With an invitation to submit translations into other languages.
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).
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):
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.
& a few more words, that I won’t try to write in Polish, which no longer comes easily to me, nor in Hebrew,
which I speak & read & write almost as much as English…
W Hong Kongu z Mamusią, tak jeszcze nazywałem jej tam, i ona mnie nazywała Rysio
In Hong Kong with Mamusia, as I still called my mother then, and she called me Rysio
Not long afterwards I’d start & continue calling her Mum, & she’d call me Richard, because after we reached Australia I spoke to her only in English. The pics below were taken outside the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, where we, together with a few hundred other Jewish refugees from Shanghai, almost all of them like us also refugees from Holocaust Europe who had found some sort of haven in that then Japanese-occupied yet, also somehow “international” city, one of the few places in the world one could enter then without a visa were enabled to stay through the endeavors of the “Joint” (JDC) & the philanthropic generosity 0f the hotel’s owners, Lawrence & Horace Kadoorie, who made the entire sixth (top) floor, which in normal times was the hotel’s ballroom, available to us as sleeping quarters (sheets were hung from a long rope extending from he entrance to the rear of the hall, men slept on the left & women & children — including pre- & almost adolescent boys like myself — on the right), & provided three full meals a day to all in two “sittings” in the hotel’s dining room, & a synagogue room for the religious among the refugees…
Our six or so months in Hong Kong, waiting for a ship that would take us to our new home country was for me at 10, and also for her at 41, both a difficult & a wonderful period (her memoirings of this period can be read in the chapter Via Hong Kong to Melbourne of My Mother’s Memoirs that I published some time ago on this blog. I think in a way we were closer to one another at this time than at any other time in my life that I can remember…But other stories (& pics ) I’ve since found from then will have to wait for other times…