On this page/scroll you can read all my posts in chronological order, from first published to latest.
[update, 140508: I stopped copying posts to this page after my 12th post, from 130505; don’t know if I’ll want to start doing it again.]
About me, and this blog
I’m 76+ now, living a quite reclusive & what I sometimes think is an almost idyllic existence, with my partner/wife Nitza (69; we married in Tel Aviv 49 years ago, & raised our sons in Israel & lived there for nearly four decades until we moved here in 2001) in our compact little dwelling (a converted bales) on a beautiful rural property near Mullumbimby in the “Byron Bay Hinterland” of northern New South Wales. We don’t go out much, visit & are visited rarely, by a few friends, & at least once weekly by our eldest and youngest sons & their families, who live near us: the eldest, Jonathan (45+) & his wife Ora (43+), their son Emmanuel (13+) & daughter Amalia (11+), in their larger house, only a couple of hundred meters away but barely visible & rarely audible through the trees; the youngest, Zohar (41+) & his wife Tali (26+) & their son Omri (4½) & daughter Shamaya (3 months) 25 minutes drive away in Ocean Shores; our middle son, Ohav (43+), is single and lives in Tel Aviv, in what used to be our apartment. We’re bilingual, we converse with one another & our sons & daughters-in-law in both Israeli-Hebrew and English. We both feel lucky that we & our sons & daughters-in-law & our grandchildren are now living in this lucky country, that Ohav can come whenever he wants to, & live here if he wants to.
We’ve both done many things in the past… but since around the beginning of this new year we’re both mainly working on putting out a blog, each of us on what interests us deeply. Very different blogs, hers in Israeli-Hebrew, mine in English. I think it’ll be a while before hers is online.
In my blog I expect to post many things, about me or about things I think or have thought about, but I’m also committing to maintain a continuity & to blog regularly about one main topic. The first main topic I’ve committed to blog about regularly is to do with how I relate today to what I’m calling my Jewhood & everything to do with Jewishness, Judaism, Jewry, Diaspora, Zionism, Israel/Palestine, Jewish mythology, history and historiography, Jewish languages and cultures, Israeli-Hebrew language and culture, etc., etc. — about what these have meant in my own life through its many phases from my birth to the present, and also my thoughts about these subjects in general & about contemporary issues connected with them that concern me. I will call this topic My Jewhood &…
As in all blogs, each post, when it’s published, appears at the head of the posts, above all the posts that appeared before it, in descending order. But because each new post may all also build in some way on the posts that have come before it, I am also creating a page/scroll titled Ongoing, where you can read the posts in the order they were published, from first to latest.
In addition to what it I feel it will do for me to get these things out of my head & into cyberspace (and just preparing it has already brought a tone of heightened creative involvement into my days), my main hopes for the blog are: That one day each of my four grandchildren may dip into it & perhaps find something of interest & value; 2. that my most immediate family, and friends I love from far away even though I don’t communicate with them, may read & see these sides of me; that other readers, both Jewish & non-Jewish, may find the blog interesting or challenging or useful & may want to comment or contribute or collaborate in one way or another.
Post 2, 130107
My Jewhood 001
In my previous post, About me & this blog, I basically introduce this topic.
My Jewhood (I think I’ve coined this word because I need a term more accurate & inclusive than Jewishness, or Judaism) began to affect my life very early.
I often think not only how lucky we are but also how amazing it is that I’m here, & with this family, so far from where I was born & from the other countries I’ve lived in; how strange to think that none of this could have happened if I wasn’t Jewish, first by birth, and then by choice.
I think that two of the most crucial changes in my life were determined by my being a Jew by birth (& not by any choice of my own): First it made me a refugee when I was three, when my parents fled Warsaw with me in September 1939 on the day the German planes began dropping bombs there. Seven years later it gained my mother and me immigrant status and enabled us to arrive in Australia in November 1946 as part of a quota of Jewish refugees from Shanghai, and consequently, after a few more years, to become Australian citizens. Which is what has made it possible for us all to be living here
(& the next most crucial change in my life, my marrying Nitza, could not have happened without a chain of choices I made that also began with the determining fact of my being a Jew by birth: my choice as a child to accept and embrace my Jewishness, and more choices in my teens that led me to emigrate from Melbourne to Israel in 1959 to become a member of a kibbutz. But this is already another sub-topic, matter for a later post.)
We fled Warsaw because my father could see at least some of what was coming. He obviously understood that the Germans would probably occupy Poland without much difficulty, and that they would persecute Jews. He knew that the Nuremberg laws defined you as a Jew if three or four of your grandparents were Jews. All four of mine were, as were all four of his and of my mother’s.
An equally ethnic (or racial, or tribal) criterion would have determined my mother’s & my eligibility for immigration to Australia as part of the quota. Sponsors were required too, but to be on the list you probably had to be first accepted by the Jewish committee organizing the movement of refugees out of Shanghai, and what would have determined there would have been the rabbinical, Judaist, definition: you are a Jew if your mother was a Jew.
Neither the Nazi nor the Judaist definition (which is also the criterion that enables any Jew from anywhere to immigrate to Israel/Palestine under the State of Israel’s “Law of Return”) relates to how you live, who you interact with, or what you believe.
So: first my Jewhood made me a refugee And even then, and during our long escape (months in Lemberg, and later in Vilna, until we got a Sugihara visa to Japan and a Soviet permit to traverse Russia and Siberia), indeed, not until I was seven or eight, in Shanghai, did I know anything Jewish, or see or hear anything I might think of as Jewish. I probably knew no more than the fact that my parents and I and the other refugees from Poland they mixed with were Jews, but there was nothing of what today I might call “Jewish content” in my parents’ lives or mine. My parents were Jews, but they were not religious Jews, they spoke no Yiddish, and had no little interest in or knowledge of either the Yiddish or the Hebrew cultures that flourished in Eastern Europe during or since their childhood. They saw themselves, and lived, as cultured cosmopolitan Poles, and in Warsaw probably had more Jews than non-Jews in their social milieu. My mother’s first name was Henryka. She was born in the year that the famous Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I suspect that she was named after him. She came from an even more assimilated family than my father: her parents too were highly assimilated, and her grandfather had been a famous architect who (so she wrote in her memoirs) who had been decorated by the Tsar. My father’s first name, the one given him at birth, was Benjamin, indeed a Jewish (Hebrew) name: his parents had been quite religious once, and still continued some Jewish observances (my mother in her memoirs wrote about a few rare occasions when she had gone with my father to a Friday night dinner at his parents’, and his mother had lit Sabbath candles) — but he had left all that far behind him, and had also chosen a new first name, Bronislaw (which, translated, means “Defender of the Slavs”!)…
All I know about our flight from Warsaw in 1939, and also about my parents’ life & my life there before that flight, I know from my mother’s memoirs, which I have typed from the notebooks she wrote for me and am including in my blog.
More to come…
Post 3, 130109
My Jewhood 002
I tend to think of Jewhood as a “fact”, determined by birth only; of Jewishness as a characteristic or quality that entails an acceptance of one’s Jewhood, a sense of one’s interrelatedness with other Jews past, present and future, & with whatever can be called Jewish history and culture; & of Judaism as a religion − the religion that for more than two millennia , until the Jewish “Enlightenment” and the “Emancipation” of Jews in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries as part of the general “Enlightenment” and the subsequent secularization of Western culture– was the dominant force in Jewish culture, and its official vehicle.
& if Jewhood is determined by birth, then it makes sense that it also entails certain inherited genetic features. I’ve looked at some of the latest findings on the subject, & will probably blog about that as well some other time. I mention it now merely as something to keep in mind when considering my Jewish ancestry. Of which I know very little: very little about my grandparents (almost entirely through my mother’s memoirs) and nothing at all about any ancestors before them, because I was not old enough to speak of such things with any grandparent before they were exterminated, because all my web hunts have been fruitless, (as they may have remained even if I had the resources to invest in more comprehensive searches). I’ve come to accept this fact (together with so many other realities), & am glad I have at least the information I do have.
I don’t even know my paternal grandparents’ first names. My mother didn’t mention those in the very little she wrote about them. She wrote more about her father, but not his first name either. She mentioned her mother’s first name, Ernestyna, but it was not until a visit to Warsaw to try to trace some records that I learned her maiden name, Akst, and my grandfather’s given names, Leopold Zygmunt. I think I always knew his surname, Hermelin, for that was my mother’s brother’s surname and of course her maiden name.
By their names, by the fact that they married one another, & by what my mother wrote about their life before their troubles started, I imagine he & she were from the same ethno-social milieu of quite sophisticated & culturally assimilated Jews in Western, Germanic, Poland (the parts that from 1795 until after World War I were annexed by Prussia and Austria).
I feel I know more about my grandmother than about my other grandparents, not only because my mother (naturally) wrote more about her than about her father, who died when she was 15 and who for years before that had been much less important in her life than her mother, but also because of all four of my grandparents she was the only one I had a close grandparent-child relationship with, at least for the first three-and-a-quarter years of my life, until the day my father, my mother, I and my carer drove away from her little apartment in Warsaw, leaving her there, to face the imminent German invasion alone, and never to see her again.
I have one photograph of her. I don’t know when it was taken. She was born in 1885, would have been 54 when we parted.
But I don’t actually remember her, & have no sure memories of the two of us together. Only one vague one: of my parents & I standing in a dim hallway facing her — though I see only her blurred face & figure — as we are parting for the last time, and I think that in that scene she finds the framed elongated mirror in the hall cracked (because of a recent bombing?) and says its a bad omen. But not a single other memory. Maybe because I was only 3¼ when we parted, and one doesn’t remember what one left behind at that age, or because I learned early to repress memories that might make me grieve for what I’d lost. Yet a later understanding of myself has made me feel, and feel with a warmth and a certitude, that in those three and a quarter years I was a most fortunate recipient of her love and care and that I imbibed from her so much of that in me that I can think of as my goodness or my positiveness of spirit — which i’ll be the first to admit isn’t there all the time, but, thank goodness, is still there at 76+ to help me get back from other moods.
About her love for me, my mother wrote (only 15 lines after writing of my birth): She loved you so much, you just can’t imagine. You were her only grandchild. Whatever you did was wonderful. She loved her own children very much, but it was nothing compared with the love she felt for you, dear. You were her sunshine.
In the next post I will introduce my main source, My Mother’s Memoirs, & will publish three sections of it that are relevant to the present stage of this topic: “Her Childhood”, “Her Parents’ Families”, and “Our Refugeehood: From Warsaw to Shanghai”. In the first two you can get a sense of how “Jewish” my grandparents, grand-uncles and grand-aunts were and also of what role Jewhood and Jewishness played in my mother’s life; and in the third a sense of how our lives (my parents’ and mine) were transformed when our Jewhood became such a determining factor.
Post 4, 130111
Introducing My Mother’s Memoirs
Today I’m publishing a new “parent page” scroll, the introductory page My Mother’s Memoirs [to view, click this link], & its first “child page” or “sub-page”, the first of the three sections I referred to in the previous post: Her Childhood [click this link].
Next I’ll start informing my friends whom I haven’t been in touch with that I’m now online with this new blog, & inviting them to follow it.& I guess this is the time to explain that what you receive when you Follow is only the latest post & the entire scroll of previous posts, & not the entire blog with all its pages & features. To view the entire updated blog when you receive the post, just click on the byline link under the post’s title.
Post 5, 130120
Her Parents’ Families (from My Mother’s Memoirs), &
Of course my primary reason for publishing My Mother’s Memoirs in this blog is to at last put it online – as another document of a person’s life in those times & places, to be accessible to all readers & particularly to my own family & descendants, & also as a part of a broader section of my blog, which I may call “Where I’m Coming From”, of which other sections, such as “My Jewhood &”, & others I plan to add, will be parts.
This section of her memoirs contains short descriptions, with only very little (but precious) information – first, and most briefly, about my maternal grandfather & his two sisters, and then, in slightly more detail, about my maternal grandmother’s four sisters and five brothers and their families. To read it, click Her Parents’ Families.
In this post I will relate only to what it tells me about the first subject I’ve chosen to focus on in this blog, my Jewhood, through what it says about the Jewhood of my maternal ancestors.
There are not many references to Jewish matters in this section, but what there is is revealing. So too is what is not there, like the fact that not one of my mother’s aunts and uncles or their spouses or children had a Jewish name.
My mother adds only one remark to what she wrote in Her Childhood about her maternal grandfather. “He was an exceptionally good-looking man. Very tall, and by this time, of course, gray. All his sons were exceptionally good-looking men. They were all about six feet tall, some even a bit taller, and all the daughters were beautiful, blond, with blue eyes.” This is not an explicit reference to anything Jewish, but it strikes me each time I read it (my mother, too, had blue eyes, & so do I). Now I find myself thinking of its implications about genetic aspects of my Jewhood (I take this up on a separate page. To view, click Are Jews a Race?).
About her grandmother, all my mother wrote was: “I remember her well only as an old woman and I think she was religious and kosher, at this time anyway. We used to come there every Friday night, the candles were burning, and all the family came there for supper.” Nowhere in her memoirs does my my mother suggest that her mother too lit candles on a Friday night. She herself never did. The first time I learned about Shabbes candles was in my teens…
She makes only one other mention in this section of any actual Jewish religious observances, when writing of her aunt Genia’s husband (and widower) and his sons, her close cousins Sevek and Fredek: “Uncle Marcus was religious and he made them pray and believe and always used to take them to synagogue up to the time they grew up. After he died they did not pray any more, and how strange it was for me to hear after the Second World War that both of them, lawyers for a long time and with some other diplomas too, holding positions in the Polish government after the war, had got baptized with their families.”
So: two of her maternal cousins converted to Catholicism, “got baptized”. So did four of her ten maternal uncles & aunts — & probably some more cousins.
There’s the dramatic story of her Aunt Roma: “I think she found company which absorbed all her unmarried years, and it was company that was unwanted in the family, because it was the company of Goyim. She fell in love with a Goy and she was the first to change her religion. My grandmother was still alive, and it was a terrible blow to her. She fought as hard as she could, poor woman, but she couldn’t do a thing. She gave no permission, she said she never wanted to see Roma again in her life, and the last words she said as Roma was leaving the house were that she wished that Roma would never have any children. Actually I’m putting it too mildly, I should say that she put a curse on her that she shouldn’t have children. The whole business was too much for my grandmother’s mind, something went wrong, and very soon after she died.”
Then (I don’t know in which order they converted), her Uncle Max: “I don’t know much about him because he also got baptized, and then kept to the baptized part of the family, while we were in close contact only with the Jewish part of the family.”
Her Uncle Julek: “During the war he too got called up to the Russian army. When he returned home, he lived in our place for some time, but he also fell in love with a Polish woman and got baptized. However, he used to keep in close contact with my mother, and I heard that during the Second World War and the time of the Ghetto he took care of her and tried to delay the moment of her being taken to the camp as long as he could, but the time came when he could help no longer.”
Her youngest Aunt, Hela , the Socialist: “After my grandmother died she moved in to our apartment and lived with us, and we used to share with her what little we had during those war years. But one day one of us found a cross with Jesus on it on the floor next to her suitcase. She had no other reason for changing religion at that time except belief. I don’t know if or what my mother said to her, but soon after that she went to live with our Aunt Roma, who was already a Catholic at this time.”
So it seems that my mother remembered only two Jewish characteristics (or perhaps two aspects of a single characteristic) that seem to have been shared by “the Jewish part” of my maternal grandmother’s family: an opposition to intermarriage with non-Jews & to conversion to Christianity, and a sense of identification with their Jewhood, of a kind of deep connection, a kind of solidarity — even with no visible cultural or behavioural signs — with Jews as such. The first of these is evident in the stories of the four conversions, and also appears even before any references to conversion, in my mother’s description of her (eldest) aunt Frania’s youngest son Heniek: “He had a non-Jewish girlfriend for many years. My aunt didn’t allow him to marry her, so he lived with her in an apartment without marriage, and never brought her to his mother’s house.” The second is expressed in my mother’s statement “we were in close contact only with the Jewish part of the family.” This, I think, was the essence – and the main (but not negligible) extent – of my mother’s conscious Jewishness or Jewish consciousness. As it probably was of my father’s too, but he must have observed some Jewish religious practices in his childhood or youth, as will emerge when I come to tell the strange story of how I was introduced suddenly to the Jewish religion, Judaism (thus beginning my move from mere Jewhood to a conscious Jewishness) when I was about 6 or 7.
In a comment to my Ongoing page, Moti Vidan wrote: I can already tell you, talking about “Jewhood”, that I’m having trouble with the term “Jew” itself. It is linked to me by either a religion I have nothing to do with or by a legacy of genocide. And what is this word anyway? What’s wrong with Judeans?
To which I replied: Moti, I can sympathize: I too don’t particularly like this word, & some of its connotations, but I don’t think we have a choice either of how any language expresses the Hebrew word “yehudi”, or of whatever “legacy” goes with that name. But I thank you for your two questions: trying to answer them has sparked me to start a new page, which I’m publishing with my next post. To view the new page, click What Is This Word “Jew”?
Post 6, 130208
“My Mother’s Memoirs” Now Completely Uploaded, & some photos…
I’ve now completed uploading all of My Mother’s Memoirs.
Re-reading them while preparing the texts for the blog format, I’ve again been deeply moved by so much of what my mother tells about her life before I was even thought about. And I feel I must say here that matters related to what I chose as a first “main focus” for my blog play a very minor role both in the experiences she writes about and in my response to them: her Jewishness, like her Polishness, seems like no more than a muted background color of an essentially human story, with its unique particularities of personality and character also reflecting the historical specifities of the time, the place, and the conditions in which it was lived and, inevitably, also, of those in which it was remembered and written the way it was. But because I focused so much on my “main focus” in my previous posts, I feel I need to say here that I’m publishing these memoirs as I’ve experienced them – not in relation to that or any other particular focus, but as a human story, one person’s story, a widowed mother’s story of her girlhood, young womanhood, marriage, motherhood, and refugeehood: indeed, by the time of the last of the writing, of the first four decades of her life.
And beside them, in this post, I’m publishing a first gallery of photos that Nitza has scanned and heightened for me from the few surviving photos that I have from those times. The first is the only photo I have of my mother from before she bore me — Henia (this is what everyone called her, though her official given name was Henryka), striking a pose in a swimsuit together with two girlfriends on some beach, an almost completely faded sepia photo; the others are of her &/or my father &/or me still in Warsaw, before our “flight”, some probably taken at the vacation place she wrote that we went to for three months every summer of the first three years of my life. In some photos I appear with a friend, and there is one photo of another boy by himself, in a colder season: I know that he was my closest friend, and I remember hearing in Shanghai that he too escaped with his family & was living in Madison, Wisconsin — but I not longer remember his name. The last two photos are of my Uncle Leon, my father’s elder brother, and of his son Robuś (my mother wrote about them in the section My Father’s Family, and mentions Leon again in the section Refugeehood.
Post 7, 130209
I’ve updated my preface to My Mother’s Memoirs
& I’ve also added scannings of the covers and first pages of the first and the third of the three notebooks in which my mother wrote them. See My Mother’s Memoirs…
Now some of my own memoirings
Preparing the sections of My Mother’s Memoirs & then publishing them here has also stirred & resparked in me a desire to prepare & publish my own memoirs here, starting from my first memories & what I remember from the first eleven years of my life that my mother did write about until the point where her narrative stops, in mid-1947, when we were living in that “small bedroom in the place of some old kosher Jew” (see Via Hong Kong to Melbourne), in Elwood…
I wrote in my preface to her memoirs that she wrote them because I asked her to, and that I think she probably stopped where she stopped because she assumed I didn’t need to be told what happened after that. Many years ago my eldest son, Jonathan, also asked me to write my memoirs (and I have on occasions tried to do this, and have quite a number of memoirings on disc), but for various reasons — some known to me & some not, that I won’t even start going into now — I never found a satisfying way to do it.
But now, with this blog as a structurer, I feel I may have found one. I don’t know how far I’ll get with it. I particularly want to start on my childhood years, but I think I’d like to at least get to the time when Jonathan turned 11 — my age at the time my mother’s memoirs stop. That would bring us to mid-1978, in Tel Aviv, when I turned 42, with Nitza approaching 35, Ohav approaching 9, and Zohar recently turned 7. But I’m anticipating. Today I’m launching a new “parent page” called My Memoirings, & publishing the first section of it: Childhood: Warsaw−Shanghai, a collation of fragments about my own rememberings from the period my mother wrote about in the sections of her memoirs that I’ve titled Motherhood & Refugeehood: From Warsaw to Shanghai.
Click on a pic to enlarge & see in gallery form.
In this and following sections of My Memoirings I will also publish some photographs from the period the section covers. I have only a few photographs from the first period. The two I’ve included above are among my long-time favorite pics of me from that time.
How I became consciously a Jew
It was in Shanghai that – after a shock discovery – I became consciously a Jew (I don’t know how better to express this). What precipitated this shock discovery was that before it I had become – emotionally at least – a Christian!
I’ll tell this story, in “instalments”, in this & following posts, drawing on the memoirings I already have on disc.
My Mixed Feelings About Israel/Palestine
I do want to post something at least once a week, but last week I felt it was time to start introducing my musings about certain things that have mattered to me & still matter to me when I think of them.
One general subject, which I’ve summed up in the title of the present post, keeps coming back to me, even nagging at me to at last come out with these things. I think it comes upon me in waves, sometimes in response to something I read or see on the news (the most recent of these being the spate of news & commentary about “Prisoner X” Ben Zygier & about dual Australian and Israeli citizenship, & also a short article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 130307 by Ruth Pollard, “‘Systematic’ abuse of Palestinian youth”). & sometimes it comes with an urgency, a want to express, usually accompanied by a feeling of not knowing how to do it or what good it might do anyway… So last week I started trying different ways of introducing it, & it has taken me a fortnight to prepare this post.
I wonder how many Jews really have very mixed feelings (as I do) about the Israel/Palestine nexus. From what I see & read online & on TV, Jews who publicly express themselves seem to have quite unmixed & unambivalent feelings & views – most of them defending (at least, if not championing) Israel & tacitly accepting or even justifying whatever inhumane action “the Jewish state” commits in the ongoing conflict as regrettable but necessary “collateral damage”, a minority protesting, condemning (if not attacking) Israel for any or all of those.
Foremost among the former are the presidents, chairpersons or spokespersons of national or state Jewish roof-bodies made up of delegates of officially recognized Jewish organizations in that country or state. In Australia these roof-bodies are the federal “Executive Council of Australian Jewry” (ECAJ), and the state Victorian & NSW “Jewish Boards of Deputies”. In the US, where the most important “pro-Israel” lobby in the world is active, there is a more complex network of Jewish roof-bodies. One of these is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which together with another Jewish roof-body, has set up the Israel Action Network to protect Israel’s “right to exist as a sovereign democratic Jewish state“. The JCPA honestly characterizes itself as “the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community”.
But I suspect that today most Jews in any country (& especially in the more “developed” “First World” and “Second World” countries), are (like myself) not “organized”, & do not belong to or identify with any of the official Jewish organizations. I also feel that all the Jews in any country do not really constitute a “community” in any real or physical sense, though I think there is certainly such a thing as Jewish “community feeling”, even when it goes little further than feeling something in common with other Jews. That feeling may also extend to feelings about Israel. After all, Israel is so often referred to, not only by Zionists but also by the media at large, as “the Jewish state”, and Zionists even call Israel “the state of the Jewish people”.
I also suspect that all those who do publicly express themselves unambivalently do actually also have very mixed feelings, but that they keep the feelings that conflict with their chosen position to themselves (or suppress them in themselves) for fear of one kind or another (or several).
Anyhow, I have very mixed feelings about the whole complex Israel/Palestine nexus, & also some understandings that I sometimes think & feel are important, & I want to try to express them (over time) in this blog.
My own case is not a typical one, I know. I lived in Israel for more than half of my 76+ years, as a dual citizen. I married my Israeli-born wife Nitza there, we raised our three sons there, we all had occasional (& sometimes close) contacts with the families of Nitza’s sister & cousins, & also had not a few friends & many acquaintances there. While living in Israel I lived as an Israeli citizen: I worked (for many years as an untenured university lecturer on English & American Literature, & for even more years as a translator of art-critical, scholarly & literary writings from Israeli-Hebrew to English & paid income tax & “national insurance” (social security) levies; I voted in elections, served in the army reserves, participated in demonstrations against the Occupation. Nitza & I left Israel for good almost 12 years ago, primarily because we now had a grandson, Emmanuel, in Australia, born to our eldest son Jonathan & his Israeli-born wife Ora, & our youngest son Zohar was also living in Australia, but also because we both wanted to live here now. & I was glad to leave Israel, even though I loved so much about living there, because I wanted to no longer feel complicit in any way in so much that I opposed, and felt (and I still feel) that Israel’s wars are not my wars. Another important reason why we came back here was because we could, because we were & are Australian citizens.
& we’re still living here, as Australian citizens – & as immigrants (I can think of myself as a second-time immigrant: the first time I immigrated was with my mother in 1946) – & like many first- & second- generation immigrant families, we (Nitza & I & our three sons & two Israeli-born daughters-in-law) are all bilingual – & on an everyday basis. We speak to each other in a mixture of Israeli-Hebrew & English, sometimes even switching languages in mid-sentence. Our middle son Ohav lives in Israel but visits us for about a month every year, & when he’s not here we often skype, sometimes en famille. I still do some translation work & continue to conduct email conversations with clients in Israel. I still have very warm feelings for friends & acquaintances in Israel, even if I don’t keep up contact except perhaps rarely with some on facebook; Nitza has skype & email contacts with close friends in Israel; she reads news & articles in Haaretz & Maariv & Ynet online every day & keeps me posted on many things; I feel & think much & often about the situation there & the issues surrounding it. & we also have the same, if much more occasional and random, bilingual contact with quite a number of immigrants from Israel now resident in the Byron Shire, individuals & families generally of our sons’ generation or younger, who have also chosen to live here rather than there… (I’ve heard it said that the two largest groups of immigrants in the shire are from Germany and from Israel – and by the conversations in Israeli-Hebrew or German I sometimes overhear in passing on the street or in a shop I think it’s probably true).
When I first came to Israel, in 1959, I was an idealist who believed in Zionism & had come to Israel to help to “rebuild the Jewish homeland” (which, as a believer in the Borochovian Socialist Zionism of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, I thought of as a necessary condition for effective participation by Jews in the world socialist revolution). Had I been told then that I could do this only if I gave up my Australian citizenship, I think I would have done it. But I wasn’t, & I was happy to keep my Australian citizenship, an Australian passport would be better to have when entering other countries or visiting Australia again. It wasn’t until 1967, after the Six-Day War & the occupation of Palestinian territories that followed it, that I started having second thoughts about Zionism, & also to feel glad I hadn’t given up my Australian citizenship. Nitza & I were living in Melbourne then: we’d come to visit my mother in 1965, not intending to stay, but we stayed four & a half years, during which time Jonathan was born, my mother died, I “turned on” & “tuned in” (a subject for some later memoirings & posts), & I might well have stayed here then had Nitza not decided to go back to Israel because she didn’t feel secure with the “tuned in” me in Oz & also wanted Jonathan to have the same kind of childhood that she’d had (as if that were possible).
When I left Melbourne again in 1969 to go back to Israel, it was not as a Zionist, it was to be with Nitza & Jonathan. For the next few decades I lived there as a citizen who loved many things about the country & the culture & lots of people but had increasingly strong feelings about policies & practices pursued by successive governments of the country & the occupied territories. Many of the Israelis I mixed with had similar feelings. There were then (& there still are) not a few other Israelis who publicly objected to & opposed those policies & practices. I read or heard or saw some of these in the media, encountered many of them at demonstrations, & felt with them the increasing general frustration & sense of inability to do anything real about these things or to affect the views of the majorities that elected these governments. Like so many other Tel-Avivians I knew, we lived our life there in a bubble that essentially closed us away from matters that did not directly impact on our everyday lives (although, like them, we would often find ourselves putting our lives on pause to watch “breaking news” reports of terrorist actions, reprisals, wars, & “critical” political developments). The “everyday life” of this Tel-Aviv “bubble”, I should add, also incorporated a rich, vibrant & diverse cultural, social & economic life, replete with media, literature, cinema, theater, music, museums, art galleries (with access to both the latest & the best in Israeli-Hebrew and international cultural creation), sport, restaurants, cafes, etc., etc. & there was much to love (& much that I loved & still love) about Israeli-Hebrew cultural creation & people involved in it.
I’m glad we came back to Australia, glad to be living here without the pressures of life in Israel, glad to be no longer paying taxes to a regime of occupation that I opposed. I’m glad to be a resident & citizen in a country where race, ethnicity or religion no longer legally constitute factors determining whether one can immigrate & become, & then be, an equal citizen, in a country that is progressing more and more (if not always rapidly or consistently) towards equal civil rights for all, irrespective not only of race, ethnicity & religion, but also of gender & sexual orientation. I think “progressing” is the right word: Australia has come a long way since, say, 1933 (see, for example, Jewish Immigration After WW2 & History of the Jews in Australia) & especially since the scrapping of the White Australia Policy – & there’s still a long way to go, & there are people saying so, and ongoing public discussion of critical issues (see, on the issue of asylum seekers for example, Malcolm Fraser’s article in the SMH of 130304, and a 120817 opinion piece by Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia).
I’m still technically a dual citizen, but I’ve only kept my Israeli passport for the few brief visits I may make there, you get out of the airport quicker.
So: my mixed feelings may not be quite the same as those of many other Jews who have mixed feelings, & I suspect that some of what I feel stems from those emotions in me that drew me to socialism in my youth, but I imagine that in essence many Jews are torn between conflicting feelings of love & antipathy, pride & shame, hope & fear for & about much that is done in Israel/Palestine, by or to Israelis, by or to Palestinians, & for & about much that is connected to what I’m calling the whole complex Israel/Palestine nexus.
I love & care about much about Israel — people, places, landscapes, atmospheres, smells, tastes… I feel for the many Jewish Israelis who live there not because they chose the Zionist idea but because they were born there, & Israel is the only homeland they have. Many of them may even not be Zionists in their thinking, though all have been conditioned to some degree by the state’s education system & by the general consensus. & many may accept Zionism, but cannot think of its xenophobic implications or consequences. I do not want harm to happen to any of them, I feel they are in a tragic bind.
But I also have feelings about what the State of Israel does, & how that affects both the perpetrators & the victims, & I have feelings for & about the Palestinians, for people I don’t know who were born in pre-Israel Palestine or after the Naqba, to become either not-quite-equal citizens of the “sovereign democratic Jewish state” or denizens of refugee camps outside it, most of them under Israeli occupation since 1967, & who also have no other homeland, whose situation cannot be humanely disregarded even though the resistance of their militants to the occupation resorts to acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians.
& I have problems not only with the occupation, but also with the contradictions inherent in the notion of a “sovereign democratic Jewish state”, with the Zionist representation of Israel as “the state of the Jewish people”, with the widespread practice of the general media of referring to Israel as “the Jewish state” – & also, I think, with the idea that there can be a viable & lasting “two-state solution”.
I hope to take these matters up further in later posts, but will welcome comments at this stage too.
A Post: “The days go by”, & a Page: “A two-state solution” for Israel/Palestine?”
The days go by
The days go by, or maybe it’s I who go by, mostly with other things on & in my mind than the things I blog about: life things, family things, health things, home maintenance things, things I read in books or online, things we see on TV, things we talk about, things we don’t talk about, things I remember, things I forget – &, beyond & beneath these, things I feel that I know I’m feeling & others that I don’t even know I’m feeling… Same as everyone, I suppose, everyone has their own mix of things they think about & feel & know they feel & don’t know they feel, only a fraction of which gets expressed…
Autumn’s begun, & even though the rainy season hasn’t ended there’s a cooler crispness in the air some days amid the last many days of high humidity. I’m feeling better today after a difficult few days… In the northern hemisphere it’s spring that has started. In the three weeks since my last post the Hebrew Feast of Spring, aka Passover, aka the Feast of Freedom has come & gone, seven days in Israel, eight days in the Diaspora, beginning the Monday night before last with the traditional Seder held in many Jewish homes. We didn’t have one at home, and didn’t go to one, we were invited but didn’t want to go, both of us weary of the repeated ritual & the constrained socializing, happy to be free of the obligation which we had fulfilled for so many years “for the children” or “for the family” or even “for our friends” (the several times over the decades when we had either edited or rewritten the texts to be read). We just raised a glass and said the one Passovery thing we could affirm as a wish & a choice for ourselves, including the choice we had made not to be at a Seder this evening: “Mi-avdut le-herut!” (“From slavery to freedom!”)…
I have thoughts about the traditional texts too, but won’t go there now, perhaps another time. I began something in my last post, & have had several responses, not all of them directly. D, a friend in Israel who is a close friend of Nitza’s since their childhood, emailed her that it was difficult for her to read what I’d written. This is my home, she wrote, my whole life is here. & I think I understand: like so many Jewish Israelis of her and Nitza’s generation, their parents came to post-Balfour-Declaration British Mandatory Palestine/Eretz-Israel carrying the Zionist dream of a life in a country where Jews could live with dignity & one day have their own state & be free of foreign oppression. They joined the earlier generations of Zionist and Hebraist colonizers who had come and settled and worked to build a “national” economy & society & culture, to revive and structure the ancient & sacred Hebrew language into a modern vernacular, & to create a Jewish public sphere in the land they believed was their historical homeland & which most of them related to almost as a terra nullius, a “land belonging to no one” (in spite of the presence, always understood as temporary, of the occupying British forces & administration, & of the not so clearly temporary presence of the indigenous Palestinian population, much as many of the earlier colonizers of Australia had done here. gave their all to raise a generation of native Israeli-Jews who could live good lives & be proud of who they were – as Jews in the countries they had come from had never been able to be.
We can’t know how many really believed in these things, or how many merely accepted the myth & the ideologies that drove the forces acting for the creation of this entity that was known as the Yishuv (I think the best translation of this word is the Settling, because although yishuv is a substantive that in other contexts should be translated simply as settlement, the plural being yishuvim, it is also a gerund that expresses an ongoing process, that of settling) until it became, in 1948, the State of Israel. We also can’t know how many considered the possible consequences – moral, political, psychological, sociological, economic, military, etc. etc., for their own & for future generations – of ignoring the effects of their basic disregard & subsequent treatment of the Palestinian inhabitants of this land, which has many parallels to attitudes of pioneering colonizers to the indigenes of many countries of what for Europeans became the “Second World”. How much compassion can one have for people who resent your incursion (which you believe is somehow yours by “right”) & also sometimes resort to violence to express their resentment & try to make you move away?
Raised by parents who saw the future in their children & did what they could to give their children a good life in this “Old New Land”, Nitza’s generation (as a whole, of course this is a generalization and there would have been exceptions) had a childhood & youth that gave them a deep identification with the country of their birth. They imbibed this at home, at school, in youth movements (a vibrant social environment in comradeship groups that were a focus of their social lives through their high school years & into the years of national service in the IDF, & for some continued into kibbutzim). Most of them have built their lives in Israel, they’ve built families & raised children & many now have grandchildren; they’ve established relationships, neighbourhood connections, & cultural associations that are linked indissolubly to the place they live in & love; they have lived through several wars, survived the Scud attacks during the Gulf War of 1991; many of them & their children have fought in this country’s wars. They have grieved together for the many casualties of battles & of terrorist attacks, have commemorated the fallen in these wars on many Remembrance Days, & celebrated the military & other achievements of their state on many Independence Days.
They are for the most part secular Jews, not religious, although most will have the traditional family gatherings on Seder nights (whether they actually read from the Haggadah or not, or, as many do, skip through the part until the meal begins & ignore the part that follows) and Rosh Hashanah (the Hebrew New Year) eve; their sons will be circumcised eight days after they’re born & have a bar-mitzvah when they turn 13, & their daughters will have bat-mitzvahs. They’re secular Jews who feel their Jewhood as an ethnicity, feel themselves part of the Jewish people, & each year on Holocaust Day commemorate those who perished in World War II & the heroism of the ghetto fighters & the partisans who resisted the Nazi machine. Many of them may feel stress & distress about the ongoing conflict, many of them may have participated in rallies & been part of the “peace camp” until it imploded in 2000 after the abortive Camp David summit, & may still wish for peace & be opposed to the occupation & to the current political climate in the country & even feel despair because they’re now a minority in the demographic make-up of the present-day Israeli-Jewish population, which has changed dramatically since the 1967 war & the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – but still they see as Israel as their home, as a Jewish state they want to continue to live in.
So of course it cannot be a solution for them to leave their established lives & homes in Israel, (even if they could get an immigration visa to somewhere like here & had the means to make the move) & to have to try to start a new life in another country, with another language, another culture, other customs, to become foreigners, immigrants, as earlier generations of their ancestors had to do every now and then.
Many of them, I imagine, probably may well support a two-state solution, and would support the ceding of occupied territories now settled by Jews (the “territories for peace” formula) to make this possible. But, as I wrote in my last post, I find the idea that there can be a viable & lasting “two-state solution” very problematic. I’ve now written a page about this, & am publishing it with this post:
A two-state solution for Israel/Palestine?
I once really supported the two state idea, participated in several “Peace Now” demonstrations for it in Tel Aviv during the ’90s, & remember marching alongside other demonstrators in the middle of the road in Dizengoff Street in on the way to Rabin Square for a protest rally, carrying placards and chanting, in Hebrew, “Yisrael Falastin, shtey medinot leshney amim!” [Israel Palestine, Two States for Two Peoples!]. We were a minority then, and encountered not a few hecklers on the sidewalks along the way who angrily berated us as traitors… Click here to read entire page.
A pause, & maybe another, & a post I was preparing
For the past few weeks I’ve been coping with some health issues (none of them life-threatening, no need for anyone to worry, but also not easy & quite exhausting), & I haven’t even thought of continuing with the blogging. I’m recovering and regaining strength nicely now, though slowly (which is fine, I’m in no hurry).
But I’ve been through something, and I’ve been feeling somehow more distant from the things I’ve been writing about in this blog. I now want to rethink what I want to do with this blog, how, if at all, to continue with it. So I’m writing this now to explain both my previous pause and the pause that will or may follow this present post for I have no idea how long.
Before I stopped thinking of my blog I had prepared a draft of what was to be my next post. It began with a quotation of a comment on my previous post that I’d already received (submitted on 130418) but hadn’t yet related to. On rereading it, I decided that although I do feel more distant from these things right now, I still feel more or less the same way about this matter, & so I may as well as post what I’d prepared. Here it is:
In the latest recent comment on my last post, Peter Weiniger wrote:
“As always, an eloquent and empathetic commentary, this time, on the so-called ‘two state solution’. If we dismiss this as the least worst solution, what alternatives remain: the one state solution, advocated by the far left and nationalist Israelis, but for different reasons and outcomes. The left position: a state for Jews and Palestinians dominated by Palestinians, who will comprise the majority, or the nationalists: a state dominated by a Jewish majority. Or do we settle for the status-quo? No easy, convenient solutions here, I’m afraid.”
Reading Peter’s concise & I’d say accurate iteration of the three kinds of “solutions” that are being mooted as alternatives to the “status quo”, I realize that I think it’s wrong to call any of them solutions. Surely it’s more correct to see them as proposals, ideas being advocated by different interest groups with different agendas, and thus also as drivers of different kinds of activism in the status-quo.
I think all of them are — or would be — convenient for some & more than just inconvenient for others, as is the uneasy & not-so-static status quo, & I think it’s hard to foresee any clear resultant of the conflicting vectors of this complex dynamism.
I don’t “dismiss” any of the proposals, least of all what Peter aptly calls the “least worst” one. I just don’t think any of them is a solution, in any reasonable or humane sense of that word.
But not I’m not ultimately pessimistic: I hope & believe that among the younger generation of both “peoples” there will emerge some who will be able to imagine, conceive, act for, & ultimately bring about a viable alternative to the ongoing strife.
& that is not all: I for one am glad to know that for some time now there have also been various forms of cooperation & dialogue between Israeli Jews & Palestinian Arabs, especially among the youth. This process, in fact, can be seen as peace actually being made, at least among those participating in these activities, but surely also rippling beyond them to at least everyone they come in contact with. It makes me think of the deeper meaning of the saying or slogan I have encountered several times, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” & I think it’s good to keep in mind that with all the terrible things that are still happening, the recurrent attacks & counter-attacks with their inevitable casualties, the grief & the bitterness that they cause, the suspicion & fear & hatred of the other side that they provoke – at the same time there are Israeli Jews & Palestinian Arabs who are already living in peace with one another & at the same time building the basis for future peace in the land. There is much more of this going on than we generally imagine or know about. With a bit of googling I’ve drawn up a short list of sites that tell a little of this story…
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/1/prweb10378852.htm (Israeli and Palestinian Youth Musicians of Heartbeat Embark on Debut U.S. Tour to Promote Cooperation and Understanding)
Not that there aren’t difficulties:
& if anyone knows of other sites on Israeli-Palestinian collaborations, please send me the links to add to this list…