There are a few minutes left until September 6, but when it comes I, like everyone else around here, may be too busy getting the holiday together to write. These days before the new year are great days of anticipation and evaluation - there are numerous radio and television programs as well as newspaper editorials about the past year and the possibilities for the future. Quite a number of people interviewed were patting each other on the back for having made it through this year at all. In the media the situation looks ... well ... almost all right. We're even getting used to terrorist attacks.
But it isn't like that. On every level reality is grim.
Today I met with a whole bunch of old friends and they were all looking over their lives and especially the past year thinking about how things were not working out the way they had expected. Most of the writers I met with today are unemployed or underemployed, scrambling so much to make ends meet that poetry seems totally trivial and prose too complex to handle. One poet, who waited long ago to retire from teaching so that she could spend her time with the novel that was waiting to be written, is now taking on wholesale translation projects so she can help support her unepmloyed adult offspring. Another, a victim of the hi-tech crisis, works full time at maintaining his sense of dignity now that he is unepmloyed. A third is leaving the country, having left literature last year to devote himself unsuccessfuly to making enough to live on. Only one of the dozen writers i spent time with today was employed and writing, and he is working on a biography...
So all my complaints in the past about silent writers have an economic basis ... and who am i to complain.
Ha'aretz has an article in yesterday's supplement about Muhammed Bakhri, the actor/director I have always admired. His brother and family were those arrested for abetting the suicide bomber and causing the death of a number of people in the bus explosion not far from Zefat, including three Arab citizens. It's worth reading.
He's totally overwhelmed by grief over the possibility that his family could be involved in this, but at the same time he's just made a movie called "Jenin Jenin A One Sided Film" in which the Israelis are stereotyped sadists with just enjoy killing helpless Arabs. Bakhri himself has had very bad experiences with the Shin Beit, but he's had a good measure of success in Israeli society (witness the fact that he is the only actor in the world I have a crush on... oh never mind)and has had a few opportunities to help show the case of the Israeli Arabs. He's also an incredibly empathic person on a one-to-one basis, and has a viable and practical point of view.
He also says Israelis should be less afraid.
The only problem is there are attempts at terrorist attacks daily - it is hard not to be scared when people - maybe even your brother - is helping to plan your murder. Today's holiday supplement has a cartoon with a security guard standing outside a sukkah.
And by the way Happy New Year.
What? No cheshbon nefesh? No evaluation of the soul? I read Robert Rosenberg's article about new year in Ariga and it is exactly what I would say if I were speaking in public - only better. A fine analysis of what our soul's arithmetic should be, and just enough optimism to sweeten it perfectly.
But me, I'm weary with politics - talked to one relative yesterday and realized he's even more right wing than he was at the last holiday gathering,looked around for the left-wing cousin to help balance the evening and discovered he took off to escape the burden of the new year. Oren is in Mykonos, and i would love to be in some isolated island too. Last night I dreamt we were attacked by an enormous barrage of missiles - the whole sky was filled with them and we watched as they fell and exploded - "That was Haifa," I said, and woke myself up with the sound of my voice. It wasn't a nightmare - it was like reality.
Yesterday I got a very suspicious letter from someone in Poland - she wondered, she said, how it is that i claim to be writing on line, spontaneously, with no editing or revising, but it's coming out as html. Well, gentle reader, I find html as natural as writing on an appleII, which i learned over 22 years ago. Then too i had to embed editing instructions. it was learning how to write normally again when we got that pc that was hard for me.
My father-in-law taught me, and when i got it wrong he swore in hungarian. so i usually swear in hungarian when i write.
While we're on the confessional track, i will also answer my friend Linda who asked if it is worth reading me on line because she's probably heard it before from me out loud. Well, I'm not certain, because I don't reread this journal, but I think I very rarely tell people the same thing i write here.
Why don't Israelis like borders? Orit pointed out to me today that it isn't just a fact that we don't actuallyhave borders, and that we don't have terminology for borders (green line, etc.) but that we don't like delineated borders. We appropriate as much space for ourselves as possible - closing off balconies, extending our apartments as far out as we can, building on, building out...
the more we talked the more borders blurred - gender borders, sexual preference borders, generational borders. The 'democratic spirit' in schools which dictated that teachers are referred intimately by their first names... As we sat in the restaurant, we noted that the waitress - as usual - did not bring the check until we asked for it - another border extension for us.
But when I talked to Ayellet of the Lehrer family - the ones who discovered the explosive device in their yard in Kochav Yair the other day - she said they were the recipients of the 'present' because they are the only house on the block without a fence. In fact they didn't have a fence out of principle. Now they're building one.
Last night we were dancing on a balcony overlooking an Arab village. Look, said Elli, this is an example of the possibilities of good neighbors. "The people over there work over here, there are relations - even now." "So why isn't anyone from over there invited to this party," I ask. He is a guest too, so it isn't his call. But he points out to me that things get done by degrees... He's right. The Arabic music we were listening to was westernized - something like elevator music - but it was still Arabic music. And we danced.
Listen to me, sounding like a middle eastern purist - me who dances to Warda to Hakim, to Farid el Atrash, without understanding a more than a word here and there.
Eshel was telling me about the project he's participating in - i think i wrote a bit about it before - the meeting of 6 high school teachers from Israel with 6 Palestinian high school teachers - the project is to choose selected moments in the history of their people, discuss them,write about them, and then translate them into English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Soemthing like my poetry proejct but much more primary. The first problem, he said, was deciding on historical moments - We don't really have a history in common. That is pretty amazing in itself - we don't know anything about the way they see their history and they know nothing about the way we perceive our history. Facts are missing on both sides...
Then they print a booklet and teach their classes in history from these booklets.
Dina says - history can be changed by individuals. And that reminds me that Adrienne Rich wrote me this morning, " There has to be a turning point in the coming year--both for you there and for us here. It will not come from governments but from the courage of ordinary people and subversive currents everywhere."
"You're just wasting your time," Amos tells him. "I hope you're wrong," Eshel answers, but he doesn't sound convinced.
it was a terrible question - a worse answer - I mention to a blank-looking woman that i keep a diary online - she asks "Really? Who is your imagined audience? Who do you write for?" It's just conversation but i answer immediately, "The person who might be dissuaded from blowing me up if he got to know me." "Really." She walks away.
The 'plot' uncovered today of the poisoning of food in a jerusalem restaurant (Rimon) affected me incredibly. The idea that East Jerusalem cooks would connect up over the internet with a terrorist group and obtain instructions on how to poison people with whom they worked and joked with daily - that very initiative of a pleasant chef with a number of israeli friends - breaks down any possibilities of trust in this society.
The numerous endeavors uncovered in the past week to inflict mega-terrorist destruction on anyone it can get to is truly terrifying, and the only thing that keeps us going is the kind of resistance we've built up in recent months. (Kind of reminds me of how I used to have unbearable back pain - unbearable - and in recent years it has been something i can live with. when i told my doctor about the 'improvement' he shrugged and told me that i'm feeling less pain because the nerves are dead.)
There's also the entertainment/food factor. My son has a cafe and a bar in Tel Aviv - the responsibility on him personally for the safety of his clients has been extreme in the past year. Two security guards, and a constant watchful eye. But now it can happen that the danger can come from within and not just from without. It's enough to make you lose your appetite. Well, not really. But almost.
When i was a little girl I used to have what i called my hitler dream. We'd be eating dinner, maybe even holding a seder, in our dining room that opened out onto the front porch, and hitler and his men would suddenly march in and machine gun everyone. i was small and would hide under the table, but then i would see his face, his arm lifting up the table cloth and reaching out with a jar of contact poison to get me, the last survivor. And i would think - am i dead now - and if i am how is it that i am conscious?
All right, my brother and I were absolutely the only heirs of my mother's family. Only last week I figured that if she had 9 married siblings with two kids each that were shot that day in Lida - that's 36. So the idea of surviving and the responsibility of surviving may have been a bit special with me.
But poison? I could never figure that one out.
When these three guys were arrested for their Hamas plot to poison the restaurant food the significance of it hit me - poison comes from within - you only eat poison when you trust the people who give it to you.
And most of my plans for the future are based on the fact that we can learn to trust each other, at least enough to believe we won't be murdered by people we work with.
Then there are all the plans for mega bombs in playgrounds = most of these plans are based on the fact that there remains a measure of trust by the israelis of the palestinians. just as most of the almost 600 people killed in the past two years in terrorist attacks were 'lax' because they trusted.
As we near that terrible date I can't avoid talking about it - even though everything one can say seems banal and twisted. The late Zyggy Frankel's observation of almost 10 years ago is still fresh, though.
We operate from airfields we did not build,
smuggling explosives we did not invent
onto planes we wouldn't know how to pilot.
Thank you, civilisation, for your blessings.
Now Lisa called me from Ramallah last night - finishing up a workshop she's giving there - there will be a party for her in Netanya before she goes back to the US. Lisa lived in Israel for well over a dozen years before a screw-up in her MA program forced her to go to Boston to finish her degree. I don't know why she stayed there exactly, but I seem to remember it has to do with making a living.. Her Hebrew is perfect. Her Arabic is amusing - a fluent continuity in a thick American accent. Her bravado and apparent lack of sensitivity to details makes her perfect for promoting dialogue projects here. And she works with Spanish kids in Boston. $$$ for projects here would be nice...
We really should be focussing on raising money for projects and people like Lisa. In every field. As I told Hana yesterday - now that we're trying to revive the American Studies Association here, we should try to raise some money for a dialogue project with Palestinian universities. We had a number of failed attempts in the past, in better days when there was more willingness and more money, and that discouraged us all. But now the need is greater. much greater.
I am beginning to get geared up for my trip to the U.S. at the end of next week. And i keep finding myself entangled in suspicions and fears of sabotage. Phyllis Lassner, who just returned to the US from a semester in Oxford, reminded me yesterday of what it feels like. One tiny point:
"And then there's English politics, which aside from all
the anti-American and anti-Israeli stuff in the press all the time, the
worst were the self-righteous English Jews who were responsible not only
for the boycott of Israeli academics, but then published a letter in the
Guardian, renouncing their right of return because those who really
deserved that right were being denied it. "
As someone whose family was thrown OUT of England after WWII, I see the relationship between Jews, Britain and Israel somewhat differently... And Phyllis, who has been researching women and war in British Literature for years, knows much better than I do what the attitude toward the Jews the British can have when the mood takes them.
When the British let my parents in - at the beginning of the war - on special agricultural visas - they saved their lives. They also sent them to raise pigs - an interesting job to send Jews to...
Yes, they knew what they were doing - Think about how the British treated the Arab terrorists in Palestine in the 20's and 30's - buried them in pigskin so they wouldn't reach heaven...
This is too big a subject for a person on their way out to work.
But before I go I want to note:
People criticize me from both directions. For being Zionist and for being critical and questioning of Zionism. Some of my friends from college stopped talking to me when I moved to Israel, renounced their renunciation when I disappeared from sight in the Yom Kippur War (no phone - husband and postman in reserves - a baby - etc) and have disappeared again in the past two years. My right wing friends also seem to have been a bit distant lately - but I think it is more a question of focus (They've got more important things to deal with, but they are all so argumentative and confrontational that I know they'd love to have a 'conversation.').
Still, I want to take this opportunity to announce to all of you - i remain a zionist and i remain critical of zionism.
And now off to grade exams.