A Haggadah of Hope

It’s not hard to be disenchanted with Israeli politics these days. While most of the world has been focused on Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-democratic “judicial reform”, his same government has also been engaging in racist incitement and encouraging violence against Palestinians. The pogrom in Huwara is only possible because of a government that cares nothing for the lives of its Palestinian neighbors and who views its own Arab citizens as a threat. With a new militia promised to radical racist cabinet member Itamar Ben-Gvir, we may only be steps away from even more confrontation and death.

In such dark moments, we must not find the light – we must be it. For me, that means digging through my books. It means finding some knowledge, some history, some inspiration for how we can overcome such horrible things.

I found just the book!

Digging through my bookshelves, I found a 1935 Haggadah, or Passover prayer book, from Jerusalem. But it was not any old Haggadah, it was a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic book – with the Arabic written in Hebrew characters.

It remains a mystery to me as to why this Haggadah was published in both languages! Not because there is no reason for it to be – but rather many! First things first – this was published by an Ashkenazi printer – Mendl Friedman. So the printer was unlikely to be a native Arabic speaker, like some of the Jews who had been living in Jerusalem for centuries before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Also, the Arabic inside the the Haggadah seems to be Levantine, though it’s a bit unclear at times and there seem to be a few inconsistencies. For example, in the Four Questions, the writer may have made a grammatical error (or I’m a bit rusty!), by first translating the Hebrew “leylot” (nights) as “leyli” (night as an adjective) instead of “liyali” (nights) before later switching back to “liyali”:

These inconsistencies make me think it was probably not a native speaker doing the translation, although I can’t be sure. In any case, we may never know whether this was an attempt to write in Judeo-Arabic, an attempt by Ashkenazi Jews to fit in their local environment, or the off chance that a Zionist organization wanted to promote integration into the local Palestinian culture (as some of them initially supported). Although the latter seems unlikely since the most pro-Arab Zionist movements tended to be extremely secular and were not likely to be publishing a religious text. If anyone reading this blog has insight into the who, what, when, where, why of this book, please share it with me.

So what does this have to do with today? In short, I am inspired by the publisher’s attempt to integrate Jewish and Arab cultures by way of language. Without knowing the intended audience, I can still say that publishing a sacred Jewish text in Arabic is a statement – especially in the conflict-ridden years leading up to Israel’s founding. I am moved by it and hope we will find many more ways to connect across cultures using language and our sacred texts as a point of commonality rather than conflict.

This Passover, Benjamin Netanyahu will probably be spouting off racist bullshit with his equally crazy family in a comfortable home rather than a jail cell where he belongs. However, we can be comforted by the past and inspired to act in the future. Jews and Arabs have not always been at each other’s throats. In 1935 an Ashkenazi Jew published a Passover Haggadah in Hebrew and Arabic. He probably couldn’t have imagined it would end up in a gay American-Israeli Jew’s hands, but that is the magic of history in action.

May this holiday bring more joy to the world. May it bring freedom. May it give us the courage to confront our modern-day autocratic Pharoahs in America, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, China, and more. For these Pharoahs sit in temporary comfort – justice will come. Avadim hayyinu – we were once slaves, and we will not stop fighting until we are all free. Chag pesach sameach, Happy Passover, and Ramadan Karim.

להציל את היהדות

מזמן לא כתבתי בעברית. כנראה שאכתוב עם מלא טעויות. אבל אני מרגיש שכדאי לכתוב. כדאי לפרש את הרגשות שלי ברגע כל כך רגיש בהיסטוריה של עם ישראל ומדינת ישראל. הרבה אנשים שקוראים את הבלוג שלי יודעים שאחרי כמה שנים בארץ, אני חזרתי לארצות הברית, איפה שגדלתי. התכוונתי לחזור לארץ ללימודים בבית המדרש של הרבנות הרפורמית. אבל לא מעט זמן אחרי שחזרתי לארה”ב, אמא שלי חלתה בסרטן. אז הייתה מגפת הקוביד. אז נפטר אבא החורג שלי. ותוך קצת זמן, אמא שלי גם תלך לועלמה. בקיצור, הרבה דברים קשוחים התרחשו בחיי ופתאום לחזור לארץ לא הייתה בחירה הגיונית. לפחות כרגע.

אבל למרות שאני נמצא רחוק מהארץ פיזית, אני חושב עליה כל יום. אני מתגעגע לחברים שלי שם ואני מודאג מאוד לגבי המצב הפוליטי. לצערי, כאמריקאי, אני מכיר את הפאשיזם באופן מאוד אישי. אני גר בוושינגטון די סי. הייתי פה כאשר דונלד טראמפ השתדל לגנוב את הבחירות וכאשר הוא הסית נגד אזרחיו ב6 לינואר. הייתה תקופה מאוד מפחידה.

עד ה6 לינואר, הרבה חברים שלי בארץ או התלהבו מטראמפ או לא הבינו למה אמריקאים מבחינות פוליטיות שונות לא היו יכולים “להסתדר”. כלומר, אנחנו פשוט לא ידענו איך לדבר אחר עם השני. אבל אחרי ה6 לינואר, הרבה חברים שלי סוף-סוך הבינו שזה לא היה עניין פשוט ובעצם זה היה משבר פוליטי שחווינו בקפיטול.

לצערי הרב, כל ישראלי שפוי עכשיו מבין מה שקרה בארה”ב לאחרונה. שיש בשתי המדינות תנועות פוליטיות שרוצות להרוס. שרוצות לדכא מיעוטים, למחוק את “האחר”. זאת תנועה פוליטית בינלאומית- מרוסיה להונגריה, מארה”ב לאיראן, וכן לישראל.

מהנסיון שלי בארה”ב, אני רק יכול להדגיש כמה זה חשוב להמשיך להפגין ולתמוך בתנועות פולטיות שהן בעד הדמוקרטיה לכולםן. גם כן לפלסטינאים.

אין עתיד למדינת ישראל בלי דמוקרטיה. ואין דמוקרטיה בלי חרות לכל תושבי ישראל ופלסטין.

בסוף, כמו כל דבר במדינה היהודית, זה עניין של איזה סוג של יהדות תהיה חזקה יותר בישראל. ברור שצריך להיות מקום לגיוון- גם ליהדות השמרנית שאני לא מאמנין בה. אבל- בואו נגיד את זה בצורה ברורה- אנחנו רוצים עתיד של איסור חמץ בבתי חולים או אנחנו רוצים עתיד של יהדות שוויונית?

ליבי במזרח. לכל המפגינות והמפגינית האמיצים- תודה. אני איתכם בלב ואני אמשיך לדבר עם הממשלה שלי בארה”ב כדי לשכנע אותה להשתמש בכח שלה לשמור על הזכויות שלכם. כי בעצם, למרות שאנחנו רחוקים פיזית, האינטרסים שלנו דומים מאוד. אנחנו חייבים לתמוך אחד בשני בשוויון.

אני הפכתי אולי פחות דתי אחרי כל המוות והטרגדיות במשפחה שלי ובחברה שלי בשנים האחרונות. אבל אני כן מאמין שהגורל שלנו הוא משותף. ואף פעם לא אוותר על הקשר בינינו והחלום של שלום, של דמוקרטיה, ושל יהדיות שמייצגת את הערכים שלנו. מתגעגע המון- שנתראה בקרוב בע”ה עם חיוכים של הצלחה של המאבק.

Democracy Now

Israeli democracy has never been perfect. No democracy is perfect. Embroiled in over 70 years of conflict with its neighbors, the State of Israel has often taken antidemocratic steps. Occupying the West Bank and its over three million Palestinian residents is certainly antidemocratic. And fortunately, there are many Israelis who agree with me that that must ultimately change. As of now, Israelis advocating for peace and for an end to the Occupation have democratic protections. Protections Palestinians only wish they had – be they from Israel or their own Palestinian Authority.

A while ago, I read a quote from a Palestinian who said that the thing he admired most about Israel was that, at least for its own citizens, there was democracy. Acknowledging that he couldn’t benefit from it didn’t stop him from gazing towards Tel Aviv and the beaches and the freedom and the dozen plus political parties (including Arab ones) and saying “wow, I wish I had this too.”

That fragile democracy that is granted to Israel’s citizens, first and foremost to its Jewish citizens but also to a degree its Palestinian-Israeli citizens, was once something to admire. In a region of the world plagued by religious extremism, Israel stood out as a mostly secular and reasonably liberal place depending on where in the country you lived. Much like how things can really vary by place politically in the U.S., but you are guaranteed certain fundamental rights that other countries in the world sometimes lack.

This fragile democracy, which allowed me to participate in countless demonstrations for LGBTQ+ rights, for Palestinian rights, for Druze and other minorities – that democracy is failing right now. It is under threat from within. And that threat is named Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by homophobic and racist politicians such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. Much like American democracy was (is?) under threat from right-wing extremists such as Donald Trump, Israel is facing a similar January 6th-type moment.

What is this threat? It has several faces. First off, there is Benjamin Netanyahu’s “judicial overhaul” which seeks to neuter the Supreme Court and save his own ass from his ongoing bribery investigation. Secondly, there are rabidly anti-Palestinian policies bubbling beneath the surface, as Itamar Ben-Gvir seeks ever greater control over the security apparatus in the West Bank. Thirdly, there is the issue of religious coercion. This coercion ranges from anti-LGBTQ+ policies to shutting down construction work on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. It even includes a bill that would criminalize the entry of leavened products into hospitals during Passover, when such food is not traditionally eaten by Jews. It is a slap in the face of non-Jewish patients and families and Jews who may not be Orthodox in their observance.

How does one confront such authoritarian impulses? Israel is not unique in facing this challenge. I live in Washington, D.C. and was here for January 6th when right-wing terrorists attacked our own Capitol with the blessing of our former President. Countries like Poland, Hungary, India, Turkey, and others have seen a surge in authoritarian policies over the past few years.

In the U.S., the (lower-case d) democratic forces managed to unite moderates and progressives and even the occasional conservative to fight back on the streets and at the ballot box. It is thanks to the efforts of this coalition, particularly minority voters, that the Democratic Party had its best midterm elections in decades.

In Israel, this same demographic is fighting back- and hard. And I’m proud of my friends who’ve been demonstrating across the ocean. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to make their voices heard- for democracy, for change, for rule of law, for minority communities.

Well, not so much for minority communities. Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel are under threat like never before. Israeli moderates and progressives are taking to the streets to protect their democracy. But rarely if ever have we heard from their most prominent leaders, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, about the racist threat to Israeli democracy. Of course the judiciary is important – and it can be a bulwark for non-Jewish communities as well. But the protest leaders have yet to address the intersection of their cause with that of the millions of Palestinians facing the prospect of ever-greater discrimination and violence from this government.

While some on the Israeli left have continually advocated for an inclusive vision of Israeli democracy that includes the rights of Palestinians, the center of the political map has yet to address this “Black Lives Matter”-esque issue. And by that I mean the crucial understanding of how minority rights intersect with the fight for democracy- for all.

In other words, because minorities don’t have a seat at the table in this protest for democracy, it will likely fail. I hate to write that – especially about a country I so love and want to see succeed. But until Palestinians- both citizens of Israel and those living across the Green Line– have a voice in this movement, it will be incomplete and not strong enough to take on the ferocious right-wing government threatening us all.

The photo I used for this blog is of me and two Druze friends of mine protesting for minority rights in Tel Aviv in August of 2018. It was a time when we fought for a shared future together. It was a time when Jews and non-Jews came together for democracy. It is possible. It is doable. It has been done before. It must be done now.

Im tirtzu eyn zo agadah. If you will it, it is not a dream. In the holiest of lands, hope must rise.

When the sh*t hits the fan

This past week has been one of those crazy weeks you never forget. My step-dad has spent the week in the ICU due to two blood clots and after going into cardiac arrest. My mom, who is on her newest round of chemotherapy, is taking care of him. I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Trying to enjoy life’s little moments and joys to distract me. With some degree of success. Thank you to all my friends who’ve been there for me this week and are helping me get through this.

This week, the insanity of my life seemed to parallel that of Israel’s.

Just as my world seemed to be spinning, Israel voted in one of the most right-wing, ultra-religious governments in its history. As an Israeli citizen, I’m embarrassed to see the rise of fundamentalism in my other homeland. It just goes to show that what we’re seeing in the U.S. and Europe is spreading to other countries as well. We must rise or fall together. This is the moment for people who care about the future of Israel – and its Palestinian neighbors – to speak out for democracy.

Faced with adversity in Israel and my own home front, I’m faced with a choice. I could pray, I could sway, I could wait for others to act in my place.

I will do no such thing. First of all, I will be there for my immediate family. Secondly, I will be there for myself – allowing for moments of relief and even joy as I step away from the trauma I’m dealing with. I want to live my life, which is what my step-dad would want even as he struggles for his own.

And when it comes to my brethren across the ocean – Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians, and Israeli Jews and Druze – I will step it up for you. As LGBTQ+ and Reform rights are also under attack, I will not sit by silently. The Israel and Palestine we want to build is possible. And we will not give up. Please consider a donation to Standing Together, my favorite Jewish-Arab activist organization, to promote solidarity and peace.

One of the things I learned while living in Israel was the power of embracing life and its fulfillment even in the darkest of moments. That’s why you’ll find Israelis partying on the beach as rockets fall down. It’s an extreme example, but a real one.

So as the rockets metaphorically fall on my own family and on Israel’s democracy, I will fight, but I will also dance. I will push when needed, rest my body to rejuvenate for the long haul, and I will enjoy the people and love that I get to experience each day.

Because as my cover photo from Majdal Shams says in Hebrew and Arabic: “Why not?” Hope lives, always.

I wrote a book

The past few months have been a struggle for me personally, for both of my countries, and for the world.  As death tolls skyrocketed and we found ourselves in quarantine, I found myself increasingly searching for what to do next.  Just before quarantine, I had started a new project that I had been dreaming about for several years: writing a book.

The task, the aspiration, took on new meaning as I found myself with loads of free time and little to do with it.  I picked up painting as a new hobby, but I wanted to do something a bit more meaningful and productive as well.

So I looked back on my 100+ blog entries and wasn’t sure where to start.  I had adventured not only in Israel, but also in almost a dozen European countries.  And even within Israel, I had explored a wide variety of communities, ranging from Haredim to refugees, from LGBTs to Reform Jews – and everything in between.  Where should I start?

With the options overwhelming, and not wanting to write a 500 page book, I decided to start with my explorations using the Arabic language.  After all, it was one of the most unique (and one of my favorite) vantage points for exploring Israel.  And one of the least expected.  What was this gay Jew doing exploring Israel in Arabic – and not with the goal of covering the Arab-Israeli conflict?

As I started to write and compile in my little indoor bunker of an apartment, I started to remember the fond memories I had of exploring Israel.  And felt grateful that I got to see what I saw when I did- when I still could.  That I took advantage of every opportunity to see new ways of life, new forms of thinking, and ultimately meet new friends.  Which is how my Israeli WhatsApp contacts include an American-Israeli tour guide married to a woodworker, a Muslim Bedouin student, a Bulgarian-Israeli immigrant, and an Orthodox gay guy among others.

This book, more than anything else, is about these kind of one-on-one personal experiences.  That I happened to make because I spoke Arabic in a country where four different religious communities speak it.

It’s about connection and it’s about making peace – not through big agreements, but through individual friendships and conversations that help you cross cultural boundaries and build a bit of hope in places that really need it.  Including your own heart.

I encourage you to join me on this journey and read “More Than Just Hummus: A Gay Jew Discovers Israel in Arabic”.  It’s available on Amazon.com – Kindle and black-and-white interior paperback and color interior paperback.

When we can’t leave our homes to travel where we want, join me on this adventure from the comfort of your living room.

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A gay Reform ally for Haredim

To say my identity puts me on the other end of the Jewish spectrum from ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) communities is an understatement.  Reform Jews are seen by many in the Haredi world at best as misguided and at worst, ideological enemies.  And gay people, well, are seen as much worse.  Not every Haredi person is a homophobe.  I’ve met some, including through my blog, who see themselves as allies or in the case of one secret Facebook group I’m in, as gay themselves.  And yet a tremendous number of Haredi Jews condemn homosexuality in the most severe terms, making it nearly impossible for someone in their community to come out of the closet as a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, let alone come out of the closet as queer.  Something which is slowly but hopefully changing for the better.

I share these observations not just from my intuition or news articles, but from lived experience.  Among all my progressive Jewish friends, I have by far spent the most time in Haredi communities.  To the extent where I have two “go-to” restaurants in Bnei Brak, including one where I get the greatest hugs.  I have explored the largest Haredi city in the world many times, and even found things to like.  I even met Hasidim who watch Game of Thrones and boxing on YouTube.  And more perplexingly, actually met Bedouin and chatted in Arabic on the streets of the world’s largest shtetl.

My adventures have taken me outside Bnei Brak as well, including to a cave of Lithuanian misnagdim in Tsfat, a conversation about marijuana and gay identity in Modi’in Illit,  I’ve visited Haredi communities in Boro Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Antwerp, Me’ah Shearim, and more.

The adventures sometimes go well and sometimes don’t.  I once told a Breslover Hasid I was Reform and it didn’t register even the slightest expression of disapproval.  I once told a Yiddish teacher I was Reform and he berated me- during the lesson I was paying for.  I rarely have felt at ease as a gay person and often felt the need to be closeted when entering this community, which made me deeply uncomfortable.  And one Chabad rabbi’s wife I know identifies as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

All of this is to say that when we see attacks against our Haredi sisters and brothers on TV these days (of which there have been a lot), I understand why this is complicated.  Far too rarely do these communities stand in solidarity for my well being and human rights.  And yet- some do.  And furthermore, the philosophical question arises of whether we should only stand with those who stand with us.  Or whether we have an obligation regardless.  And perhaps, through some positive interactions, can even bring people together in new ways.

As a gay Reform Jew, I feel my tradition obligates me to stand with Haredi communities battling seemingly endless anti-Semitism.  Not just because it affects me as a fellow Jew (we should be realistic- hatred never stops at one community’s door), but because our tradition asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  To be brave.  To lock hands with someone different from you, and hopefully open all hearts involved in the process.

It is ideologically easy for liberal American Jews to stand with refugees, with immigrants, with the queer community, against climate change, and a whole series of other issues that fit neatly into our ideological profile.  Into my ideological profile as well.

It is much more challenging, and equally important, to push ourselves to extend our solidarity to our brethren whose politics, dress, and approach to faith differ from our own.

So in the end, that is my hope.  That liberal American Jews such as me can find it in our hearts to extend a hand to our Haredi brothers and sisters.  And that they will grasp it.  We both have much to gain from such a partnership.  And much to lose- for the people who hate us will hardly care how we pray or what we wear.  They care that we are different.  We are Jews.

The cover photo is one I took while visiting and learning at the Breslover Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel.

 

A queer Jewish-Arab encounter in Budapest

If you’ve been following the news, there’s been at least as much darkness this Chanukah as there has been light.  In recent weeks there has been a slew of anti-Semitic attacks, including the destruction of a Torah scroll in a Persian synagogue in Los Angeles, anti-Semitic graffiti on the 6th and I historic synagogue in Washington, D.C., the murder of three people at a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, and just today, the stabbing of five people at a rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York.

It’s enough to make anyone’s Chanukah flame flicker.  May the memories of the deceased be for a blessing, and may the Creator send healing to the wounded- and serve justice to those who did us harm.  May we find ourselves safer, with non-Jewish allies standing at our side like we so desperately need them.

On days like this, I often find myself in need of a bit of hope.  Which brings me to an old story from one of my adventures.

I found myself alone in Budapest.  I was backpacking through Europe and had spent the first part of my trip in Romania.  It’s not the most gay-friendly country in the world, especially not some of the rural areas I visited, although they were very interesting.

In need of some company, I opened up the CouchSurfing App.  It’s an app better known for finding a place to crash for free, but I was just using it to meet some new friends.

I found one woman, let’s call her Ayesha since she’s not out of the closet and the internet makes our world smaller by the day.  She had written “Looking for someone to go to a gay bar with”.  I immediately wrote her.

Now keep in mind my profile said I was from Israel.  Ayesha’s said she was from Amman, Jordan.  Two countries technically at peace, but whose populaces have almost no interaction.  A huge percentage of Jordanians are actually Palestinians, so the potential for a hostile interaction was not hard to imagine.

But Ayesha wasn’t like that.  She was excited to have someone to join her at the club, and I was just as enthused.

I walked in, we hit it off, and ordered some pizza together.

We got to talking and it turns out Ayesha was bi and this was her first time in a gay bar- ever.  Also, she was not out to her family.  Also, apparently I was about to participate in her first gay DATE!  Yes, you read that right.  Ayesha didn’t just invite me to the bar.  She also invited a Macedonian rugby player with whom she hoped to rumble in the pitch (I have no idea if that’s a rugby metaphor, but you get the point).

Turns out, it was one of the best nights ever.  The Macedonian rugby player brought her teammate and the four of us had a blast.  We talked about our different countries, the good, bad, and ugly (Macedonia is not a gay paradise either- but apparently has a growing scene!).  We talked about being queer, about music, about our shitty pizza and Hungarian customs.

And after the two Macedonian women had to leave, Ayesha and I just danced.  Danced and danced and danced.  None of the stress of the Middle East or its various conflicts mattered.  We laughed, we sang, we lip synced, we lived.

It was one of the best nights of my life.

Not because of the night club (it was ok), or the pizza (can I say again how shitty it was?), or the cute boys (c’mon Budapest, I thought you could do better!).

It was because for one night life stood still.  All the world’s conflicts and shouting and arguing didn’t matter.  Because one Jewish gay guy and one bi Jordanian woman had a great night together.  Despite it all.

I hope this holiday season, whatever your religion or traditions, you find your Ayesha.  Someone who is essentially curious about the world more than seeking conflict.  Someone fun who brings out the best in you.  And that you find your inner strength to take a bit of a risk.  To reach out to someone you don’t know.  And to send a tiny bit of warmth their way to light the path to a better reality.

Chag sameach, happy Chanukah, and shanah tovah- to a happy New Year!

Cover photo is of a mural in Haifa near the railroad that once connected Amman, Jordan to Haifa, Israel.  What was once may yet be once more.

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.”

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.

 

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