Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Night in Caulfield--Written for the Newsletter of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, November, 2009

Under the gaze of the brave founders of the Bund, captured in charcoal drawings and turn of the century photographs, 60 or so contemporary Bund members living in Melbourne and their supporters gathered in the SKIF Center to honor Chaver Doctor Marek Edelman (1919-1009), the last surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This is the second Bund event I have attended here and once again I found the gathering touched by a sense of historical dignity, by a living dedication to the Bund vision of social justice, political freedoms and comradeship.
Under the red Bund banner, sat a portrait of Dr. Edelman and close by was a vase of yellow flowers, symbolizing the yellow tulips Dr Edelman placed for many years at the foot of the Polish monument to the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.
We watched news coverage of the funeral procession, thousands it seemed walking quietly down a broad Warsaw boulevard after his casket, Polish soldiers forming an honor guard. The ironies of history. Arnold Zable spoke about his meeting with Edelman last year, after a lifetime of admiration and how direct, clear- headed and pragmatic the freedom fighter was about the hard choices that they had to make in their armed struggle, but Zable emphasized, Edelman did not glorify the use of arms. “He told me,” Zable said, “that he admired those who decided to die with dignity in the camps as profoundly as he did those who died with guns in their hands. He detested the phrase, ‘they went to their deaths like lambs to slaughter.’”
A short except from a two hour filmed interview with Edelman about daily life and resistance in the ghetto highlighted the complexity of Edelman’s humanism. In stark black white, with deep shadows etched on his face, Edelman spoke of the day by day maneuvers, of the decisions of who would live that day and who would die. At times, we heard only his voice while we watched haggard people trying to find a place to hide. This man with an aching heart said if the choice was to save a 15 year old daughter or a 20 year old man, we had to choose the one who could best fight. Shadows and clarity, a terrible kind of clarity.
A three page English translation of a biography of Edelman was waiting on every seat so those of us who did not speak Yiddish could follow along as Bobbi Zylberman spoke in elegant Yiddish. One of the reasons I go to the Bund events is because of the opportunity to hear Yiddish in a living progressive political setting. Dr. Edelman who escaped the ghetto through the sewers of Warsaw chose to stay in Poland where he continued his lifelong support of liberation struggles including the struggle for a Palestinian homeland, a struggle though, he advised Palestinian leaders, that should not use civilians as military pawns. For his willingness to engage the Palestinians, Edelman has become a hero in exile in Israel.
Throughout the evening, people greeted each other, held each other and what impressed me greatly was the large number of teenagers present, all participating in some way in the night’s events. Unlike other Jewish progressive political gatherings I have attended, here there is a true intergenerationalism, meaning that there was another kind of energy in the room along with the historical sadness. Teenagers, speaking Yiddish, flirted and made sure the technology worked. They sang with hopeful voices the old songs.The evening closed with the wonderful singing of The Mir Kumen On Choir, featuring the strong young voices of three singers from SKIF. Once again the proud Bund anthems rang out and all around me, women and men late in their lives, stood as one and sang in Yiddish the Bund words of hope and resistance. In a small hall, with a gray carpet stained from much communal traffic, transpired something humanely wondrous, touched by shadows and song, by lives of courage and principle, by journeys of displacement and fraternity.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Our Time by the Beach on the Mornington Peninsula

Last week, La Professeressa took Cello and me to a new part of our world here, the Mornington Peninsula, green and rolling hills down to the sea, in places reminding me of the Irish coast I saw so many years ago, in the early 60s. Here my breasts hang low and my darling fronts the breeze while Cello cools his nose in the sand. Life is like this, layers of worry, of concern for the dis-ease of others, done in our name, or because we live far enough away to think it is not of our concern, and then the longing just to be in the open air with those we love, to feel the wind and see the sweep of the sea, here so vast, long arcing white foamed waves rolling into the beach, the running steps behind us as we struggled up the sandy path to the ocean of a young woman surfer, her board already strapped around her ankle, her feet flying over the sands to join her comrades already black spots resting on the never still swelling flowers of the sea, no fear in her, no trepidation it seemed--the sea and youth and strength of body were all there for her to pleasure. I thought of the freedom of her movement, the delight of her delights, and wished for all the young of the world to know her joy, the sure steady swiftness of her approach to that which she most wanted.

Sometimes It is Hard...

The more I read, the more YouTube footage I see of home evictions in East Jerusalem, Israeli police and settlers mugging for the camera, smiles, self congratulations in the face of exiled Palestinian families, the cries of women, the confused and frightened looks of the children, the peace observers, mostly women, shoved aside by the young men who are cloaked in national power, guns slung over their shoulders, men too young to have seen the Polish families moving into the homes of Jewish families carted away by the Nazis, the sense of righteous reclamation as Jews were cleared from neighborhoods of Europe, their property, their dignity, their claim to a family history denied--but I will say the words we are not supposed to say. That these soldiers, that these settlers with their bully boy struts, remind me of those Nazi soldiers, those gentile victors who trampled over the evidence of other lives, I as a Jew say Israel, the nation state, has granted unquestioned power to bullies to destroy Palestinian lives, daring the world to stop them. And like once before, so many turn their heads and hearts away, this time not in deference to a mad man but to a nation state that hides behind our history of suffering to mask its own growing fascism.
The image I share with you is of a paperbark tree on my street here, filled with the late afternoon sun of early summer. The bark of this tree hangs in shaggy wide strips that are soft white inside, like leaves of a manuscript. I sometimes collect the shed pages and pile them up on our veranda, the pages of a ancient book or one to be written. This light so filled with the dailiness of natural beauty that has been occurring on this continent for thousands of years is the counter moment to the brutalities I saw in those YouTube eviction films. Palestine/Israel too has a lovely ancient light that is now a silent witness to how terribly we fail our humane hearts.