Born into Hebrew, born into Jewhood…

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).

n bornintohebrew
“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):

unsacrificed (2)
And here, for reference, is the chapter from Genesis, in English, & in Hebrew, followed by a further remark.

genesis22

genesis22h
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.

Shifts of focus (lines & embeddings)

I composed most of this post yesterday /
& have added a few lines (in this font) /
this new, or next (tomorrow’s yesterday) today /

Today Nitza posted on Facebook a portrait of her and me. /

In three hours it has received 138 likes
(including one from me), & around 50 comments,
most of them of course in Israeli Hebrew
& Nitza’s enjoying it. She reads me one
in English:
Poignant
Powerful
Permeated with history
of experience

a perceptive & poetic summation
of its affective energy & content
which I join in appreciating,
looking up
from the article by Gideon Levy,
the uncompromising Hebrew voice
of humanity in Palestine,

about Mohammad Kosba
I’ve been thinking of sharing:


[to read the article, click on its title]

& putting aside my thoughts & feelings
about this tragedy & all the tragedies
that keep on happening in that tragic nexus
of israel & palestine
& look again at the amazing portraits she created
& see glimpses of our past & present selves there
thru the corrosions of time

(how different, I think this next today,
this portraiture is to that in the layout
of Sami Kosba’s memorial poster for his three sons)

& when i return to my computer
I feel a need to comment on a post I shared yesterday
where we lived for decades & saw the erasure happening:


[to read the article, click on its title,
to read the comment, click on “1 comment’]

& earlier today I wrote these lines:
In all of Palestine (total population approaching 13 million)
which is totally controlled by the State of Israel
only the eight million Israeli citizens have civil rights
(& among them, too, some have less rights than others)
while more than 4.5 million Arab Palestinians don’t.
How will this injustice be righted?
Who will demand equal human rights
for every Palestinian, Arab or Hebrew,
male or female, Muslim or Jewish or Christian
or secular, in a democratic Palestine?
Is this really so far-fetched?

& then i think about the portrait/s again
& about how different we look today,
four years on, & about how different,
& how apart from, & how together
with one another we are, a good team,
two Hebrew Palestinian Australians
(I would like to say, because that’s how I see us,
& all the other “Israeli” Australians I know,
although I know almost all of them don’t —
but I can’t say it for Nitza, she insists
she’s Israeli, not Palestinian,
even though she was born there before Israel was,
& even though I say to her, Israel is in Palestine),
living our ongoing “old age” in Hebrew & English here
in the peace & beatitude of this lush green
hill country
in northeastern New South Wales, our hearts still attached
& our minds daily straying from what is near & around us
to that wartorn land we still love,
with one focus or another.

& here’s the screenshot crop of Nitza’s post
that I started this post with
three hours after she posted it:

USportraitpost

Happy happy birthday, Nitza

n at amalia131 crop1You’re 71 today, a month or so & 51 years
since first we met,
& began to love each other
& married only a few months later

you,
I wrote in some lines for your 50th birthday,
dancing suns in deep brown eyes,
spirit comrade of my spirit
brilliant seer, generous giver,
truest partner of my living and loving
and parenting and doing, […]

I still feel so blessed that you still are
all the things I said there, & so much more,
indeed much wiser than before, still the so-creative
artist, inspirer, of me & also of so many actual & virtual
friends, a true comrade, partner, seer,  & revealer to me
of truths & things I wouldn’t have seen without your
unafraid showing & telling, giver of wisdom & love

& attention to me, to n at amalia132 crop1our sons, & all our family,
true friend to our daughters-in-law, whose sides
you unstereotypically take so often, wonderfully devoted
to our four grandchildren who I feel are so fortunate
to have you as their grandmother. What would I do,
what would I be, without you, I often think, but I know
the answer: I am what I am now, already,
also because you are what you are.

So I bless you on this day, & bless this day,
November 12th, when you were born, 71 years ago,
in 1943, as the Red Army was driving the Nazis
out of Ukraine where your parents came from,
& the British were already in Italy,
& the Americans were already bombing Berlin,

& your parents named you Nitzhia, which compounds
both Victory, nitzahon, and Eternity, netzah,
& you for me are both,
victorious over so many obstacles, & for ever
the one my soul loves & unconsciously always sought.