Stories of Self, Occupation, and Refugees
I was sitting on a rooftop soaking in the Kol Nidre service that marks the beginning of the journey into the Yom Kippur fast. When we atone, we do it on behalf of the collective. The rooftop overlooks an all business area of Tel Aviv. As I leaned on the edge of the roof and looked down on the entirely empty streets I began to wonder what this place would look like if Yom Kippur were considered an important family day, but only a small minority were to keep the cultural/religious traditions. It would look something like Christmas in North America. Maybe I am just stuck in my North American perspective? Maybe I have to shed that view in order to see this place? Forward.
I had a dream that I was listening to a former soldier speak about the horrors of destroying the life of a child and her parents. It destroyed his life. Slowly he will put back whatever pieces he can, but like a plate that your roommate broke and glued back together out of love, forever there will be scars. The difference between the occupation and the conflict can seem minute, but it is actually important to make the distinction. It’s like the difference between aspiring to be a ‘great guy’ and aspiring to be a ‘great man.’ It’s a one word difference, but they are modes of being that are actually a universe apart. The occupation is something that Israel has been doing to the Palestinians since 1967. It involves theft, humiliation, and violence. It is something that we do within the context of a larger conflict between peoples. A student named Plato told me that the occupation is solved in one of two ways: Equal rights via citizenship in this state or equal rights via citizenship in their own state. Equality is the only way out. We don’t want to talk about the other option. It is too horrific to say. It is too horrific to think. The conflict is solved through experiencing life together and finding ways to understand the beauty in difference and the myriad commonalities: Anti-racist education to dismantle supremacist views of ourselves.
I was on an airplane. It was on its way to Tel Aviv. The gentle buzz of the air moving through the cabin had lulled me to sleep as I re watched a certain Harry Potter movie. A magazine and five strains of airplane rice in brown sauce were on my lap. I distinctly remember the feeling that we were flying over, but not up. Our destination is the center of our world, but not somewhere on high. It is a massive undertaking; this project of ours, but it is not in heaven. It is right over here. The ding of the flight attendant distress light encouraged me to sit up slightly. I opened my eyes and the man in the seat next to me turned his face to me and out of his beard came the words: “Either God is a figment of our collective imagination, or we are a figment of his. Either way it doesn’t matter.” His black blazer and white shirt shone for a moment and then I fell back asleep knowing that I would be able to see you all on the internet when I landed.
Honesty does not come easy, but fasting is about waking up. The pain and anguish that it causes for a brief moment can aid in acknowledgement. Tears are not something to share and rarely are the histories we wish were true, actually so. Terrible things happened in 1948 and wonderful things too. Did I forget that Israelis, indeed Jews, did not commit atrocious acts in that war? Did I forget who fired the first shots? And did I forget that the Israeli army of 2012 is not the same as the fighters of 1948? Every time a glass is broken at a wedding in Israel I am reminded of the destruction of the temple, the Nakba, statehood, and a bloody foot. My mind often wanders during ceremonious events: The internet is quite possibly our collective brain and quite possibly the site of collective atonement. Unfortunately the means of access, the spaces we meet, and the texts and media that we interact with are owned by some other. War is devastating and necessary to entire peoples, often the same peoples on both counts.
In a dusty apartment the door is non-existent. I can only hope that because people filled the streets all last year, maybe they will again. Certainly, the culture of Judaism can fit within the bounds of a democratic state, but the reverse is not so true. On one side of the window we pretend that we are the minority; that we are elsewhere, but in this realm we are the majority. As if playing with toys, we mistake ourselves for a small community with an army. An honest assessment can remind you that whether a state is founded upon a set of rules or a common culture, it can ensure the rights of every individual, every minority collective and the collective majority too. If it cannot, then it must be re-tailored, because it is not a human coat. Do you know the difference between community and society? I don’t. The Jewish society and Jewish communities have different needs, different rules, and different power. The game of minoritization usually leads to someone putting out an eye and that someone is often a Palestinian or a non-Jewish African refugee in this society. International law and Jewish morality should probably be of vital concern for the citizens of the Jewish society, otherwise racist violence will fill our homes and streets as it has on multiple occasions.
Sitting in the middle of a park full of tents a muddy child blows the cigarette smoke out through her nose. She looks up at us and states that all she wants is for every last person to see what they do in the world as some small part in the motion forward toward a better society. She says it with shivering conviction in the subzero wind. She says that ceremony is for the weak and that Superman was a refugee. She knows because there was a cover story about him in Vanity Fair. A man of eighteen is of the age of the majority, with all the potential in the world to sail upon. He knows that we have no need for leaders. He knows that facilitators will do just fine.
Judgment day comes but once a year. As I walk, quite literally dizzy with hunger, I wish for you to be able to enjoy both the quiet and the storm.