Wednesday, June 23, 2010

La Mia Amica, Patrizia con Eleanor Roosevelt

Every week for almost a year, my dear friend Patrizia and I have been attending Italian classes at the Center for Italian Studies here in Carlton. She now far surpasses me in her mastery of the language but I am so grateful for this opportunity to parlare, leggere e ascoltare to this lingua bella. At this time in my life, when my body is so uncomfortable, I stand on new strade, ascolto nouve canziones--the songs of Gino Pauli, full of the sea and the salt of you as he sang so many years ago. And always the voice of that soon to be human wooden thing, "un semplice pezzo di legno" that would turn into the voice of possibility--"Non farmi male!" if only loved. Do not hurt me, the voice of the people of so many nations, the voice of so many whose bodies long for the cessation of pain, for the fullness of the belly, for the bounty of water. Le ossa mi fanno male, my bones hurt, my friends. Non farmi male for us all. No more hurt.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Their Deaths, Our Lives

Furkan Dogan, 19, in his senior year at Kayseri High School; he hoped to become a doctor.
Cengiz Akyuz, 41, married, three children aged 14, 12 and 9.

Cengiz Songur, 47, six daughters, one son

Fahri Yaldiz, 43, firefighter, married with four sons

Cetin Topcuoglu, 54, former amateur soccer player and Taekwondo champion, married, one son. His wife, Cigden Topcuoglu, was also on board. She survived.

Cevdet Kiliclar, 38, reporter, webmaster for Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). Married, one daughter, one son

Ali Haydar Bengi, 39, ran a telephone repair shop, degree Arabic Literature, married, four children, ages 15, 10, twins, 5.

Ibrahim Bilgen, 61, electrical engineer, member of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers of Turkey, political candidate. Married, 6 children.

Necedet Yildirim, 32, an IHH aid, married, one daughter, aged 3, photo to follow.

On June 3, 2010, I received these images and information about the men killed on the Mavi Marmara. Occupations depend on creating a faceless opposition. In that night, these are the ones who lost all, in an attempt to change a brutal national policy. 30 children had their worlds shattered in international waters by the children of a people who know what it means to come home to empty homes, to have only photographs to look at of those murdered because a Sate decreed they were no longer worthy of living. Was this what it took for Israel to relent on its blockade of Gaza, to finally understand that not all the public relations campaigns, all the scripted responses, the memorized falsities, the declarations that this is what good Jews should say when confronted with bad press, will make these faces and all the rest of the Palestinian disappeared, go away. Their stories will be told, in the novels pouring out of the Palestinian imagination, by exiled poets and on the stages of the world. Like the tellings of another time--in the saddest of historical ironies, in the saddest loss, or refusal, of historical knowledge. How many more times will our human hearts fail each other.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Words from Daniel for my 70th birthday

It is three weeks ago now that we celebrated my 70th birthday. I want to share with you what my friend Daniel wrote for the occasion--my 31 year old friend. Many years ago now, I co-edited a book with John Preston called "Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Talk about Their Lives Together." John died from AIDS before he saw the finished book which was not a success then back in 1995. Neither many lesbians or gay men bought the book, each I imagine thinking the other was other. I dedicate these words, Daniel's words about our life together, to the memory of John.


This is your birthday, so this is my love letter for you.

I first met Joan when I was writing my PhD at the University of Melbourne.
She had come from New York, a stranger to the city.
I too had come from far away and our connection was instant: two strange shapes that felt out of place but drawn together through our queer sense of the world.

Of course, I had first met Joan through her writing. Eve Sedgwick introduced me to Joan through the pages of "Epistemology of the Closet."
In this book, Sedgwick calls out Joan's name and the other courageous pro-sex survivors of the sex wars as pioneers. These writers, say Sedgwick, challenged feminist orthodoxies of the time which pitted lesbians and gay men against one another. For Sedgwick writing in 1990, these challenges themselves "led to a refreshed sense that lesbians and gay men share important though contested aspects of one another's histories, cultures, identities, politics and destinies." (37)

Although it may sound too grand to say in this public place, in the privacy of our relationship I know that I have been privileged to experience that sharing, that intersection and that mutual implication with Joan in a profound and personal way.

That sharing, that intersection, that mutual implication. When Joan would read my dissertation drafts she would always say, "why do you always write in threes?" From the start Joan could always read my rhythm. I want to say that it's kind of like that old Bette Midler song from "Beaches," I know you by heart, because our friendship is just about as camp and as dorky as that.

Ever since our first meeting at the restaurant when I went fumbling through your clothes looking for you lost ear-ring while the English Department sat around us lunching to our endless obsession with pyjama parties--we have fun. She makes me feel young again.

In our current writing project, we have been reflecting on intergenerational perspective on queer archiving. And perhaps it wasn't until I had been to New York to visit the ephemera files, the books, banners, posters, badges and spunky dyke volunteers who worked at the Herstory Archives that I really understood Joan's Australia. For Joan, those archives were her compass--here Joan has had a chance to look at life from different eyes, out of space, out of time. And at times this reorientation has been scary but it has let Joan see life from a wholly different side. Joan is often wont to say that I introduced her to the language of post-structuralism, to queer theory and Foucalt--but it has been an honour of my life to constantly bring Joan back to the fact that her work, as Sedgwick makes clear, has helped lay the foundations of queer studies today. As her friends we have all helped her reorient herself to her histories, to herself, in this new land. And I have seen how Joan's relationship with Di here in this beautiful home they have created has inspired Joan to paint life across a new canvas and to find new languages for her life in this vivid, different world.

And we are all here today because Joan has captured our hearts. The way her eyes glisten when she smiles, so full of such a celebration of life and its pleasures. The way her jaw changes position beneath her soft cheeks as she rails against war, oppression and violence. Joan is like a power source. Knowing her, we know how she organized all those lesbians across New York City to get the Archives happening. She can hustle and she can schmooze and she can carouse. And she can certainly make me swoon.

During my PhD years, Joan and Di did the bureaucratic dance of visas and immigration and when the bureaucrats weren't smiling on Joan's application to remain here I remember doing the gentlemanly thing and offering my hand. As it turns out, she turned me down, but she did it so tenderly.

In a world of managerial universities, Joan has been a true academic mentor. She has nurtured me and kept believing in me and it is only now that I have an academic job that I can look back on all those years of uncertainty with a real and deep appreciation for her love and encouragement. People all over the world can tell stories about how you have inspired and driven them and on behalf of all those people who can't be here today, I want to say thank you.

Joan is a friend in both the summer and the winter, embracing the pleasure and facing life's hardness. Through our more recent times in hospitals you have been a rock. Who knew that sudoku and the letters of Rosa Luxemburg could get you through the eye of the storm? Thank you Joan--you have a gift for making a path out of the debris.

When Joan prepares for a public speaking engagement, she will spend weeks collecting clippings and fragments from here and there to rustle through and read from. A narrative emerges from the constituent parts, so, to close, I have two:

from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
"What it it then between us?
What is the count of scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine
I too walked the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me..."

Second, this is from a 1995 song by Chris Knox:

Seems like you and me are stuck together
Feels like we've never been apart
Seems like you are my skin of supple leather
Feels like your blood pumps through my heart

Seems like you and me are one another
Feels like we couldn't be un-joined
Seems like I am your sister, you're my brother
Feels like a phrase yet to be coined

Seems like I am to you a vital organ
Feels like you are to me the air
Seems like without your night I'd have no morning
Feels like you'll always want me there

It we should ever be untethered
If somehow we should end
If we could not go on together
Apart you'd be my good and trusting friend.

Happy Birthday, Joanie

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our June Vigil--We are All Gazans Now

Emily Henochowicz, 21, art student from New York was hit directly in the face with a tear gas cannister at the Qalandiyah checkpoint. Here a Palestinian woman calls for help.

Standing in the rain and tumult of Israel's national failure

Hargit, Geraldine, Hinde, Jean, Sivan, Esme, Alex, Sandra, Hellen, Joan, Di

From Haifa to Melbourne,

Statement of Isha L'Isha

We the women of Isha L'Isha-Haifa Feminist Center express deep shock at the continuing and deteriorating consequences of the siege of Gaza. We express solidarity with women peace activists who acted to break the inhuman siege on women, children and men; a siege that has been preventing basic human freedoms, health services and essential materials.

We extend our support to our sisters in the feminist movement, especially those who went out to exercise their right to protest against an outrageous injustice and found themselves facing a military attack that was a result of a violent state policy.

We call on women and men in Israeli society to resist the attack on the most basic human values, and to join our call--the attack on the peace flotilla is an attack on me. The siege on Gaza endangers us all. Isha L'Isha--Haifa Feminist Center is a multi-cultural feminist collective established in 1983. Our aim is to bring about social change by promoting values of equal rights and equal opportunities for all women; bring about social change by promoting values of equal rights and equal opportunities for all women; eradicating discrimination, violence and oppression of women; and fostering solidarity among women.

From Melbourne to Haifa, to Gaza

On Tuesday night, Students for Palestine called for a mass rally against the Israeli commando raid on the flotilla of aid ships that killed, we think, there may be more, 9 men and wounded many more. I received a call that afternoon asking if I would be willing to speak on behalf of Women in Black, but there was a deeper reason. I would be the only Jewish voice and this is why I said yes, half hoping they would not need me. Daniel was waiting for me on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets, the closed-to- traffic- main street, where only trams are allowed, bringing their passengers to the two largest department stores of Melbourne, Meyers, and David Jones. Leaning on his arm, I walked past the sight of our monthly vigil, the night sky heavy with clouds towards the already large crowd spilling over into the roadway. I had folded in my pocket a copy of my blog writing prior to this one and a letter I had sent that morning to The Age, Melbourne's largest newspaper. Somehow I knew I would not read from a page if I was to speak. The moment, the pain, the anger was too large for premeditated words. Kim, one of the the organizers, quickly found me and said, yes, I would be speaking and I should stay near the sound truck. Hellen and Sandra, Women in Black friends, joined me and I saw Sivan further back in the crowd and Sol as well from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. I listened to all those who came before, to the young Palestinian woman just returned from visiting her family on the West Bank, her pain and rage at what she had witnessed filling the night air,to leaders of the Palestinian and Turkish communities in Melbourne to a Green politician to a Maritime Union official to an elderly Imam, and I thought, how can I do this, how can I put my Jewish self with my American voice in this justified mix of rage and hurt. How would I not be the enemy. And then I was the next speaker, and I moved close to the center where I could see the faces all around me and I thought how did I get here, I am 70 years old, recovering from cancer surgery, standing yet again in another street with banners and chants, standing like I stood on broad Washington D.C. avenues;on Park Avenue in New York in front of embassies; in front of swanky East Side hotels hosting Nixon or Reagan or Bush; squeezed into Dag Hammarskjold plaza across from the U.N.; standing in Brown's Chapel in Selma, Alabama getting ready to march to Montgomery, how did I get here in such a far away place in such a time of life--and then I saw the dead men and thousands of Palestinian people whose lives have disappeared, names never printed in our newspapers--just the words, "Four Palestinians shot dead by Israeli Defence forces." I thought of all the Jewish people of conscience I know here, in Israel, in New York, all over the world, who stood beside me. I have never felt so naked, so small as in the moment the microphone was put into my hand. All around me were young Palestinian women and men and in the distance I could see families and older people. I cannot tell you exactly what I said, I know the first words that came out were, "I am just a body.." and "tonight we know the failure of history, that what had happened on that boat and every day at check points and house evictions was not what the Holocaust had taught my Jewish heart." I threw into the night air the Yiddish word shanda, I know I spoke as a Jewish woman, for all the women in the international movement known as women in black, I know I said we have to question the certainties of all nationalisms, I know I spoke of my, our, Jewish solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinians. All the time the faces looking back at me, lips forming the word shanda. And then it was over, for me. As I made my way back to Daniel, the young Palestinian woman who had spoken earlier came over and said she remembered me from another demonstration and it was good to see me again. Several older women wearing head scarves came to me. "Are you the woman who just spoke? Yes. One of the women hugged me and said thank you, it means so much that you took the risk to speak. Our heads rested together for a few seconds, my bare gray curls against the black fabric of her head cover.

Daniel, my dear young friend, again offered me his arm so I could begin my journey back to West Brunswick. I was the smallest moment in this evening I have described, but for me once again I encountered that huge moment of human generosity--the refusal of easy hatreds.

New Book: "Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation," edited by Osie Adelfang, an anthology of women writing about the Middle East, with a preface by Amira Hass and a forward by Cindy Sheehan including writing by Starhawk, Anna Baltzer, Alice Rothchild, Sandra Butler and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. Can be found at