Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I have not been feeling well and so the words, while in my head and in my heart--those most real and mythical of places--have stopped at the gate. When I can, I read Amos Oz's memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, and feel as if I am with a Jewish Dickens, only the characters who live on his childhood street in Jerusalem are real people, the men and women with Russian names, Polish names, Latvian names who fled the forests and cities of a Eastern Europe that was already turning on their Jewish citizens, before Hitler, the ground was richly prepared. "It may be a little hard for you to understand," says the young boy's aunt, "but in those days [the 1930s] all the Poles were drunk on Polishness, the Ukranians were drunk on Ukrainianness, not to mention the Germans, the Czechs, all of them, even the Slovaks, the Lithuanians, and Latvians, and there was no place for us in that carnival, we didn't belong and we weren't wanted. Small wonder that we too wanted a nation, like the rest of them. What alternative had they left us?" (p 186) I fall into his voices, I taste the brown bread, those thick squares of rich dense bread, sweet and nutty that I would pick off the counter top of Murray's, the surviving deli near my West 92nd home in Manhattan. Before my eyes, Oz recreates the torments and exiles, the creations and tastes, the madnesses and romances of the Jewish intelligensia who found themselves in the dusty streets of pre Israel Palestine. I have so much to learn and my time is short but as I read Oz, I want to cry out, to my Jewish friends who think I have deserted my Jewishness, I have carried within me the Yiddish words of every day life--the head, the pain, the laughing despair, the loved fool, the sheina madel, my mother's hand, so stained by daily work, on my forhead, soothing the fever that was to never leave-- all the days of my life, the seasonal rhythms of the garment trade, the need for books and more books, for ideas about the world and the self and the need for justice in the face of power. Displacement after displacement, recreation of selves--and the dust swirls around their toes and the talk never stops and it must never stop until this tortured place gives home to all its histories. Salaam, Shalom, Shalom, Salaam.

On Thursday, the 23rd of June in the Cinematique Theater in Jerusalem a group of women launched their Hebrew translation of my work and told their own stories of desire and resistance. How can a writer thank enough all those who labor over her words to bring them to life in another tongue.

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