Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rosa and the Bund: We are All New Profile

First I want to thank Pat for helping me set up a new website for Women in Black here in Melbourne, I hope if any of you are members of Women in Black around the world, you will write and tell me the times of your vigils so we can post them on the site. You can contact me directly on the website. And in a way, this website and Pat sharing her expertise as a gift to us is connected to what I want to write about on this closing day of April.
How sane all these words sound now--how I was going to write about the connections between the April 19th commemoration for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that I attended at the Jewish Holocaust Center here in Melbourne, an annual gathering of the survivors and their children of the Polish Jewish community who were active in the Bund and still are. My friend, Michelle, sings in the Yiddish choir, Michelle, daughter of two parents who worked with JOINT (Joint Distribution Committee) first in the liberated camp of Belsen to care for the stateless Jewish survivors, and then in Africa, her father, a member of the French Resistance, Michelle born in Morocco, whose voice carries her diaspora wanderings, Vienna, Paris, Cambridge, Melbourne and now who sings and speaks in Yiddish. You see I cannot write in one line about all of this, about the crossings of our Jewish histories, about the Israeli raids on the home of New Profile feminists, about the prison letters of Rosa Luxemburg, about the lobby that is not a lobby, AIPAC, about the Partisans--"Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney/Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mitundzer vey/Un vu gefaln s'iz a shrptis fun undzer blut/Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut." (From the lands of green palm trees to lands all white with snow, We are coming with our pain and with our woe, And where'er a spurt of blood did drop, Our courage will again sprout from that spot.) from Zog Nit Keyn Mol!, The Hymn of the Partisans. You see I cannot speak of one without remembering all, I cannot escape the voices that soar over crumbling walls, Jewish or Palestinian, I cannot turn my eyes from the rough grabs of Israeli state police forcing protesters to the ground, dragging them hair first into the police stations, where they disappear behind a turn in the wall, or the young woman of Swat valley, held motionless by other women so she cannot deflect the public flogging deemed necessary by the Taliban code of morality, how to resist the flailing arms of hate, of women beaten to the ground, into silence, into desperation because they question. The Voice of Medea Benjamin, a member of America's Code Pink: "While I was being tackled by the security guards at Washington's Convention Center during the AIPAC conference for unfurling a banner that asked "What about Gaza," my heart was aching. I wasn't so bothered so much by the burly guards who were yanking my arms behind my back and dragging me along with 5 other CODEPINK members out of the hall. They were doing their job. What made my heart ache was the hatred I felt from the AIPAC staff who tore up the banner and slammed their hands across my mouth as I tried to yell out: "What about Gaza? What about the children?" "Shut the f---up. Shut the f---up," one staffer yelled, red-faced and sweating as he ran beside me. "This is not the place to be saying that shit. Get the f--- out of her."
If not there, where so many could change the course of events, then where? Where do we ask the questions, where will we not be called anti-Semitic, self hating Jews, duped leftists, effeminate Jews of the Diaspora who do not love our guns, where can we use words that describe reality like apartheid, racism, like Palestinian Bantustans that make a state a struggling impossibility, where can we in our imaginations say, the siege of Gaza reminds me of other sieges, against the Jewish people when they had no freedom of movement, no escape possible from state hatred, where can we say our memories, our histories are tormented by what is being done in small Palestinian villages in the way of the Settlements, the beatings, the terrors, use whatever it takes to make them give up their claim on that desert home or that one, no reporters, threatened activists, soldiers, always the soldiers, and the Settlers themselves, they will clean the land of these unwanted ones with cudgels and fists, no reporters, no police to protect, vigilante nationalism let loose on ancient hills but supported with modern money from modern companies like Leviev's Africa-Israel--once we know who is responsible we can take action and the people of the West Bank villages of Bil'in and Jayyous become part of our dreams of responsibility--the old, the young, real people kept in the shadows until another "fact on the ground" is accomplished, their eradication as a Palestinian village.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beth by the Sea, March, 2009

Here I have a new world of friends, friends who have been most generous in welcoming me into their life, into the history they shared with La Professora and the one we are making together. Both Beth and Pat, her partner, have shared their home by the sea with us, including Cello which is no mean feat. He is small but his hair goes everywhere--slivers of tough Schipperkee black hair. Walking with Beth along the Apollo Bay shoreline brings me close to the heart of this land, this continent island, where desert, bush, cliffs end at the immense expanse of the Northern and Southerns Seas at one end and the Indian Ocean at the other. In some odd way, geography here is everything even though it is so finite, so bounded; the Red Center with its holy rock, Uluru; the ancient Indigenous art galleries, protected by overhangs of old, old rock, once bottom of the sea rock, now hidden away in crevices known only to the elders, the white chalk drawings of sea serpents and hands, older gods and their retinue of symbols, cross hatched with ochre and umber and then all of this tumbling to the gleaming cities by the sea--Sydney, with its ferries hurrying workers home across the bay, the shining lights of the Harbour Bridge, the flying roofs of the Opera House, the hanging foxes so close to the engines of commerce, the rich rich living of the Bay Side dwellers. Fish and chips on Manley Beach, the shark nets along the beach seen so easily from the ferry fronting cafes--always a kind of danger lurking in the depths, in the interior vastness where tourists or the foolish can loose their lives so easily, can fall to the desert vastness or the churning turns of the craggy skinned crocs who have seen more then we will ever know. And here I am, trying to learn what I can, trying to edge open the strangeness, the unNew York Cityishness of this place, trying to find ledge of stone I can stand on--and it is my new friends, Alex and Michelle, Karen, Daniel and Joel, Mitch and Rose, Ann and Jane and Jane again, Beth and Pat and more who have propped me up and shown me the possibilities of comfort in this ancient sea made land made island.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My 1950s Self

In the 1950s, my life was made possible by the kindness of one Roz J. and her mother and father whom welcomed me as Roz's best friend into their Bayside, Queens home. My mother at the time was under indictment for embezzlement and was entertaining a particularly invasive, to me, boyfriend. When home, I slept with a knife under my pillow in case he came near me again as well as to ward off the chilling chaos that was my mother. Roz befriended me at school and time and time again, I took refuge in her family's modest home, the first house I had ever entered, the first place I saw a husband and wife in the same bed, the first time I experienced what was a girl's room in the 1950s--Roz's pink flowered wallpapered bedroom. Her father, a large good humored man worked as a kosher butcher in upper Manhattan. I watched with wonder the rhythms of domesticity--the father still in his blood marked apron coming in the door, embracing his daughter and upon seeing me, calling out his little joke--Hi Hershey. Roz's mother, a beautiful and kind woman, always included me in their dinners; in this family setting, comfort food took on new meaning. I still remember the first time I ate at Roz's table macaroni and cheese. That is me, looking funny in what appears to be a kind of cowgirl outfit and a little later, perhaps in 1955, that is me wearing the bobby socs, hush puppies and wide skirt of high school dress. I had never seen these photos before and as far as I know they are the only ones that exist of me from this era and again I owe it all to Roz and her husband, whom I also knew way back then, for sharing them with me. How awkward I look, but how familiar that large body is still to me today, thighs too big, hair a little strange and then the phone call image, me feeling safe enough in Roz's kitchen to flirt with the camera, clad in flannel pajamas which I probably borrowed from Roz. Now a grandmother, Roz kindly had one of her children scan these images and send them to me. Not even the archives in Brooklyn--which has all my papers up until I came to live in Melbourne, Australia--1999 on-- has these images but now they will. Only deprivation can make such things seems so important. Who cares what Joan Nestle looked like in 1953 or who helped make her life possible? If my work has lived in the world in any meaningful way, it is only because people like Roz along the way gave me the comfort, the precious sense that not all was to be protected against, that I did not always have to be a sentinel on my own borders.

Alex and Hellen At Women in Black Vigil, April, 2009, Melbourne

My Two Seasons--Snow in NYC, Sea in Apollo Bay

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Will it Take?

First I want to say thank you to all those who have held on in my absence. When I do not write it is because I am not feeling well, but, like so many of you, I am taking in, always taking in, the images of the last weeks, the young girl being publicly flogged by her Taliban elders in the Swat Valley, the murders of young gay men in Iraq, the results of the Israeli election that further empowered the haters, the growing vehemence of the American supporters of the Israeli Settlements, who are joining with frightened conservative voters, calling all their brethren to arms against Obama, the Bushes' tortures texts coming from the highest places of power in this land, (America, I mean for I write from another country) but I have also heard the chants of the feminists of Pakistan risking all in the streets, the men screaming, "Whores, whores" (the same word that is flung at the Israeli peace women who stand vigil in Jerusalem and Haifa week after week). My dear friend Alex shared the following video of Nurit Peled, an Israeli mother who has suffered the loss of her daughter in the madness that is the Palestinian/Israel conflict, calling for the end of the siege of Gaza. Whores, mothers, lesbians, women desiring the beauty of a free life--our right to be.

An Israeli Voice for Reason