-Tov and his team wanted to expand it and make it more popular and useful. A year ago, they introduced a new website entitled Tarasa that enables anyone to upload, save and share memories without requiring any cataloging or prioritization. Users can upload text, videos, audio recordings and images. The site enables users to “pin” their memories to the relevant locations and times on a global digital map. Tarasa allows users to save memories of important events in their lives that occurred in specific places, and store them in a central location online. Users can search for locations and find memories of events that occurred there. This, in turn, he says, will prompt users who had experienced events that happened in the same location upload their memories, thus creating a commonality between users.
“We wanted everyone to be able to record and store memories,” explains Lev-Tov.
The website’s interface can be viewed in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and members of the Tarasa staff verify submissions before they are posted.
WHAT TYPES of memories have people uploaded? A quick glance at the website, www.tarasa.org, illustrates that people have submitted both minor, personal recollections as well as milestone events. A sampling includes Hanukkah recollections from Jerusalem in 1942, an Iraqi woman’s recounting of her dangerous aliyah in 1950, reminiscences from the 1948 War of Independence, and an Ethiopian girl’s memory of her aliyah experiences in Operation Moses in 1984. More than 1,500 memories have been uploaded thus far, and while the bulk have been uploaded from Israel, Lev-Tov says that they are creating partnerships with groups in Brazil and Austria as well.
Lev-Tov jokingly says that while the time that he has devoted to the Time Tunnel and Tarasa projects may have hindered his academic career, ultimately, the influence and significance of this work is of greater importance than any research paper that he would have written.
Lev-Tov recounts a particularly meaningful Time Tunnel project that was conducted with Ethiopian students at Beit Berl. The students were assigned to interview their parents and record their memories of their aliyah to Israel. For the first time, they could speak with their parents about the traumas and difficult experiences that they had experienced, particularly those who came when the Israeli government did not yet officially support Ethiopian aliyah. Whereas previously, the students were embarrassed to discuss their parents’ experiences, the fact that they were now becoming part of a historical record validated them, and made them more meaningful. Their recollections were included in the Time Tunnel, and eventually were made a part of Tarasa as a special collection of Ethiopian memories. “You get a feeling that you are doing something significant for this group,” he says.
Ultimately, he says, the memories that are uploaded to Tarasa will become a valuable resource for historians. Lev-Tov mentions a recollection uploaded by a Holocaust survivor, who came to Israel as a child in the early 1950s. On her first day of school, she came dressed in her European-looking clothes, which looked odd, compared with the other students in the class, who were wearing short pants. She went with her mother to buy short pants, so that she would look more Israeli. That recollection, was, for a child, the most exciting day of her young life. As Lev-Tov explains, it was an unimportant, yet important event.
The Tarasa Web project is still under development, and Lev-Tov says that they are looking for investors to help advance its technical capabilities. Says Lev-Tov, “I am a historian, but we don’t want history to become an academic discipline disconnected from reality. I am looking for ways to make history more relevant to the public.” He points out that while interest in the humanities is declining, and the formal study of history is becoming less prevalent, popular history sources like the History Channel are very well-received.
“Our connection with the public is vital. We come to schools that have students from difficult backgrounds and we tell them that their grandfathers’ story is history. They answer, “It’s not important – it’s nothing. What did he do?” But we tell them that their grandfather’s story is part of history. This empowers them and gives them a voice in history.”