Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Disgusted by My Disgust

Recently, I visited the Rokach House and the Guttman Museum in the neighborhoods of Neve Tzedek in Tel-Aviv. Neve Tzedek is my favorite neighborhood, besides my own leafy green one, with the oldest, most European houses in Tel-Aviv and an aristocratic air. Nothing is ancient in this city, not even the lust that pervades the city streets or the rhythm that Tel-Aviv seems to sway with, but Neve Tzedek is the closest thing that you will get in Tel-Aviv. 
The Rokach House is home to some inspiring information about Tel-Aviv's early life, and is one of the oldest houses in the city. It's filled with artifacts from this time, including a clothes and a table, and over the table in the dining room is a picture of another table set and ready for the people and food, which called to mind "The Last Supper." My favorite part of the museum were the sculptures and pictures, by Lea Majaro Mintz, the granddaughter of Rokach. Her work is inspiring, but at first I was disgusted by it. Her work is about women with REAL women, why didn't Dove use this in their ads? These women are overweight, sagging, and delightful. At first my mind went to a dark place, "Why would she sculpt something so ugly??" But then, I realized, I was one of these women too, we all are, with curves and sags and smiles. She was sculpting nature, whereas sculpting Barbie would really have been to sculpt something truly heinous. Looking at her creations, and her colorful pictures of busty naked women made me light up--I wanted to strip of my clothes and join their colorful circle of commraderie. This, I thought, is really what women should be doing--dancing, not naked-but without the inhibition that dancing this way entails--we shouldn't stop dancing because society tells us that our bodies are too old, too flabby, too saggy, too ugly. We are not too anything, because we are all individuals created to reflect a certain, specific aspect of humanity. 

Here's the Artists Statement: 

"I studied painting and drawing at the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem and afterwards taught at Bezalel, Bar Ilan University, and other colleges for training art teachers. I taught the subject "Form and Color" which is based on the special language of the visual arts that grew from the understanding of the abstract. 

From the start it was clear to me that the visual arts (until the most recent years) were the work of male artists only and they were those who expounded its theories. Women, except for a few women artists mentioned in art history as minor artists, took no part in the creation except as models or bystanders-always loyal to any show of art or culture. 

Male artists liked to relate to women in their creations and found in them a source of beauty, harmony, sex. Their point of view was mainly that of one watching his object,seeing it from the outside. I tried to express her from the point of view of someone who feels her from the inside. 

The woman, as I feel her, is a tired creature, tired from the burden of being a modern woman, involved in society and its demands, trying to enter all the professions which in the past were for men only. In addition she remains the birth-giver, she nurtures and educates the children and also makes sure that the household chores are done. It seems that she's been liberated, but in reality she's taken upon herself a burden twice as heavy. 

I was the first in Israel (one of the first in the world) to think "feminine." In my sculptures I wanted to express the mature woman-relaxed, rumpled, flowing, with a large bosom and wide hips, a tired woman searching for a moment of relaxation. In my art I try to express the inner codes of women, codes that may not be accepted by male artists. These are codes such as feeling and empathy, logic aided by a supersensory comprehension, sensuality combined with the need to bond with others and the environment. 

From the beginning I thoght that art should reflect the geographical surroundings, both physical and culture, in which we live. I strove to express the individuality that exists in my country-the meeting of ancient and modern, a world with a long history connected to the land and its archeological treasures on the one hand and on the other, a modern lifestyle which includes democratic morals, socialism, and achievements in the field of hi-tech. From here, the I make of clay. The look of the clay gives a feeling of antiquity, it is a substance that early man already used for artist purposes. At the same time it is flexible enough to express any modern shape." 

(Rokach's father was a good Jewish doctor from the Tzfat area, who became so close to the rulers that when Tzfat saw riots against Jews he was saved because of his special relationship with the authorities.) The garden was also beautiful, and there were little sculptures in every nook of the house. My favorite was of two sleeping bodies next to each other on a bed, reminding me of my sister and I snuggled up on a bed as babies. 

Chag Shalom

"Well, then, that is just blatant Hanukkah propaganda," My father fumed into the phone. 
"Sorry, Dad, but they had to find a different way to market Hanukkah in the US--I mean, a nationalist holiday about another country can be a bit of an awkward sell.. right?" 
"I'm very disappointed in this Hanukkah business," My father said. 

This came from a heated conversation that my father and I were having about a small argument that my sister and I were having. "Can't you just get along--it's Hanukkah, after all, and it's all about peace and love." I was determined to keep the argument--but in this case, my father was wrong. It's like saying Easter is about bloody death--that's really missing the point, it's a side note. Hanukkah is about victory and the ability of the Jews in Israel to keep their spiritual identity, if anything, it's about keeping the other out (which may, in the long run, create peace and stability... but maybe not.) Hanukkah is also about the miracle of light that occurred AFTER the miraculous victory--so G-d provided light. In the physical and spiritual sense, for the Jews to keep their inner spiritual light strong and for the continuation of Jewish identity. Hanukkah--unlike Yom Kippur or Passover--can be given universal flavors, but it is a Jewish-particular holiday. 

Then I started thinking, "What is the Jewish Holiday Where Peace Is Celebrated?" 
The month of Elul is the month of "love" but that's the romantic love, not the type between peoples. If anyone who's reading this (all 3 of you) know of the Jewish holiday for peace, let me know. And maybe, in these times, we need to create a Jewish holiday where we celebrate internal and external peace and pray for peace. It's hard, these days in Israel with rockets being lobbed into Israel every five minutes, to really "celebrate" peace. It's hard when there is the significant amount of economic and racial inequality floating around every land, and especially the Holy Land. But is it still worth creating a ritual to celebrate peace? Absolutely. 
What about creating a Christian Day for Peace and Muslim Day for Peace or a Hindu or Buddhist one? We already have a universal, UN Day for Peace. But, it's important that each religious community promote peace and have a peace day in order to emphasize their community's commitment to peace. A day for justice would be entirely different, because there is a difference. Justice helps to lead towards peace, but justice is not created by peace. 

The last six days of Passover, according to an essay I read recently, are forbidden for enjoyment--because these are the days that the Egyptians were plagued and eventually died, their animals died and probably their spirits died--and the Egyptians, despite all the problems that they created for the Jews, WERE G-d's creation, and when any creation is destroyed, it is a terrible thing. 

So now, I'm wondering, should I make a Seder for Peace day with my family and close friends, like on Tu B'Shvat (the day for trees) and Passover? What would I put on that plate? 


"If you really want to know something, look at it again." -Carl Hammerschlag 

It's been pouring for the last couple days here intermittently, and I hate dodging puddles and feeling the wintery chills and having to curl up closer to my sister at night. (She's finally come--arrived with all of her baggage.) We've been going out a lot, feeling cold and wishing that the sky would stop opening up. The usually clear sky which blazes with sun is pregnant with clouds, which release themselves all too frequently. My twin and I were grumbling about this, when I was like, "Wait--no!! Remember, it's a good thing, Israel doesn't have any water or any rain, this is a mild miracle!" Humph, my sister said. It's just like Carl says, I can complain about the weather, the fact that the beach is offlimits and wearing flip-flops will increase my risk of falling on my bum dramatically. Or I can be praiseful that the heavens have finally opened up and are willing to save Israel from being entirely parched this upcoming year. Recently, I learned that the word for sky "shamayim," means "there-water." The simple term in Hebrew expresses not the desire for loads of glorious sunlight or blueness or clarity, it expresses the desire for survival in this semi-desert land. Looking at it from this perspective, I can't be any more happy that my life is being inconvenienced and made so much colder and wetter :) 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Cool Things I've seen and Done Recently: 

-The Nachum Guttman Museum
-The Rokach Museum
-Ne'ot Kedumim (I hearded sheep there), it's a biblical park. 

I really want to go to the Ilana Goor museum too! Also, my sister arrived 2 days ago. Tonight, hopefully we'll be going to a Hanukkah party in Jerusalem with my friend Jess, this super-friendly, big-smiled Greek-New York-Jew. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Some Days You Appear Smart.. Other Days You Don't

Last week, I was in Kiryat Ono (after spending 40 minutes getting there, I began to think of it as Kiryat Oh-no!). It was Friday morning, the traditional Shabbat "rush" (more like rush to the front of the line..) and I was standing in line, solidly, looking... or, maybe observing, the people around me. In Israel, "standing in line" doesn't exist. People try to rush, push, and "cut." In the U.S., this "cutting" would be unthinkable, and people would ask you to stop "cutting" and then you would become a social pariah because you "cut," something which we learned in 1st grade is one of the ultimate social crimes. Perhaps the cashier, or even the store manager, would come to chastise you. One of the things that annoys me, more than cockroaches or Israelis inability to stand in line, is what I'm going to term "line weaving." Israelis will set down a couple of items, and then leave. This, in the U.S., is almost unthinkable.. it's unimagined. Maybe if you have 200 groceries and forgot the pasta sauce, then you would go back--tell everyone in line what you were doing, and apologize profusely both before and after. When I have to go back and get something, I fully remove myself from the line--almost surgically so. If someone "line weaves" in the U.S., they inevitably come back with one or two items. In Israel, they come back with a small truck load of items, plop them down, then rush off into the din of the story. This raises my blood pressure, naturally, what if their turn comes and they're not in line--then what? Do you cut ahead of them? And really, what kind of person line weaves? Unspeakable!

Being a full-American--passport, grandparents as veterans, countless fourth-of-Julys with hot-dogs, fireworks, and potato salad, and all--I stood in line until my time. I noticed a man behind me saying, "Amerikiit, Amerikiit," and then putting it into a sentence--no biggie. When I left the store with my friend, she said, "Can you believe he was saying that you're stupid?" "What?" I asked her. "He was going on about how you were such a stupid American, standing in line and all." "How is that stupid?!? Since when is not cutting in line stupid in any country?!" I protested, with injured pride and all. 

My other "favorite thing" that they do here is come up behind you and say, "I'm after you," nod, and leave. The thing is, not just one person does this, but ten people. And how do you explain in Hebrew, "There are already ten invisible people behind me, can we really add an eleventh?!" I usually just furrow my brow and nod--as if I understand, and I'll consider it. What I'd really love to say is, "If you're after me, then actually be AFTER me." Alas. I recently found out that Chaim Herzog's wife wrote the first etiquette book in Hebrew, and I'm only hoping to learn it by heart, the way I once learned Emily Dickinson poems, so that I can spout off lines to them.. until then I'll keep grimacing. 

But, despite the fact that some crotchety old men who fought in the War of Independence actually think--and say--that I'm stupid, there are some people who you can fool more easily than others--my father being one of those people. A few days ago, I was in a fruit market, and I asked someone about tomatoes and cucumbers and where all the good oranges were, and my father was amazed--I sounded so good, so smart. It's such a relief that he's never studied, maybe even never heard, Hebrew! I could have been asking for an AK-47 and he would have had no idea--it's beautiful. He thought I sounded so smart and so good.... I only hope that I can keep on fooling him when he comes to visit. I speak Hebrew pronouncing all the syllables--one doesn't really do that--and slowly, "kind of like a bimbo," one of my friends told me. 

Later, I called it the "Arab fruit market," and my Dad asked me how I knew it was Arab. 
"Because," I told him a little condescendingly, "they were yelling at each other earlier and calling each other 'Ahmed' and 'Mahmoud,' and Jews just don't give their kids those names, Daddy." 

FUGEE Friday!

Friday might just have been the most interesting day of my hectic week! On Friday, eventually found my way to the rear (more like the butt) of Shuk HaCarmel. Even though I had to walk about 10 blocks to get there from the Sherut, it took me more time to get through the relatively short shuk than the 10 blocks. I found myself rushing, knocking into Chinese foreign workers, Orthodox women strewn with baby carriages and peppers, and vendors screaming at me that I "needed" sufganiyot. (*Sufganiyot, like doughnuts in general, becomes a LOT more popular in Israel around Hanukkah season. They have about 3,000 calories per bite, and somehow manage to be almost crunchy even though they're soft.) 

I also stopped to oogle a multi-colored bin of peppers and kicked myself for not bringing my camera, as well as strawberries, cheap underwear, and some peaches--but didn't stop, rushing along, towards the end. 

The shuk is one of the worst-smelling places I've ever been (this doesn't say a whole lot), especially when it clears or you walk too slowly past the fish market. Particularly as the day winds down, there are perfectly good fruits and vegetables getting squashed, vendors and buyers drop their things, and the smell just rises.. almost intoxicating you with its squalor. I know, I'm painting a really nice image here, but I go genuinely LOVE the shuk, it's beat, it's rhythm, the way that people are actually sort of nice to each other there because it's all based on buying and selling and not on politics or identity. You see Orthodox ladies buying flatbread from Arab women, pleasantly and almost politely (there's no such thing as truly polite for Israelis.) 

When I got to the end of the shuk I met a group called "Fugee Friday." It's organized by two Americans--K. and M.-- who have found their way back to Israel. An expat with her beautiful, blonde son was there, along with a crush of Israelis and other Americans.
 I found out about Fugee Friday from an Anglo-listserv, and decided to go and check it out. Similar to what we did at Shechen Tov (except it's later in the day, so vendors are really trying to get rid of their produce and have almost no need to hang onto it) we went through the shuk with boxes and bags, asking vendors to give their leftovers to us for charity. The food goes to a Darfur Shelter, a shelter for pregnant women, and another shelter for African refugees. Shechen Tov was beautifully organized and had a Judaic focus, we had flyers to explain our cause and a guide who talked to us about Jewish values and how to ask for food, Fugee Friday was a mash of people who just came to help
We went through the shuk, and I was surprised to see vendors giving away tons, one bakery gave us three boxes full of bread. After collecting boxes upon boxes of food-again, I wished I'd had a camera, we began to sort through it all. Groups of people--I couldn't tell if they were refugees or just impoverished Israelis, kept coming up and taking food. This caused a bit of an ideological question between K. and M., one wanted them to wait to take food while M. seemed to see little difference between giving it away. Did we want to help the poor or just the specific poor? Did it matter that a person was taking "too much" or did it matter more that she was going to quench her hunger?

After loading the food into various cars and onto bicycles (I rode with a Brazilian olah, her army-aged daughter, and their friend who had just finished the army) to a refugee shelter in south Tel-Aviv. The friend told me that she cried the first time she had gone, I've worked with the homeless before and consider myself somewhat able to cut off my emotions in these situations, so I was surprised by the sense of relief that I felt. "It'll be okay if I cry, she did," I told myself. 

Once we left Shuk HaCarmel, I slowly became geographically more and more disoriented--I knew that we were in Tel-Aviv, but as we sped through the dimly-lit streets, I lost my sense of direction. When we pulled up to a squat neighborhood I had absolutely no idea where we were--geographically or in any other way. The Brazilian Olah ordered us out of the car because "the children swarm it." Damn, did they ever! Their little faces seemed to be from places I couldn't pinpoint on a map, were they Indian? Darfuri? Eritrean? Chinese? They ran around the dark craggy streets, most without shoes and supervision, and we thrust markers and coloring pages at them to keep them busy and away from the car. Each of the kids had a different reaction us-some grabbed onto our hands and hugged us-while others were immediately like, "What are you doing here with these uncool coloring pages?" One wouldn't move even as a car came along the street, another slapped at a smaller one beside her. They all seemed to fight over markers and ask for our opinions on their drawings, and they reminded me of the way my sister and I used to swat at each other for markers and such--the only difference was that we probably accumulated truck fulls of markers during our childhoods, while I'm pretty certain that these kids didn't. I smiled and made faces for them--delighting some and causing others to roll their eyes. I thought of the last time I played with kids, when I was in Amirim with my friend Sean and we played and made faces at this little kid named Zohar with long, curly hair and a slightly oversized kippah--while his mother stood closely watching him. These children could be so easily run over or spirited away, it seemed to be a minor miracle that one of them wasn't splattered on the ground like the fruits at Shuk HaCarmel. 

Unloading the food was the most difficult part, K. thrust a box at me and asked:
 "Are you afriad of the dark?" 
"Um.. no," I responded. I'm afraid of pitch-black, but so is any sane person. 
"Are you afraid of old homeless men?" 
"Uh.. haha.. no, as long as they don't rape me," I replied. 
Then he asked me to go bring the box over to a man living in a hovel, a shack maybe (but that would be dressing it up) near a semi-distant apartment building. 
"Sure," I said, thinking of how certain I was that my mother would have KILLED me, but I didn't know if "Oh, Damn! I wish I could, but my mother just hates it when I go into dark places with old homeless men," would fly with this group, and it was all within K.'s eye-sight, so I took the box over to the old man, eventually realizing that I had nothing to fear besides the prickers are on the gross growing up along the field. A small dog, who had a startling resemblance to a rat, followed me. He wore a tweed hat, the kind that has no become overly trendy, and was squat. His face was a mash of lines. "Shalom, gever, yesh li mashahu l'Shabbat," (Hello sir, I have something for Shabbat") I said, and put the box in his weak arms. "Shabbat Shalom," I smiled at him, and he smiled back, saying, "Shabbat Shalom," sweetly. That seemed like a piece of cake after K. gave me another box-heavier than a couple of the kids combined-and asked me to bring it over to the shelter. The box had vegetables, the kind that I ignored when I was ages 3-9 (the ages of most of the kids), and in fact still try to ignore but only eat when I feel guilty about eating chocolate. The box was heavy, but the children clinging onto the sides and grabbing at it's contents, persimmons and cucumbers and bell-peppers, weighing me and the box down. If I'd had a couple more arms, or better Hebrew, I might have gently swatted at them verbally or physically--but I had no option but to carry the box around the corner towards the shelter, looking around for someone to guide me. "Where should I put it down," I wondered. "Put it down in front of my door," they cried. Shit. Now was I going to be forced into making a real decision--which family would get the choiciest of the fruits and vegetables? I quickly came to the conclusion that it would just be easier to drop it somewhere in the middle, and rushed by the kids trying to get the best fruits and vegetables. The box stood almost abandoned in a minute, with some of the vegetables left ignored on the sidewalk. "Shouldn't you take these inside?" I asked them. They shook their heads. Eventually, one of the kids led me inside the shelter, the floor was covered in sand (like mine on bad days), and when I asked to use the bathroom I was guided to a little room with no door handle. When I entered, and saw their toilet, I thought of something one of my professors mentioned earlier this week, that there are tens of saying in Hebrew that mean, "We're equal," such as, "All of our shit comes from the same place," and "your head is getting to large for their shoulders. Damn, I thought, my toilet is EXACTLY the same as theirs, we really aren't so different in equality terms or dignity, we're exactly the same type of humans, but I've been given everything in my life while I know that these kids are going to have to struggle, especially in a society like Israel where they're neither "Jewish" or "Arab." 

The neighborhood, despite it's dismal location and the dismal financial situation of its residents, was bursting with delicious smells--better than any of the uber-exclusive, hyper-expensive restaurants that I walk by on a daily basis. 

One of the coolest things that I saw was an Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli woman (too many hyphens, I know!) who had lived in Iraq until she was 10. She spoke with this kids from Darfur in Arabic, even though hers was the Arabic equivalent of Yiddish and theirs was far different than say, Moroccan or Egyptian Arabic. Other kids spoke Eritrean, and others spoke who-knows-what. In the end, I was walked to the Central Bus Station (somewhere I swore I'd never go at night) by two French-Jewish students, and put safely onto a sherut uptown to my neighbor, where refugees don't reside and the immigrants are from the US and England. 

Before this voyage, I had always thought of Tel-Aviv, a flat city that is physically cohesive, as a single unit, it's only world, and Jerusalem as a totally separate world-perhaps a separate planet. Now, I got to see there are multiple Tel-Avivs, and my Tel-Aviv is nowhere near the impoverished Tel-Aviv. 

Ephraim Lilien

For anyone who's in Tel-Aviv or will be in a few months, I made my first art pilgrimage to the Ephraim Lilien Exhibit at Tel-Aviv University. The exhibit was great and featured some of his most famous works--etchings, photographs, and drawings. Some of my favorite pieces were his drawings in German bibles particularly, especially his drawings of Esther and Ruth. 
Lilien was both a Germanic artist, and only lived for a year in Israel, but in his photography his fascination with the people already living in Israel is evident. The exhibit is mostly in Hebrew, with some German and some English titles.
At the end of the exhibit, I got to talk to Ehud--the museum tender and MA Art History Student--about the future of Israeli art, and if in the future it will look west or east. He predicts that it will always look west, especially far west towards the United States. He gave me a wealth of information about Lilien that I wouldn't have gotten, either! Just more proof that talking to strangers can be terribly useful and informative. 
The only thing I was somewhat disappointed about was the exhibit's virtual emptiness. As much as I like being able to lumber about an exhibit uninhibited, it's kind of sad that at Tel-Aviv University, with 30,000+ students and how many faculty and staff, that I was all alone. The exhibit is LITERALLY at the entrance to campus, so I encourage everyone to go who can! :) 

Yad Vashem Visit

On Thursday I visited Yad Vashem with the Overseas Program. We arrived late Thursday evening, with stars over our heads and a sharp chill in the air. Yad Vashem has a confusing entrance, there are several elements to the museum--including one about the homosexuals who were killed in the Holocaust. Having been to the Washington D.C. Holocaust museum several times, this museum was not shattering the way the first two visits to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. were. Every time you visit a Holocaust museum, something new "gets" you, before I was driven to tears by the children's shoe exhibit (in DC), this time, as I entered Yad Vashem feeling a little hungry, I was struck by the guide pressing the fact that even in the ghettos, and especially in the camps, people were living on a few hundred calories today. Imagine trying to survive that horror while starving, I can barely think on an empty stomach, but picture losing everything and being completely disoriented--all while starving. Seeing pictures of starving people was what "caught" me this time, I couldn't handle looking at those stick-like bodies that looked as though they could be snapped like twigs. 

Yad Vashem ends in a room with pictures of biographical information on the ceiling in a cone-shape, with a well also in a cone-shape at the bottom. When you gaze into the well, you see your face reflected as well as the faces and the biographies behind you. It takes a village to raise a child, and historical memory to fill the head of each individual perhaps. 
Then, after walking past this half-filled room (Yad Vashem still does not know the identities of 3 million Jews who died in the Holocaust), you walk out into the Jerusalem air--which almost always has a special zing and chill to it--on account of Jerusalem's height. We went at night, so in the distance lights shimmered--this is the future, the guide said to us simplistically. 

Smelling my own freshly laundered clothes has been difficult this weekend when I think about the story of a little boy--a "snatcher"--who snatched a bag away from a woman as she came out of a supermarket. The boy was so hungry, and knew that he'd probably be caught, that almost immediately he began shoveling the bag's contents into his mouth. "But, he didn't notice that the woman wasn't running after him, just shouting at him to stop eating. And he didn't notice the strange taste of what he was eating--which wasn't food, it was laundry detergent. He poisoned himself." I'm always washing things here, always pouring out detergent, and the thought that I could accidentally put it in my mouth is horrifying. How could someone be hungry enough that they wouldn't notice these things?

Most people, upon first arriving to Israel with Birthright or another group, immediately go and see Yad Vashem, but when I came the first time George Bush wanted to see Yad Vashem, and as a result the museum was closed off to the public. When I came with CAMERA, we didn't see Yad Vashem either. I've been here for several months, and hadn't yet been to the "founding spot" upon which many trips start. Has this affected my view of Israel? I know about the Holocaust, read about it too much probably, it's been jiving in my mind for the past few weeks thanks to a history course I took, and yet I've been able to ignore, to some degree, this museum. The Holocaust signs are all around us in Israel, my best friend's grandfather survived the Holocaust, without his survival my best friend wouldn't be here and I'd probably be bored to tears in Israel, as well as lacking his insights and beautiful friendship. The park where I walked Marco, where the dogs all bark and the children scream (regularly destroying my sleep) but with an incredible fountain and thick pine trees is the "Dora Gimpel Park," given to Tel-Aviv in honor of Dora, who perished in the Holocaust. The Holocaust is ignorable in America, but in Israel, even as the survivors die out, the signs will remain everywhere. 

Later that night, I sat with a few friends in a trendy cafe on King George Street, sipping Limonana. One of these friends works on the Netanyahu campaign, and she and another friend engaged in a lively discussion about Jerusalem and it's boundaries, asking questions like, "Is Jerusalem already divided?" (The Netanyahu-ist cited her freedom of movement, while the other friend cited the demographic split in Jerusalem.) The conversation evolved until one of them asked what I saw at the museum--the usual, I replied, exhibits and photos. They pressed for more, and we began talking about the simplistic "answer": the hills of Jerusalem, that Yad Vashem leaves you with. What kills me, pardon the expression, about most Holocaust museums is their minimization of, "what about the other six million?" 12 million died in the Holocaust, why do we only hear a piece of the stories of 6 million? The head of the Romas, in Romania, is a Holocaust survivor--but how many of us know about him? Why is their pain ignored, their stories, the lessons from the deaths and lives? It's a disservice to all of us. I want to know, how do Queer Jewish Communist Holocaust survivors think? What about Jewish Handicapped survivors? The point is that Hitler was "all-encompassing," he put almost everyone in the ovens of the death camps, so shouldn't Holocaust education across the globe be so all-encompassing? 
The end of Yad Vashem bothered me, as well. Yad Vashem is, of course, a Jewish space--but it's also a space which can be very significant for non-Jews, and should be. Plenty of non-Jews died in the Holocaust, so how is a beautiful view of Jerusalem their future? It's not. It's also not the future for most Israelis and Jews, because to be a Jerusalemite takes a certain kind of brain, stamina, and coping abilities. Most of us will never be Jerusalemites, Zion will never be our home, so where is our future? 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We WON'T Stop Dancing

Anarchist, feminist, equal rights activist Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, then I won't be part of your revolution." 
Lately, the dancing has stopped all across the world as we are forced to mourn--but the loud, angry, anti-Western anti-American anti-Israel anti-tolerance revolution marches on, smashing down buildings and lives. Killing a person is like cutting down a tree, it takes so much water, nurture, and simple luck for a human to survive in this world for so long--but to cut down a human can be momentary, a life that took years to build is extinguished. I want to be part of the revolution that stops fearing terrorism and confronts it, that doesn't make excuses for terrorists (look at the London Bombers, they weren't poor or impoverished--they had choices, they chose violence and degredation of human life), I want to dance in the streets when the mood strikes me and NOT feel fear of reprocussions from any religious group. 
It's been so hard for me to think about what's happened in Mumbai, I just feel fear and want to sit in my apartment, curled up, not being offensive to anyone, not being an infidel to anyone. Today, I found out that the Rebbetzin (the rabbi's wife and fellow teacher) who died after 16 excruciating hours in her home was five months pregnant. It's like, suddenly, I can't deal with it anymore and a big flood of emotion has come bursting out, sadness and confusion and anger. I feel such confusion for how this could happen--how could someone shoot a pregnant woman, a fetus, the ultimate sign of innocence-a fetus has made no choices but holds the hope of the future--how could someone extinguish that hope with a bullet? 

Israel's in a state of national morning, as both the Rabbi and Rebbetzin (and six other victims) are being mourned. This country functions so well when there's not a cloud, but in the United States the death of six people would barely register on our radar, here it's "the topic," it's the black cloud hanging over this tiny nation. 

But, under each cloud, we can't stop dancing and moving, we can't stop hoping and dreaming. This weekend I walked to Jaffa with two friends, and their friends studying abroad in Egypt, and we walked past a Russian night club that was blown up a few years ago. There is a monument in front of the night club, that has two blue figures, and under them it says, "We Won't Stop Dancing." Even in the wake of this tragedy, even though this black cloud has invaded the newspapers, the radios, and our thoughts, I know that we can't stop dancing. We can't stop loving freedom, and we can't stop learning, we can't turn into people who sink their heads into the sand and stop dancing and just praying for safety and not liberty--we can't stop dancing, because after that, there's only stillness. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Then I walked into my building after Polish Movie Night. I saw an unknown lumbering man walking into my building dressed in a business suit, he was waiting in the foyer next to the building prostitute's apartment... but he was looking sort of lost. 

"Can I help you?" I asked him in Hebrew.
"I am waiting..... " He said, looking around nervously, his eyes not quite looking into mine. "For Tatiyana. She knows I am coming." Then he banged on her door. 
"Have a nice night," I said casually, and scurried up the stairs. I could hear his fists banging eagerly against her door. As a I scurried up by the four flights, my gut kept asking me, "Don't you want to go back down stairs and throw something at that man's head? Or slap him back to reality?" It did, but getting physically assault, or physically assaulting someone else, had not been in my plans that night. 

This woman is my neighbor, sometimes she washes the stairs just to be nice, she's got a lined face that's still beautiful, and immigrated from the former USSR. And she sells herself, to men who are religious, men who are dogs, men who know what they're doing is beyond despicable but still show their face in our building and pound on her door, asking when their "appointment" is. 
It makes me sick and horrified to know that this is happening two flights belonged. But more than the nausea it causes in my throat or the bile it forms in my mouth,  what I really want to do is hurl something sharp and hard at her "clients," not an object, but a question: "Do you know the difference between an object and a human," I want to ask them. 

Why Is Tel-Aviv So Weird?

The other day, my friend Nira and I were walking along HaYarkon  when we heard yelling. (Really, this is so common place that I barely respond to it most of the time--in fact, if there wasn't yelling, I would feel a little strange.) 
We look up, and see a desperate looking woman, with dyed-blonde hair and a diamond belly-button ring wearing a white tube-top, screaming down at us. It's the Russian Embassy, and this woman is sort of sitting on a ledge SCREAMING bloody murder and--she doesn't speak Hebrew or English. She had cleaning products in her hand, so we had to assume that she was cleaning the window and got locked out. Her face was terrified, and I just stood there for a few seconds until Nira snapped to, and I whipped out my cell to call the police. Nira, being a little sharper in an emergency than me, rang the embassy bell and got someone to come out--who promptly noticed the screaming woman and went inside to open the window that she was locked out of ... with a grin on his face.

The night before, I charmed the security guard at my local bank (we now have chats) by giving him some Challah, made fresh at the bakery down the street by a lovely Spanish-Jewish-Israeli religious couple. Now that we're pals, he lets me into the bank without searching my bag or checking my ID.. and he thinks I'm Australian, I tried to say "American" but it didn't quite pass over. 

A short while later, we got on the bus--and lo and behold, a fight broke out between a gentleman who looked like he had survived not only the second but possibly the first world war, and an "arse" the generic term for "guido" in Hebrew, someone who wears too much fake bling, tight shirts and tight jeans, who was in his 20's. A SCREAMING match ensued (one can see why I'm desensitized), the whole bus sat riveted as hands were flying, angry words, yada yada yada. So finally, I tap the violinist behind me, and am like, "What's going on?" And he says, "Oh, the young man has his feet on the seat..." That's it? I asked. Yup. Another five minutes of fighting ensued, until the older man huffily got off the bus, cursing the ass as he walked out the door. 

I love the smells of the trees here, the fresh fruit that's ripening, the way that when you smile at someone they look so pleasantly surprised. But these 'incidents' seem to happen every day, these bizarre, funny things that are so inexplicable that I almost can't go through my day without expecting them.

Today, I was late for "Polish Movie Night" and hopped in a cab. The driver began chatting with me, asking where I was from and what I was studying, then he told me that he had three kids ("how nice") and that he has a wife--and a girlfriend. I thought my Hebrew was bad... but no, I was right:
"Wife AND girlfriend I have... but wife doesn't know about girlfriend," he said proudly, waving two fingers around..
 "And three children?" I said as though this were a normal conversation. 
"It's wonderful." He sighed.
"Does your wife have a boyfriend too?" I asked casually.
 "Maybe she does.. I don't know if she has a boyfriend. You know," He began to tell me, "I only have a girlfriend one week a year."
 I paused, "Is that so?" (Why do I need to know his adultery patterns? I really wasn't sure.) "Yes--not ALL the time," (Why, I wanted to know, if you're already cheating on your wife would it be so ridiculous-seeming for you to do it for more than a week a year? ) 
"You know," He says in his thick voice, "It's really all about sex--" (At this point, I couldn't take it anymore. I just had to stop him from finishing that sentence, and I really didn't want him to start telling me about his tantric sex life with his mistress.)
"I'm religious," I said firmly.
"How religious?" He asked me, looking back (NOT watching the road, ahem!!) and looking at my pants. "You keep all the mitzvot?" He looked dubious.
"Yup--all of 'em," I said without enthusiasm.

Then, he turned the radio up... blissful silence!