Nitza posted this today, A portrait of both of us, on the background of fragments of the Hebrew biblical text on the moving & powerfully symbolic story of Abraham’s binding & almost-sacrifice of his “only” son Isaac (Genesis 22.1–18).
“I was born into Hebrew / & that, it becomes clear, is fate”, she wrote in Hebrew.
She indeed was born into Hebrew, in Tel Aviv, Palestine, in 1943. I wasn’t. I was born into Polish, in Warsaw, Poland, in 1936.
But we were both born into Jewhood, which, like a language, is something you’re born into — even more than a language, my own experience tells me, for I stopped thinking in & speaking Polish even before I arrived in Australia in 1947 as a refugee, but haven’t stopped feeling Jewish since I learned I was a Jew, in Shanghai. & though not born into Hebrew, I learned a lot of it during my teens & early twenties, and much much more after I “ascended” to Israeland in 1959 & lived there for close on four decades.
& today, here in Australia, we both live in two languages — English & Hebrew, thinking & speaking in one as often as the other & sometimes both in the one sentence, & reading & writing both from right to left & from left to right…
& we are both enriched by this bilingualism, which is also a biculturalism, for in & by means of Israeli Hebrew the Zionist nation-building project in Palestine has engendered a rich culture that transcends & sometimes critiques & opposes Zionism — a culture that connects to (& sometimes critically deconstructs) works from all periods of Hebrew & Jewish culture & also, through translations, to works from countless other cultures, periods and languages.
The biblical story that Nitza relates to in this work has in fact been taken as a motif in numerous works in Israeli Hebrew literature and visual art, often in bitter protest at the nation’s sacrificing its sons “for the nation”, & sometimes relating it to the story of Abraham’s casting out his first son, Ishmael.
Here’s a sonnet I wrote on this theme quite a few decades ago (in English):
And here, for reference, is the chapter from Genesis, in English, & in Hebrew, followed by a further remark.
Well, so far, if this mythical Abraham represents a primal ancestor of all Jews, in some of his “offspring” (the ESV’s euphemistic translation of “seed”, a word that emphasizes the patriarchalist genetics of Judaism) “all the nations of the earth” have indeed been “blessed”, but in or by others that is not exactly the case. Ask those who live under occupation, or who are forced exiles from, the country where this story is said to have happened.