Sunday, December 2, 2007


Written August 22, 2007 two months after our return to Melbourne from our sojourn in Palestine-Israel:
Our trip to Israel and parts of the West Bank has plunged me into a seemingly never ending story, a history of betrayals, of wounds that can never heal on the backs of another people, of confused visions of nation states and religious fervor--for four decades, I walked the streets of the Upper West Side of New York, watching over the years the invisible highway between this strip of Broadway and Israel becoming more and more evident, and I delighted in the feel of lancemen all around me, the huge warehouses of kosher holiday foods that would spring up right before Passover with their family size boxes of matzoh and jar after jar of gefilte fish. Jewish in that New York cultural way to my bone, I always thought, but now I have seen other bones, I have seen biblical dreaming turn into national agendas of ethnic cleansing and apartheid walls and one way roads, of human beings trapped behind barbed wire fences, deprived of water, food, of medical care--urban punishment for the wrong vote. Cages are easily come by in this strip of desert, military power determining whose back will be against the wall, who will never bath without permission in the Mediterranean again.


My reading started before we left New York: Amos Oz, like an Israeli Studs Terkel, presenting the pith of his conversations with Jewish Israelis from the old days in their cafes, the author purposely seeking out the communities who most disagree with his progressive view of things, the ultra Orthodox in Northwestern Jerusalem, and I read, the words burning on the paper, of fierce convictions, some speak of their hatred for the Diasporic Jew, "the Diaspora with glass jars of cucumbers pickled in parsley and garlic on every window still, with pale flesh, stooped shoulders,"others of the Western influenced "perverts" who show the need for Orthodox purity and I stop and write down these connecting moments between my selves--the Jew, the pervert, the Diasporic--center of dislocated understandings and I remember Hannah Arendt again, with her own racial convervatisms, still trying to understand where the pariah can show light. Before we see the desert lands of Palestine-Israel, I have met the molten bodies of thinking on Oz' pages: the Judeo-Nazi speaks,"Throughout history, anyone who thought he was above killing, got killed. It's an iron clad law. Let them see we are a mad dog nation--Maybe the world will finally begin to fear me instead of feeling sorry for me. Maybe they'll start quaking in fear of my whims instead of admiring my nobility...To live without fists, fangs, claws in a world of wolves is a crime worse then murder." As Oz said, I am coming to a people caught between "Hitler and the Messiah," between history and pre-history, between shame and God's own Military, between the need for the West and the rejection of the pluralism of perverts. This the author tells me and I will learn for myself is only one reflection glinting off the desert stones--his own words, kept for the end of the book to show what a careful listener he is even though his heart is bursting, "The idea of a nation-state is a gentile's delight. I would be more then happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations, each all developing in accordance to its own rhythms, all cross pollinating one another, without any one emerging as a nation state, no flag, no emblem, no passport, no anthem--only spiritual civilizations somehow tied to their land ,without the tools of statehood and the instruments of war." In short the strengths of the diaspora and the Jewish world before Hitler. And after--Oz goes on to write"Perhaps we should take smaller bites, relinquish the totality of the Land for the sake of internal and external peace. Concede heavenly Jerusalem for the sake of the Jerusalem of the slums, waive messianic salvation for the sake of the small, gradual reforms, forgo messianic fervor for the sake of prosaic sobriety. And perhaps the entirety of our story is not a story of blood and fire or of salvations and consolations but, rather, a story of the halting attempts to recover from a severe illness."
When we arrive in Haifa and I tell our friend Hannah what I have been reading in preparation for our visit, she says Oz is out of date now and not as forward thinking as I suggest. And yet, because his words were the first that opened up my first window on the turmoil of all kinds that shapes this land, I am grateful for his listening and his own telling of the story. (written on Monday, December 3, 2007 on a rainy morning in Melbourne, with thunder pealing in the distance and the much longed for sound of water flying off the wheels of cars rushing down Dawson Street and tapping, tapping on our corrugated iron roof)
August 22, 2007-- I read the words of Ben Gurion in Jacqueline Rose's book, "The Question of Zion," calling for the expusion of as many Arabs as possible from their homes, this land "will be Jewish whether the Arabs want it or not." I ask myself why did I never ask where did the people who lived in Palestine go after 1948--were they never there? Did they become dust blown over the Sinai desert? I was too young in 1948 but now I am not, I never had any formal Jewish education in my younger life, but now I can educate myself, I never received the accepted story of how it all came about from relatives or religious or community leaders--I was too busy surviving my own chaotic queer life, but now I am old and I can read and listen and travel with and to loving friends and see in my mind's eye, the over 700,000 Palestinian exiles living in their makeshift tented cities in the desert, waiting for the right to return home, which never came, waiting for the world to recognize their plight which never happened. Instead the wounds of the Holocaust tried to heal themselves around conquering Jewish armies, all was acceptable, even heroic in the name of Jewish safety--so many betrayals on which to build a nation--the double dealing of the British, the deafness of the Arab League, the false public reassurances, the private truths that called for another people's expulsion, because they were not as "civilized" as the conquering wounded army.
And always there were other Jewish voices calling for respect for the Palestinian peoples who already walked the trails between the bone clad hills, who warned that once a country is won by the gun, it will wake and sleep with terror. And here, on the streets of West Brunswick, between my Italian and Vietnamese neighbors, I sometimes long for those familiar sights of housewives shopping for Shabbas chickens and the freshly made chicken soup with matzoh balls, and I ask my German-Australian lover to take me to the small Jewish market in Baclava so I can buy a glistening bottle of Kosher pickles and packets of matzo meal while I console the shop owner, an Orthodox youngish Jewish man with his tsalis flying under his shirt about the new freezer he has just had delivered. "Did I do the right thing," he sincerely asks me, a total stranger,"it costs so much money," and I, perfectly understanding his worries, can say with all sincerity, "do not worry, I am sure it will work out fine." Such are the permissions of the Diaspora.

4 comments:

V Kingsley said...

What a wonderful new endeavor for you! I have been following your writing for years and admire greatly your efforts iwth the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

I've been blogging since 02 and journaling since 74. There is no substitute to expression in words.

That said - I do try many forms of expressions! One recent attempt might interest you - I was given the honor of being commissioned to take a 30 year collection of lesbian and feminist T shirts and create a quilt.

The results can be found on my website www.alotoflife.com in the quilt gallery. this one is entitled "I Am Mermaid" as in "hear me roar..."

I have also linked people to the Lesbian Herstory Archives for years. I would love a link back if a volunteer ever has a chance to add me to the links page.

In any event - thank you for your expression in words. they have a profound impact on many - including myself.

V Kingsley

seth said...

wow, you have a blog! i'm glad i can still see what's on your mind from across the world. I'll tell my mom about it and she can read too!

~Seth (no longer of 14E but now of Riverdale)

carina said...

With the massive influx of people to Jerusalem during the various holidays, not many are actually aware of the many local Kosher Holiday being celebrated there. People would really be fascinated if they knew more of the why we celebrate our traditions, rather than the how that they usually see on television features about tourism.

daniel john said...

There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up

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