“I’m emotionally autistic…” (lines I just found from April 2012) [Collating Smatterings of Memoirings (6)]

Suddenly, the other day, I found this file. I’d already given up on finding more smatterings of memoirings on my hard disk (it turns out I haven’t done all that much memoiring), and suddenly this showed up. I’ve read it a couple of times now, and I think it adds some info & does a little more than that. It’s in lines (of “verse”), a form I often like to write in. Is it poetry? Maybe, it depends on how you define “poetry”. Is it good poetry? Maybe, & maybe some of it is & some of it isn’t. I don’t know if it matters. It’s another picture of me (as this brief intro is too). Was I planning to continue the story from where it breaks off? Possibly, I don’t remember. Will I take that point as the starting point for a sequel? Possibly… Oh, & I’ve also added two links to two previous memoirings…


I’m emotionally autistic, & like a hermit, she tells me,
& it’s probably, given my history, post-traumatic,
how I don’t keep up contact with friends past or present,
might not initiate contact with my sons if she didn’t
don’t wake up one morning thinking
maybe I’ll do this or that with a grandchild
(she no longer mentions how not open I am with her
or not interested enough in her… she’s no longer frustrated
about that as she long was…& I can see it & feel it, & know it’s true,
(though I think it’s also arche- and stereo-
typically heterosexual-masculine)
& am grateful for this light she has given me.
Though i’m glad when they come or when we’re where they are,
& gladly talk with them & do things with & for them when they want to,
i only rarely spontaneously imagine something to initiate with them,
& even more rarely will myself to.

120414 (cont.)
& only yesterday I was thinking displacement,
my so-many displacements since I was three,
not easily forming attachments or making friends
& when I did & then left them because we moved again
or because I’d broken with them,
hardly ever keeping up contact or even remembering them,
an early strategy for living with separation
ever since we left my loving grandmother in Warsaw
as the German bombs were falling.

yes, she said, & not having much contact with my parents before that,
both too busy with each other & their business & their socializing
(& I can’t even remember the carer I know I had all those first years of my life.

& yes the need was there, & I think I found in the youth movement a lifebuoy,
& again in later years, in the hippie times,
found a way to gather with some people around me,
& again in the Inyan, with only a couple of friends, true,
but visions of a global comradeship…

& I now think maybe it’s the autism
even more basically than the displacements
that affects also my feelings of not really belonging
to any one place, one country, one culture,
as if what I adopt & am adopted by I cannot adopt fully
as evidently I cannot fully commit emotionally
(which I stress, because where it matters practically I can and do)
not feeling fully Australian though Australia’s my home,
for more than a decade this third time around.

the first time I came with my mother when I was 10,
we arrived in Melbourne, Jewish refugees from Shanghai
I was by then no longer in any way Polish,
& from the time in Shanghai when I knew we were Australia-bound
I actually refused to speak to my mother in Polish
so that she could learn English quicker
(& have not spoken or felt Polish since, though I still remember
quite a few words, some opening lines of songs,
as of the national anthem, Jescze Polska nie zginęła,
“Poland is not yet lost”, well – it’s long lost to me).
I of course never thought of myself as Chinese, how could I have,
& the only group identity I accepted then was my being Jewish,
& though there was nothing of Judaism as a religion or of Jewish culture
in my parents’ lives, they had sent me to a Jewish school in Shanghai,
& my father spent the last year of his life
dying in the Shanghai Jewish Hospital,
as all the skin peeled painfully off his flesh
until he was swathed in bandages head to toes
with only his mouth & eyes & nostrils visible…
& died there on Yom Kippur (while I, 9, was praying
in the synagogue, because, yes, I tell the story elsewhere,
he also introduced me to the synagogue
after my parents found my rosary with its golden crucifix)
& was buried at the Shanghai Jewish Cemetery

& we lived in Elwood, St. Kilda, then again Elwood, St.Kilda,
then deep in South Caulfield for several years,
until at 23, after about a decade of membership & involvement,
belonging, to Zionist youth movements,
not one, but three, moving in dialectical leaps from right to left,
from the right-wing, militaristic Betar
(“The Jordan has two banks. This one is ours, & the other is too!”),
to the moderately socialistic Habonim
to the Marxist revolutionary-socialist Hashomer Hatzair,
including a year and a half of preparation for kibbutz living
on the Hebrew Training Farm some miles from Mooroopna
& some years of organizing and group-leading in the movement,
I boarded a ship bound for Genoa, hitchhiked for a few months
around Europe & then took ship to Haifa
to join a kibbutz in the Negev that the movement
had selected for the first Australian contingent
of which we two were the last, to join the kibbutz
because that was the ideal I then believed in & wanted to work for
more than to join the comrades who had arrived there before me
or rather fusing all these in the need to belong…
but almost three years later I no longer believed in that
& left the kibbutz, but not Israel, still feeling more Jewish than anything else,
and also thinking here’s a place where I don’t have to think about being Jewish,
I just am & so’s almost everybody else…
& all those years in Israel I couldn’t feel fully Israeli either,
I’d sometimes think of myself as Australian, but also felt I wasn’t….

the second time, I came with my wife of 16 months, also to Melbourne,
mainly to be near my mother, she wasn’t well…


Collating Smatterings of Memoirings (1)

[At my life-partner Nitza’s & our three sons request/s, I’ve stared collating smatterings of memoirings I’ve written over the past decades, starting from those written since I got my first computer, an Apple IIE, in 1983, when we were living in Geulah Street, Tel Aviv.]


From 1983 on 1943(?)

It was snowing. Henry could see the flakes through the space between the pink floral curtains across the room from his bed.
“Mama, Mamusia! Look!” he called, though he couldn’t see his mother. She would hear from the kitchen alcove, where she’d be making breakfast, and sandwiches for him to take to school. Her answer didn’t match his six-year-old excitement, but didn’t dampen it either. It hadn’t snowed in Shanghai last winter or the winter before: it was almost half his lifetime ago since he’d last seen snow – in Siberia, from the train windows and at the stations where they’d stopped sometimes for days. Too long ago, and he’d been afraid it wouldn’t snow here this winter too. But there were the flakes, still falling as he


From 1984 on 1945/1939>…

I grew up mostly without a father. Not that I’m all grown up yet, at almost 48. I was nine and a quarter when he died (he was 40), so I’d done some growing up before that, but not much. He hadn’t been around much during the year before he died, because he was on his back in the hospital all that year, losing his skin. It had started with a small spot on his forehead, but by the time he died he didn’t have a spot of skin on his whole bandaged body. Raw flesh under the bandages. I visited him, maybe once a week, maybe more, with my mother, probably more at first, less towards the end, when it got to be a bore. I knew he was going to die. He knew too, so did Mum. I didn’t call her Mum then, only started that when we got to Australia, over a year later. She’s dead too, died in Melbourne 17 years ago. I’ll get to that. My father, though, hadn’t been around all that much even before he got that mysterious and incurable “oriental skin disease” as Mum said the doctors had called it. He used to be out all day, doing business he said and Mum said, but I don’t know. Could be, because times were hard, war time, and we were refugees. But I think he found time to have a good time too. Just an impression, no evidence. I’ve not spoken to anyone that knew him since I was a child, except Mum, and I didn’t ask her that question.
This was in Shanghai. We had arrived there in 1940, I think, maybe ‘41. My father had managed to get us out of Warsaw on the day the Germans invaded Poland. During the bombardment. I’ve seen shots of it on TV, but I have no memories of our escape, only some facts I’ve been told. And an image of a room in Warsaw, and of a street full of cars. The room was in our fashionable apartment, a large front room with curved windows over the street, sparsely but ornately furnished, pink wallpaper and a large mirror. And we visited Grandmother before we left, Mother took me, and there was a dark wood staircase running along a wall, and a large mirror at the bottom and the mirror was broken and someone, either Mother or Grandmother said it was bad luck, and my Grandmother looked at me and she looked anguished. I see her white hair, and a face like my Mother’s only with a shorter and rounder nose, and a black dress, a tall fairly thin dignified woman. In the pink room at home I think I waited alone for a while as my parents completed the packing and loaded the car. My father had managed to get petrol. There were many cars in the street. The next memory is the Soviet prison camp on the Lithuanian border.


From 1985 on 1963-67

5. Crash
I’d left the kibbutz, for which I had spent most of my adolescence & young adulthood preparing, I’d left Tel Aviv University, where I had come belatedly, 26 years old, after leaving the kibbutz, to major in Philosophy and English Literature, & soon after this meeting Nitza and marrying her, and most recently I’d left my job as editor of the Australian Jewish Herald mainly because I wanted to spend most of my working time & my mental energy on my own writing. I was still trying to write a great novel, or several, one centered on the kibbutz, one on the difficulties of writing that novel, one more imaginatively symbolic, but none of these projects seemed to be crystallizing: I kept trying, but no real novel seemed to emerge. The experience I was going into could not harm something that was not getting anywhere anyway on the contrary, it might even help. So there was nothing to hold me back: no commitments other than staying alive and supporting my family — my wife and my four month old son, Jonathan. I didn’t believe I would be endangering our survival as a family, or our love. I believed in my love for them, and in the, say. sense of responsibility that arose from this love. From what I’d read, many hippies were also survival conscious & were developing new, alternative ways of living. I wouldn’t risk what was precious in what we had, and I might discover more, to cherish more of that too. Nitza wouldn’t like the idea; she’d be frightened, more than anything. I would try to explain it to her, perhaps get her to try it too, though I would try it first before recommending it. But even if she objected, she couldn’t stop me. And she wouldn’t. I would do what I felt I had to do, and she, I believed, would full accept that.
For this was what I wanted: I was sure of it. Not that life was bad…

I would find a way to score…

From 1985 on 1945, 1967, etc.


WHAT I INHERITED, what has happened, what I’ve done and wanted, what I will pass on: what little I know. Is any of it not inherited? Fate? That I imagine, choose, do? That I ask sometimes, sometimes attempt answers, have at times felt certain of this or that?
What I inherited through the genes that has brought me to this my fiftieth year and this writing, this tale of can I call it love among the ruins, what I have acquired, how if not through inherited capacities, this long longing to articulate, this learned language: facts about these may emerge at any point.
What I inherited materially, when time came to inherit, was little enough. Can I not say I inherited the war which wiped out, for me, what might have been a more substantial material inheritance? Where is the line between what is inherited and what is not? Adolf Hitler, from whom I, among so many, inherited so much loss, yet so much less loss than so many, was himself an inheritor. What is the opposite of inheritance? Is inheritance all or part, is Inheritance the title of this book, or of but one volume, or a chapter?
When my father died, in Shanghai, I was nine. He left me his stamp collection. He had little else to leave, and that little helped my mother, though she had to go to work soon after death.
Fortunately the Americans had arrived, together with Chiang Kai Shek’s forces, to liberate Shanghai from the Japanese, and she was a pretty woman, and got a job in an American PX, even though she hardly knew English. When she died, in Melbourne, twenty two years later, my first son was three months old. She left us the small apartment she had bought with reparations money from Germany, which has paid
for a major part of the cost of the three successive places we have lived in in Israel. She left a few possessions, most of which we sold, and three notebooks, which she had written at my request, two of them while she was living with me in the kibbutz in Israel, and one after she came back to Melbourne.

to tell what of my past is not fantasy? The Nazi army invading Poland in September 1939. I was there, in Warsaw, three years and three months old. I could have been killed, the day the Germans bombed the capital, or during the years that followed, if my parents hadn’t got out of Warsaw the day of the invasion, travelling East. The U.S. Air Force bombing Japanese occupied Shanghai, where I spent most of the war years.

Another title I once thought of was Refugee, but though I started life as a refugee, I don’t live in refugee conditions any more, never did live in conditions like those of the Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, say (good BBC TV hour on them tonight), or of the Palestinian Arabs in the countries around Israel, which is where I now live, why and how is many stories.
In luxury, I said. It’s luxury to spend time writing this rather than helping refugees or victims of natural catastrophes and human atrocities. Help them to live, and then what are they to do, help others to live, and then what? A luxury to think.

During my teens and into my early twenties the 1950s and into the 60s I was a dedicated soul. Most of the time. I mean it. I once tried to write a book about that period, the title was going to be The Member. The sexual pun was intended, for I had trouble with that too during that period. But I was dedicated to a dual cause that of my own refugee nation (as I saw it then) and that of international socialism (as I saw it then.) As I saw it then, bad conditions would be transformed to good, and we, and the movement I was a member of, were actually participating in and contributing to the dual revolution.

[That’s all for now. & here’s a pic of me, sitting at our inbuilt “veranda” overlooking parts of Geulah Street, with our cocker spaniel whom we called Shtoot (we had two dogs, the other was a loving mongrel we called Timmy, I religiously took them for long nocturnal walks, often along the Tel Aviv beach that was later dubbed “Jerusalem Beach”) from sometime around when I wrote these pieces I’ve gleaned from files containing much non-memoiring writing…]

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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.


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.

טאטוש’, טאטוש’ו – כך קראתי לאבי בפולנית: תרגום לעברית של שורות שהרגשתי צורך לכתוב אותן בפולנית, ופרסמתי בפוסט שלפני התרגום לאנגלית שפרסמתי בפוסט הקודם

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Tatuś, tatusiu: (What I called my Dad in Polish [I never got to call him Dad] : An English translation of Lines that I had to write in Polish & published in my previous post)

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atuś, tatusiu


Tatuś, tatusiu, I found myself
saying to myself, in Polish,
in a bed in a hotel room
on my first & only
visit to Warsaw, in 1996,
60 years after my birth there,
57 years after our escape from there
on the day the Germans started
bombing our city.

I don’t understand why I have to write these lines
in Polish, I don’t know if anyone will ever read them,
I don’t know how I remember, how I now write
these words, how they come from me
(with some help from online translating sites),
nor do I know if they’re grammatical or not:
I haven’t spoken, haven’t thought, have read
or written almost nothing in Polish
for almost 70 years, since I started speaking,
thinking, reading & writing mostly in English
& later also in Hebrew,
but it was my first language,
my language with my Mamusia & my Tatuś,
with my dear Grandmother, my uncles & aunts
& cousins & friends who remained behind
in Warsaw & were almost all exterminated,
and it’s somehow important to me.
to write these lines in Polish.

About two weeks ago, on the day that was
the 109th birthday of Mamusia, my Mum,
who lived 62 years, I found myself writing
lines about her in Polish, maybe also because
I’d been so moved some days earlier by reading
in Polish Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Any Case”
when a friend sent me an English translation,
and yesterday, on the 69th anniversary
of my father’s death on Yom Kippur 5706 (1945)
in Shanghai, I published a memoir
of my experience of that day (in English)
in a post on my blog, & then most of that day
found myself writing these lines
to and about him in Polish.

Tatuś, tatusiu,
sweet words, sweet thoughts,
sweet feelings for a person
I knew for no more than 9¼ years,
how many times I spoke those words to him
how often he listened to me
how he helped me in Shanghai
to learn English
& later also Russian
so I could read books & newspapers
when English publications became
inaccessible there after Pearl Harbor,
(already then I was addicted to reading)
& I could also listen to Radio Moscow
& follow the Red Army’s victorious
advances westward, & mark
each of them with little red flags
on a map that I stuck on the wall,
with hopes & yearnings for this war to end

& how he took me with him sometimes
when he went to buy stamps
for his personal collection of Polish stamps
or Chinese stamps that might be
a good investment, and helped me to build
a small collection of stamps of the British Empire;
& sometimes he took me along to cafés
where he met friends or others
he may have had business with;
& once or twice to the dog races,
& once or twice to Jai Alai games.

& I still remember how once
he was very angry with me
when he bought some good meat
on the black market especially for me
& I couldn’t eat it, I felt sick,
but he got so angry, he wanted to beat me
with his belt, I hid under the table
& Mamusia didn’t let him hit me.

& maybe there was also always a tension
between us, from his fear that my mother
might love me more than him,
a tension I know myself as a father
of three sons, a tension, I imagine,
that all fathers who’ve grown up
in a patriarchal/romantic culture
sometimes feel, and my father was
a very jealous man, so my mother wrote
in her memoirs.

but all that aside, & also
those many hard memories
of the painful last year of his life
that I wrote briefly about in that post
in my blog & don’t want to repeat here,
I remember him with love and admiration,
& know deeply that I owe my life,
yes, to chance or luck in every case,
but also to him, for his sperm, for his spirit,
for his love & his resourceful support of my mother & me
and also for doing all that he did to bring us
to safety, where we could survive that war,
and to enable me to grow & become who I am now,
still remembering the only three words I actually
remember him saying to me, and quite often:
“Everything is possible.”

[a Hebrew translation will hopefully follow tomorrow]