Com Perpinyà justifica l’independència de Catalunya

El segon cop que vaig anar a Catalunya, fa més o menys dos anys, vaig decidir explorar França també.  Parlo francés i sempre m’agrada practicar les meves llengües i descobrir noves cultures.

Va ser molt interessant.  Ja sabia que Perpinyà forma part del Països Catalans.  Més precisament, que Perpinyà forma part de Catalunya Nord, una regió que va esdevenir territori francés en 1659.

La gent era molt amable, hi havia un castell bonic que es deia Palau dels Reis de Mallorca, i vaig gaudir del menjar prou ric.

La cosa curiosa és que el català gairabé no es sent.  Fora de dues dones que vaig conèixer al poblet de Toluges que parlaven la llengua, no vaig sentir el català mai.  Encara que va ser molt interessant parlar amb les dones (el seu dialecte era prou diferent que el català al sud de les muntanyes), era gairabé com visitar un museu.  Un museu on es podia explorar la cultura catalana com a un artefacte i molt menys com a una cosa viva.

Lo mateix puc dir sobre la meva experiència a Alacant, una ciutat que vullia explorar precisament per la seva cultura valenciana i catalanoparlant.  Segons els mapes que jo havia vist, era territori principalment castellanoparlant.  Però encara sabent això, va ser dur visitar.  Com Perpinyà, hi havia carrers amb noms en català, hi havia llocs històrics, però molt poca gent que parlava la llengua.  Tot arreu estaven parlant el castellà i fins que vaig conèixer un estudiant universitari català, no vaig sentir la llengua mai.

Segur que hi ha catalanoparlants a Perpinyà i a Alacant, encara si són pocs.  I menys que hi havia fa temps.

Si analitzem les millors recuperacions culturals, gairabé totes han tingut èxit gràcies a un estat.  Moltes llengües amb pocs parlants com l’hebreu, el txec, i el lituà (entre altres), han sobreviscut perquè tenen un estat independent.

Si Catalunya aconsegueix la seva independència, això protegerà la llengua catalana per generacions.  Per a que no es converteixi la cultura catalana en un bon tema per un museu, sinó una llengua encara viva i evolucionant.

És per això que sóc independentista.  Perque els museus són per a objectes, no cultures enteres.

 

Per què sóc jueu i independentista

Per als llectors que no em coneixen, sóc un jueu americà i israelià.  Vaig aprendre el català fa uns anys a Georgetown University a Washington, D.C.  Vaig prendre un curs d’un semestre, subvencionat per la Fundació Ramon Llull.  Encara que ja estava interessat en Catalunya abans, aquell aprenentatge em va canviar la vida.

Molts cops, la gent pensa que només les llengües amb més parlants importen.  Com si la quantitat de boques parlant representés la saviesa o l’intel·ligència.  Però no és veritat.  Podem pensar, per exemple, al cas del grecoparlants, que són només 13.4 millons, però que sense dubte han contribuït fenomenalment a la civilització occidental.

El cas dels catalans no és diferent.  Amb més de 10 millions de parlants, el català forma part d’una civilització de fa més de mil anys.  Una civilització amb literatura, música, dansa, arquitectura, poesia, i més.  I cada aspecte amb el seu caràcter únic i local.

Mil cops, quan vaig dir que parlava català, la resposta ha segut “per qué?  Cada català parla castellà, és una llengua petita, i no et serveix més el xinés o alguna llengua ‘important’?”  I la meva resposta és: “una llengua és un dialecte amb un exèrcit i una marina.”  O sigui, que a qualsevol lloc al món, podem trobar saviesa i riquesa cultural.  No importa el tamany de la llengua- encara si no té poder polític, val la pena aprendre.  De fet a vegades les llengües sense tant poder polític ofereixen una perspectiva nova i especial.

No és gaire curiós que aquesta expressió coneguda entre lingüistes i activistes és, de fet, una contribució de la meva civilització, la jueva.  El lingüista Max Weinrich, un acadèmic que s’especialitzava en la llengua ídix, la llengua dels meus avis.  I recenment, una llengua que vaig aprendre jo per a conectar-me amb els meus arrels culturals.  És una llengua minòritaria que, igual que el català, ha segut menyspreada pel seu tamany i “falta d’importància”.  Molts cops, racistes es refereixen al idioma com un “dialecte” de l’alemany, igual que el prejudici que diu que el català és només un dialecte del castellà.

És precisament per aquest menyspreu i imperialisme cultural que com a jueu, m’identifico amb el moviment per l’independència de Catalunya.  Perque jo sé bé que les forces majoritàries del món- no podem comptar amb elles per a protegir les nostres cultures.  Som pobles que hem patit la discriminació i la persecució- i del mateix estat espanyol.

Llavors comparteixo la meva solidaritat amb el poble català durant aquest moment difícil.  No sé qual sera el resultat, però vull que sapigueu que teniu el meu suport.  I seguiré parlant en català, en castellà, en anglés, en hebreu, en qualsevol llengua possible, per a que el món s’enteri de la justicia de la vostra causa.

Perque els pobles petits importem.

Una abraçada,

Matt Adler

Washington, D.C.

catala

Why I’m not afraid of the word Palestine

Last night, I found myself on an unexpected adventure.  While I sometimes miss the density and intensity of my adventures in Israel, after the past few days of rocket attacks, I’m feeling pretty grateful to be in Washington, D.C. and not in Ashdod.

I found myself in an Uber with a female driver wearing a hijab.  We got to talking, initially about mundane topics like podcasts and language learning.  Eventually, I asked what languages she spoke and she said “just Arabic”.  My eyes lit up.  I started speaking to her in Arabic and she was thrilled.

For the next twenty minutes, we talked about everything.  She loved my Syrian dialect, calling it rai’3ah, or “fantastic”.  She then asked the question all Arabic speakers ask me.  “Where in the Arab world have you been?”  This is a loaded question, although not intended to be.

The reason why is that Israel, in all honesty, is a part of the Arab world, or at the very least experiences a Venn Diagram overlap with it when considering the 20% of its citizens who speak Arabic as a mother tongue.  Not to mention the half of Jews there who come from Arab countries.  Furthermore, I had been to Palestinian cities and towns, which clearly qualified.

So I answered the question like this:

“Ana kinit be’Isra’il wa’Falastin.”  I was in Israel and Palestine.

Two countries whose borders are increasingly vague and whose cultures overlap and interact to such an extent that I find it sensible to sometimes mention them in the same breath.

Fatima’s ears perked up.  She was curious.  While she only called the countries I visited Palestine (which is not how I view things), she wanted to know where I had lived, what I had seen, and more.  She was respectful.  I told her I had lived in Tel Aviv and mentioned some of the Arabic-speaking areas I had visited in Israel and (the areas east of the Green Line I call) Palestine.

I even told her a funny story about language practice I experienced in Tel Aviv, to share some of the life she probably rarely hears about.  I was sitting in a restaurant and asked “efshar et ha’sal?”  I meant to ask for the salt, but by using the Spanish word “sal” for salt, I ended up asking for a basket!  The waiter asked why I needed a basket, and I said “for my chicken!”  It cracked him up at the time, and Fatima was no different.  It’s all a lesson that making mistakes while learning languages can be a blessing if you learn to laugh.  I’ve never forgotten the word for basket.

At times during my life in Israel, I struggled with the concept of Palestine.  What are its borders?  Does it threaten Israel’s existence?  Is there a way to make peace between these two countries and societies?

Now, I feel more at ease.  Even with someone like Fatima who may not even recognize Israel.  And yet finds herself open to hearing about it, even as she can’t speak its name.  Much like I used to struggle with the word Palestine.

Fatima knew I was Jewish.  That I am an Israeli citizen.  And yet something in our conversation, despite the different views we held, kept us talking.  Even had us laughing and complementing each other.

It’s the kind of magic Benjamin Netanyahu lacks on even his best day.  It’s called compassion.  It’s called dialogue.  It’s called respect and a desire to use words rather than bombs to make a point.

After Bibi’s most recent show of force, which killed about two dozen Palestinians and resulted in yet more warfare launched by the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, the only thing we saw grow was fear.  The only result we saw was damaged houses, crying children, and trauma.  After a decade as Prime Minister, the Gaza Strip is beset by increasingly dire poverty and terrorist organizations and the Israeli communities that surround it have more PTSD, more death, and more desperation.

We could keep trying the same techniques and feel pervertedly comforted by receiving the same horrifying results.  Or we could try what I did.  Talking.  Creative problem solving.  Dialogue.

I’m not suggesting it’s easy nor do I know exactly how to do this on a political level- I’m not a politician.  What I can say is if it reduces the chance of more misery, it’s worth a shot.

As Fatima dropped me off, she said to me a phrase that will stick with me the rest of my life. “Fi amal,” she said.  “There is hope.”

What do you know about refugees in Israel?

Sunday November 10th and Monday November 11th, I had the privilege to attend the American University Center for Israel Studies’s first ever Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel Conference.  For my long-time readers, you know this is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I’ve marched and organized and written about this topic over and over again.  You can read about some of my adventures with Burmese, Darfuris, Eritreans, Tibetans, West Africanspro-refugee activism, racism, more racism, politics, and the Palestinian refugee tie-in.  I was one of the lead organizers of Olim and Internationals for Refugees, including organizing a march we did through the streets of Tel Aviv and our participation in broader rallies.

All of which is to say I was thrilled to find out that the message activists had been fighting for in Israel had reached America.  This conference was academic in nature but including the voices of passionate activists such as Mutasim Ali, Dawit Demoz, and Julie Fisher.  Furthermore, this was the first conference of its kind.  While the issue is hotly debated in Israel, it is barely on the radar screen of American Jewry.  But that is changing, as this conference attests.  In addition, I recently attended the J Street conference which held a session on refugees in Israel as well.  I am happy to see American Jews standing up and taking notice as the Netanyahu government excludes, criminalizes, and represses African refugees who are seeking safety and freedom from persecution.

Here are a few basic takeaways from the conference and about the refugees and asylum seekers:

  1. There were over 60,000 refugees in Israel at their peak.  Today, the number is about half, at approximately 32,000.  This is due to the government pushing people to take the risky journey to repatriate to third party countries such as Rwanda and Uganda as well as building a border fence between Israel and Egypt.  There are no new arrivals due to this fence.
  2. Almost all refugees were forced into detention facilities upon their arrival to Israel.
  3. Israeli society was ambivalent or non-hostile towards refugees initially, but as the government ramped up incitement and refugees were put in already impoverished areas of South Tel Aviv, the conflict between existing residents and the new arrivals reached new heights.  Today, incitement is so grave that an African refugee childcare center had its playground defaced with feces and dead rodents and the Minister of Culture referred to Africans as a “cancer”.
  4. While perhaps a minority, thousands of Israelis are standing up for refugees and engaging in meaningful activism alongside them.  Numerous NGO’s have sprouted up over the past few decades and rallies in the tens of thousands have been held, including a massive one I attended in 2018 as the government tried to deport Sudanese and Eritreans.
  5. Israel’s draconian immigration and refugee policies are not unique.  Australia has offshore detention facilities.  The U.S. is separating children from their families.  Hungary built a fence around its border to stop Syrians from entering.  Even Denmark was mentioned as a country now taking a hardline.  The world as a whole is seeing an increase in nationalism and exclusionary policies towards refugees and Israel is one among many countries experiencing this trend.
  6. What is unique is that Israel brands itself as a country to which refugees (who are Jewish) can escape.  Like the U.S., when ruled by gentler politicians.  Yet despite the horrific history which plagued the families of Israeli Jews for centuries, many Israelis oppose non-Jewish refugees’ presence in their country.  Due to the fear of the “other” (both Arab and, in this case, largely African) and the “demographic threat”, many Israelis are reluctant to give non-Jewish refugees a home.  This was to many panelists a disappointment, as many of the original writers of U.N. refugee laws were Jews and Holocaust survivors.

There were many other topics discussed at the conference, including a fascinating art exhibit which you can still visit at the Katzen Center.  These items above are just a few I’m taking away with me.

Another thing I’m taking away with me is our capacity to make a difference.  In a world increasingly charred by cruelty and shaped by leaders who lack basic empathy, we can do something to counter this trend.  Write, read, listen, march, or attend a conference like this one.  Because if you don’t educate yourself, no one will do it for you.

 

Hope

A quick glance at the news is enough to make your stomach turn.

Today over 20 Iraqis were massacred by their government.  Hezbollah thugs attacked peaceful protestors in Beirut.  Donald Trump continues to abandon Kurdish allies to Turkish aggression in northern Syria.  Settlers attacked IDF soldiers in the West Bank.

And yet there are rays of hope.  The protestors in Beirut, in particular, inspire me.  Fed up with ineffective government, they have put aside their (numerous and strong) sectarian affiliations to push for a clean house.  Sunnis are protesting Sunni politicians.  Shiiites, Shiites.  Christians, Christian leaders.  The rallying cry of these protestors is beautiful: “kullun ya3ni kullun”.  All of them means all of them.  Meaning not a single politician is being spared the anger of these idealistic protestors.  People brave enough to speak out as the country experiences a severe economic crisis and in a place where politicians don’t take kindly to criticism.  A place that has known Civil War.

They are a role model for what we should all be doing.  Instead of engaging in ceaseless blaming of one group against another, we should realize that the people up top enjoy this conflict.  While we tear each other to shreds because we pray or speak or look differently, our basic needs go unmet.  Patients die because of lack of care, trash goes uncollected, jobs become more scarce, and the rent continues to skyrocket as if none of it was happening at all.

It’s time to unite against the few who control our fate and yet care so little about it.  Israel could learn a lot from the Lebanese protests, especially as Benny Gantz is now charged with trying to form a government.  If he doesn’t, we will see a third round of elections in a country already fed up with voting over and over again.

Much like its neighbor to the north, Israel’s political parties are almost entirely divided by ethnicity and sect.  There’s the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox, the Ashkenazi ones, the secular left, the secular center, the secular center-right, the modern Orthodox, the Russians, and the Arabs.  In Lebanon, the names are different, but the concept the same.  A gaggle of Christian sects, Sunnis, Shiites, and Druze jockey for power based on group labels.  An entire bloody civil war was fought over it.  It’s depressing.

And yet there is this ray of hope coming from the north that sometimes people can put aside their partisan and sectarian labels and come together for the common good.  My hope is one day Israelis will be able to do the same, as they briefly did when they protested against rising house prices.  Perhaps the most salient issue in Israel today, yet one repeatedly shunted aside in favor of endless ethnic conflict both within and externally.

This is not easy.  But my hope is that the fervor gripping young Lebanese people can inspire Israelis to follow suit.  Only by putting human interests first will we be able to make the difference we need to see in the world.  And perhaps one day, God willing, we’ll see Lebanese and Israelis joining together in protesting for justice.  In one straight line from Beirut to Tel Aviv, like the British colonial trains used to run.  If you will it, it is not a dream.

Shabbat shalom.

 

Repose

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the concept of rest.  And with it, the concept of work.  Shabbat, after all, is about ceasing to work.  And yet we do all sorts of things on Shabbat even in the most Orthodox setting- walking, eating, drinking, chopping fruits and veggies, talking, and more.  Sometimes these activities require real effort- conversation doesn’t always come easy, especially with certain guests at your table.  And inevitably, walking to synagogue or a friend’s house could be quite a shlep depending on where you live.  Shabbat is about ceasing to work- but it’s not about ceasing to do.

Which leaves open the question of what is work?  The traditional understanding of the concept is that one should not be productive on Shabbat.  In other words, no cooking, no receiving money, nothing that involves creating new things.  From this point, new laws evolved that today are deeply contentious among various types of observant Jews- Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and otherwise.  For example, Reform and Conservative Jews typically use electricity whereas Orthodox Jews do not believe this is Shabbat-appropriate behavior.  This is related to the concept of kindling a flame, which in olden times was typically used to cook.  Most liberal Jews would say Orthodox observance takes the concept too far and many Orthodox Jews feel it is simply religious law taken to its logical next step.

So let’s work from the premise that while we have differing interpretations of productivity, the concept of work in Judaism derives from this fraught word.  In the modern world, being “productive” is sometimes valued above concepts clearly more important.  And more critically, productivity is defined according to a certain sliding scale where certain professions and courses of work are valued above others.  After all, why does a banker or lawyer make many times the salary of a teacher?  Is an unemployed person firing off resumes every day less productive than the career coach being paid to help her?  And finally, do we sometimes come to a juncture in life where certain other goals, be it health, relationships, or something else unmonetized should take priority over productivity?  Are these other paths of living less worthy because they are unpaid?

The answer is no.  Sometimes the doing we do isn’t work in the traditional sense.  Reconnecting with a long lost friend, apologizing to someone you’ve hurt, going to the doctor to get a scary lump checked.  These are all things that require courage, action, and perseverance.  And yet our society doesn’t monetize them so the people doing these brave activities often go unnoticed.  Especially in such a heavily capitalist culture like the United States.

This Shabbat, I propose we redefine work and productivity.  Sometimes the work we do is personal in nature or is unpaid.  That’s OK- it counts as effort too.  And if you’ve created something new in the process, you’ve been productive.  If you’ve gotten new answers to important questions, you’ve been productive.  If you’ve helped someone in need, you’ve been productive.  It’s time to let go of our calculators and realize there are many ways to make a difference and to create.  Sometimes intangible things that last a lifetime.

Shabbat teaches us to take a break from productivity.  It’s not enough to simply not go to an office.  It’s about creating an intentionality dividing the hard work you do during the week- whatever it may be and however you define it- and cultivating the inner self.  Finding a time for repose, relaxation, song, meals with loved ones, and a deep breath before the cycle begins anew.

This Shabbat, I wish you the courage to acknowledge all the ways you’ve been productive this week, even if they aren’t written on a pay stub.  And to allow yourself also to breathe, to take a break, and recharge.  We aren’t robots- we have to recline from time to time and let ourselves enjoy.  Let ourselves smile.  And let ourselves rest.

Shabbat shalom!

A good example of why I’m a Reform Jew

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tetzei.  It is filled with lots of rules, more mitzvot (commandments) than any other portion- about a tenth of the 613 listed in the Torah.  Some of them are truly amazing, such as not gleaning your fields- designating part of your harvest “for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.”  It’s a reminder that we can’t do everything on our own.  When we farm, we benefit from soil, from rain, from other people’s labor and efforts- and a whole series of factors outside our control.  So harvesting grapes or any other plant is an intensive process that relies on a mix of luck, God’s good Earth, and hard work.  In acknowledgement that not all of this is in our control, we give back to the community and leave part of our fields for their benefit.  It’s an incredibly progressive concept and one we should continue to keep in mind today as we consider ways to give back to the community and people in need.

There are a series of other commandments in this portion that fit into a category which I find personally meaningful and contribute to society.  There are others, such as the need to wear tsitsit (the knotted fringes you might see some Jews wearing to this day) that seem either neutral or potentially positive depending on how you utilize the tradition.

And then there are those that are abhorrent and morally repulsive.

This portion includes a verse commanding men to wear men’s clothing and women to only wear women’s clothing – which some Jews to this day interpret as meaning women can’t wear pants and of course against the concept of men in any sort of “feminine” clothing or drag.  It’s something I consider personally offensive, retrogressive, and repressive of individual freedom of expression and identity.  If you consider the time it was written, we can perhaps dismiss it as a vestige of ancient ways of thinking about gender.  Ways we’re glad are being reformulated today in a more open society.

Where does this portion get really rough for the liberal-minded reader?  As Rabbi Suzanne Singer points out, there are some violently sexist portions of this text, including commandments that say:

A soldier may possess a captive woman and forcibly marry her (Deut. 21:10-14)

A bride accused of not being a virgin sullies her father’s honor, so proof of her virginity must be brought forth (Deut. 22:13-21)

A woman who is raped in a town is presumed to have given her consent if she did not scream (Deut 22:23-27)

A rapist must marry his victim; adultery involves a married woman with a man other than her husband, whether he is married or not, as the crime involved is messing with a husband’s property (Deut. 22:28-19)

A widow who has not produced a male heir must marry her dead husband’s brother to produce a son who can carry on the name of the deceased (Deut. 25:5-10)

These are verses so aggressive that I can barely read them and consider them a part of my tradition.  And yet they are.

So what do we do when our sacred text not only doesn’t match our values, not only offends, but also intrinsically opposes our most basic human ethics?

There are a variety of possible responses.  Some people prefer to interpret literally- which scares me.  Some people prefer to reinterpret- a route I sometimes find valid and other times find to be too much of a stretch.  And some people, like me in this case, prefer to say it’s just not right or relevant.

Some people would argue that I’m picking and choosing my Judaism.  It’s a criticism you’ll hear of Reform Jews by both religious fundamentalists and some hardcore atheists.  Aren’t I just molding Judaism into the value system I want, instead of reading the text for what it is?

The answer is yes.  To a degree, I am taking the text and adapting it to my values system.  Which simultaneously stems from the same text and the multigenerational tradition of which I am a part.  Otherwise, we’d still be stoning people for adultery.  In reality, every stream of Judaism (and every human being) picks and chooses the values that she or he finds meaningful and uses that wisdom to live wisely and happily.  So while one can absolutely reinterpret this text (as almost all Jews do with or without acknowledging it), the reason I’m a Reform Jew is that I accept and embrace the fact that I’m discarding part of the text.  With the insights of the modern world, sometimes there are verses that just don’t fit anymore- in fact, they never really were ethical.

None of this is to say Conservative or Orthodox or any other types of Jews are in favor of these punishments- that’s not true.  Although perhaps some rare and extremely fanatical flavors of Judaism might be.  The difference here is in approach to the text.  I am making a choice to disregard part of our tradition in favor of what I feel is an evolving, modern Judaism- one in which I could dress in drag, a woman has full rights as a human and not property, and in which rape is (or should be) properly criminalized regardless of gender.  A choice made with pride, not guilt or equivocation because a man-written text is sometimes erroneous.

Whatever branch of Judaism we come from, whatever our faith tradition, I think we can find common ground, perhaps ironically around the harshest parts of our heritage.  However we come to the appropriate conclusion that these gender-based punishments are sexist and immoral, let us find ways as Jews and as human beings to work towards a world which is more egalitarian for all.

My cover photo is of a gay rights rally I went to in Tel Aviv.  The sign says: “everyone deserves a family.”  Because the biblical prohibition on gay sex is bogus too 🙂