For Mr. Tranchi, 10th grade Israel trip was a very different experience

Micah Gottlieb, Editor-in-Chief; Elana Eden, Opinion Editor;, and Penina Smith, Community Editor

One of the people on the sophomore Israel trip was General Studies Principal Phu Tranchi. While his experience was mainly a positive one, on his free weekend, Mr. Tranchi experienced discrimination.

“Anyone who’s been discriminated against can understand what I mean when I say that people either stare at you or they stare right through you,” Mr. Tranchi told The Boiling Point.  “It is naïve to think that racism is only between Arabs and non-Arabs. It is strong across multiple lines and it was surprising when it affected me.”

On his free weekend—which included his birthday—Mr. Tranchi decided to stay on his own in Tel Aviv. While there, he said, had trouble finding a cab, was not served as quickly as other customers in restaurants, and was repeatedly checked for his room key when returning to his hotel, while the rest of the guests were not.

“It was probably a double whammy because I was pretty excited to explore a little bit by myself, but then I was confronted by this harsh reality,” said Mr. Tranchi. “I thought it would be one of the highlights of my trip, but it was actually one of the worst parts.”

As well, while with the students, he was stopped at security checkpoints while the rest of the students went by.

“When I was with the group, it wasn’t so noticeable,” said Mr. Tranchi. “Once I noticed it, it weighed on my mind and bummed me out. I couldn’t divert my attention or be distracted by the kids.”

Mr. Tranchi said he never overtly responded to the prejudice against him because it “crept up on me, the realization of what was going on.”

The sophomores noticed that Mr. Tranchi had a change of attitude.

“On certain days, sporadically, he showed signs of not being comfortable,” said Lexi Gelb. “I think we were generally well behaved, but when we weren’t, he became more sensitive to the fact.”

“It wasn’t really apparent when we were a group,” said Trevor Brandt-Sarif. “But he told us that when he was at the hotel, people thought he worked there.”

Mr. Tranchi’s family emigrated from Vietnam to the United States after the fall of Saigon in 1975, although his parents had left before the war to go to school in the U.S. He has felt discrimination in the United States in the South, though not in Los Angeles, he said.

“All racism is based in ignorance,” Mr. Tranchi said. “I learned that Asians are laborers in Israel, because the only Asians I saw were working in kitchens or hospice workers for the elderly, aside from some tourists.”

The Boiling Point contacted the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles for comment on the incidents.

“These are isolated events, and do not represent the nation,” said Jacob Dayan, Israel’s new consul general here, noting that Israel hosts immigrants from more than 100 countries. “On the contrary, Israel is inclusive by nature.”

“Extra security is not something Mr. Tranchi should take personally,” he said. “Even I get questioned excessively and I don’t take it personally.”

Asked how “isolated events” could have recurred throughout the trip, he replied,  “Are you asking me to explain the psychology of the restaurant owner? That’s a very strange question,” the consul general said.

Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Ofer Sabo, who also accompanied the students on the trip, had another view. Having lived in Israel nearly all of his life, he had been worried in advance about how Mr. Tranchi might be treated.

“My concern was that in the street the police would keep him and ask him about his passport,” Rabbi Sabo said. “I told him, take the passport with you, there are special immigration police.”

He said that in Tel Aviv, there are a lot of workers who come from Thailand and other Asian countries, and often have jobs as waiters, cooks or other kitchen workers.

“I wasn’t concerned about how our citizens are going to deal with him,” Rabbi Sabo said. “I know that he suffered a little in the hotel because the security guard didn’t believe him. People in Tel Aviv usually see them on the other side of their restaurant tables, or in the kitchen. So it’s unusual to see them as guests in a hotel.”

“It might have been a mistake for me to put Mr. Tranchi in Tel Aviv,” he added.

Junior Natan Sperling, co-chair of Shalhevet’s Israel Action Committee, thought it was very unfortunate.

“It’s just Israeli culture not to understand people that don’t really have a culture in Israel, and unfortunately there is not a really strong Asian community in Israel,” Natan said. “They’re semitic people for the most part, and Asian culture is something they’re just unaware of.”

Overall, though, Mr. Tranchi said that aside from those incidents, he greatly enjoyed his trip.

“I think Israel is an absolutely fascinating place,” Mr. Tranchi said. “Among other things, based on the history and the tensions, I was completely impressed by the way that people can coexist despite that.

“One of the epiphanies I had was that these are people that pretty much hate each other in a lot of ways, and while there are obvious issues, I thought about South Central Los Angeles, where there are people that hate each other and can’t coexist and are the same race. It results in outright violence on a daily basis, which isn’t exactly the case in Israel,” he continued.

“So while there’s so much tumult and tension in Israel, people for the most part seem to coexist pretty amazingly and beautifully.”

Later this year, Mr. Tranchi hopes to bring a case to Town Hall about cultural and racial sensitivity.

“I know that we have those issues here in the school,” he said. “Students use jokes that are based on intolerance.  I want to discuss these things, because the jokes aren’t harmless when you are on the other end of them.

“The Jewish struggle is based on prejudice and intolerance,” he continued.  “So being insensitive to other forms of intolerance and struggles is a contradiction.”

Would Mr. Tranchi return to Israel?

“I would definitely go back,” he said, “but there are a lot of other places on this planet that I want to see first.”

This story won Honorable Mention in the NSPA’s Story of the Year Competition, Diversity Category.