This is one of my poems. Dedicated to my partner, who celebrates his birthday this week. We are celebrating five years of acquaintance, and four years since he told me he loved me.
The eighth candle of Hanukkah. A candle of rain outside, of joy in the home, of faith in general, and of faith in love in particular.
Love is Hard Work
If you see one Rainbow
The second rainbow will show immediately
You said you love me
And if the second rainbow will show
so will the third
You`ll keep loving me
Even if I am fired.
It was raining in Tel Aviv
And Jerusalem kept dry
The price of the petrol just rose
But rainbows are for free.
And love is hard work.
וְאִם קֶשֶׁת אַחַת תּוֹפִיעַ
מִיַּד תַּעֲלֶה הַשְּׁנִיָּה
וְאָמַרְתָּ שֶׁאַתָּה אוֹהֵב אוֹתִי
וְאֵם תעלהַ הַשְּׁנִיָּה תּוֹפִיעַ גַּם
וְגַם אִם יְפַטְּרוּ אוֹתִי
עֲדַיִן תֹּאהַב אוֹתִי
וּבְתֵל אָבִיב יָרַד גֶּשֶׁם
וּמְחִירֵי הַדֶּלֶק עָלוּ
אֲבָל קֶשֶׁת זֶה בְּחִנָּם
One of the more painful weeks in Israel began with the horrific murder in the Har Nof synagogue of three people at morning prayer. It concluded with the response-song by Amir Benayoun.
Benayoun is a talented and powerful singer – religious, Mizrachi, tortured and original. He is so respected that the new President of Israel invited him to perform at the President’s residence for an event commemorating Jews from Arab Lands.
Straight after it was discovered that one of the Har Nof murderers had worked for years at the grocery store just round the corner from the synagogue, Amir Benayoun recorded a song. Called Ahmed, it is seemingly “sung by” an Arab called Ahmed. The chorus goes:
It’s true I’m just ungrateful scum
It’s true but I’m not to blame –
I didn’t grow up with any love
It’s true that the moment will come
when you turn your back on me
And I’ll stick a sharpened axe in it.
It was clearly a cry of pain, with no small amount of deep confusion (the musical style of Benayoun’s singing is so Arab!). It was also an ugly piece of racism. Benayoun’s defence that the song was about one particular person and not all Arabs simply didn’t hold water.
Israel’s President, right-wing Reuven Rivlin, did not hesitate. He immediately cancelled Benayoun’s participation in the festival at the President’s residence. And stated very clearly that it was because of the song.
I light my final candle of hope for my new President, who is committed to bringing light into the darkness.
It’s reality TV. But not like you’ve known it.
To be honest, I don’t know – perhaps the ingenious format of “Connected” is a well-known format outside of Israel, too – but its incarnation in Israel is fantastic.
Each season a group of unconnected interesting, fascinating, sometimes famous people, are given a camera or two for a month or so. They film themselves all the time, interacting with the camera as they would to a very personal video diary, or a running stream of consciousness.
None of them meet – they are in different worlds. One might be a stand-up comedian, another a writer, another the unsuccessful daughter of a successful TV presenter – the connections are made in the editing room. Each episode is themed, and the editor jumps us from character to character, exploring the theme.
It’s not cheap. It’s not sensationalist. It doesn’t (seem to) create monsters to hate, or freaks to ridicule. On the contrary. We see the humanity, the tenderness, the hilarious, and the challenges of real life.
This season I’m in love with the sensitive, unstable, vulnerable and gifted Lior Dayan, son of actor and director Asi Dayan (whose death we experience through the eyes of Lior in one episode – see photo), and grandson of Moshe Dayan. I loved the bit when he’s playing with his baby son who pokes him in the eye, “Don’t do that. We have a thing in the family about eyes,” says his father patiently.
Seventh season of Connected: Seventh candle.
My wife and I went to see the film “Gett” the other week.
It is a wonderfully acted, expertly scripted, infuriating film about a woman whose husband will not grant her a divorce. Since Israel’s divorce courts are orthodox religious courts, the law is constricted by the idiosyncrasies of orthodox divorce law.
The entire film takes place in the cramped rooms of the rabbinic courts of Haifa, and features some of this generation’s greatest mizrachi Israeli actors. The jokes are abundant, as are the frustrations.
We saw the film in a cinema right near Haifa. It was a packed house. As the movie progressed, after Viviane’s request for a divorce had once again been postponed, the sound of people moving uncomfortably in their seats changed. The tutting and oofing started up. Towards the end we were all actually shouting at the screen, united in our exasperation at an untenable situation. The villain had won. And the villain was the legal system itself.
As I walked out of the Cineplex, I was full of energy. “There is no way,” I thought to myself, “there is no way that this film will not change this country’s attitude to divorce and agunot. It is too powerful. Too persuasive.” Indeed it turns out that February’s annual convention of Beth Din rabbis is going to screen the film for all the dayanim to watch.
I light my 6th candle in honor of powerful art that insists on change for the good.
One day an entire curriculum of the History of the Jewish People will be built around the new comedy sketch show, The Jews are Coming. They hit it all – Bible, Talmud, Inquisition, Dreyfus, Ben Gurion, Eichmann, and even Yigal Amir. Although they do have a little difficulty finding ways to end the sketches, they normally hit winners throughout.
This sketch plays on the Purim story, and translates the Hebrew “zonah” in a very gentle fashion. “Whore” would be a more accurate rendition. As well as offering humorous, feminist critique of the ancient text, it also makes a lovely sideways reference to the way in which girls’ Purim costumes get more and more sexual every year…
The jokes do not only fly at surface level. There is even a recurring game show involving Rashi and Cassuto, two quarrelsome Bible scholars, shooting barbs at each other in the studio as they did, some thousand years apart, in the biblical literature.
My fourth candle is dedicated to the light of Israeli comedy, drenched in history and Jewish text.
My third candle was for Shemi Zarchin. He is a screenwriter, film director and novelist who creates beautiful rich and complex women characters in particular, and in particular hits on the Mizrachi experience in Israel. I still think that Aviva My Love was one of Israel’s best films – exploring creativity and exploitation, as well as the working-class Mizrachi world of Tiberias. The two sisters with their “we don’t talk about that” catch-phrases of intimacy and love are a delight, and Asi Cohen puts in one of the great performances of Israeli film.
Zarchin’s novel, “Some Day”, came out recently in English translation. I don’t know how it translates, but I imagine that the magical realist plot and characters will storm past any awkwardness of language. It is a story of overflowing passion, extreme both morally and emotionally, and one of the best books I’ve read.
So the candle I lit last night, the third of this festival, was lit for the words, the people, and the life that Shemi Zarchin brings to Israel’s cultural and political discourse.
This second candle is particularly challenging. When I first read the poems of Leah Goldberg, I feared I would never be able to write poetry again. I was twelve or thirteen years old, I scarcely understood what was being said, but the power of the words struck me. I’m not a fan of Holocaust literature, I struggle to cope with the atrocities. In Leah Goldberg’s creation the horrors of the thirties and the Holocaust years are gently drawn. That date. 1935. And the location Tel Aviv.
I dedicate the second candle to all the men and women who left one homeland for another.
Memories of memories
Then the aerials on the city’s roofs were
like the masts of Columbus’ ships
and every raven that perched on their tips
announced a new continent.
And the kit-bags of travelers walked the streets
and the language of a foreign land
cut through the heat of the day
like the blade of a cold knife.
How could the air of the small city
bear so many
childhood memories, wilted loves,
rooms which were emptied somewhere?
Like pictures blackening in a camera,
the clear cold nights reversed
rainy summer nights across the sea
and shadowy mornings of great cities.
And the sound of footsteps behind your back
drum the marching songs of foreign troops
and it seems – if you but turn your head
there is your hometown church floating on the sea.
In “Tel Aviv 1935″ (page 134) –
the first section of a long poem called “The Shortest Journey,” trans: Rachel Zvia Back
הַמַּסָּע הַקָּצָר בְּיוֹתֵר / לאה גולדברג
מספרה “עם הלילה הזה”, 1964
א. תֵּל-אָבִיב 1935
הַתְּרָנִים עַל גַּגּוֹת הַבָּתִּים הָיוּ אָז
כְּתָרְנֵי סְפִינָתוֹ שֶׁל קוֹלוּמְבּוּס
וְכָל עוֹרֵב שֶׁעָמַד עַל חֻדָּם
בִּשֵּׂר יַבֶּשֶׁת אַחֶרֶת.
וְהָלְכוּ בָּרְחוֹב צִקְלוֹנֵי הַנּוֹסְעִים
וְשָׂפָה שֶׁל אֶרֶץ זָרָה
הָיְתָה נִנְעֶצֶת בְּיוֹם הַחַמְסִין
כְּלַהַב סַכִּין קָרָה.
אֵיךְ יָכוֹל הָאֲוִיר שֶׁל הָעִיר הַקְּטַנָּה
לָשֵׂאת כָּל כָּךְ הַרְבֵּה
זִכְרוֹנוֹת יַלְדוּת, אֲהָבוֹת שֶׁנָּשְׁרוּ,
חֲדָרִים שֶׁרוֹקְנוּ אֵי-בָּזֶה?
כִּתְמוּנוֹת מַשְׁחִירוֹת בְּתוֹךְ מַצְלֵמָה
הִתְהַפְּכוּ לֵילוֹת חֹרֶף זַכִּים,
לֵילוֹת קַיִץ גְּשׁוּמִים שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר לַיָּם
וּבְקָרִים אֲפֵלִים שֶׁל בִּירוֹת.
וְקוֹל צַעַד תּוֹפֵף אַחֲרֵי גַּבְּךָ
שִׁירֵי לֶכֶת שֶׁל צְבָא נֵכָר,
וְנִדְמֶה – אַךְ תַּחְזִיר אֶת רֹאשְׁךָ וּבַיָּם
שָׁטָה כְּנֵסִיַּת עִירְךָ.
You get to sit up front – to sit behind is to imply a class distinction, which would be frowned upon – and you are expected to converse. Unlike others I know, I really enjoy this – especially if the driver is insistent on lecturing me on his opinions that are very different from my own.
I see every taxi drive as an opportunity to learn, and to see outside of my bubble. Friends, work colleagues, family, facebook – all of these connections serve to reinforce my separation from those who do not think like I do. Taxi rides force me to come to peace with the nature of a democratic diverse society. There are real people out there who have crazy ideas, and they have a right to be heard, even if I know they’re wrong…
Last night Asaf (I always ask for names) regretfully turned down my offer of some cashew nuts because he’d undergone some dental work. He shared with me that he’d spent years as a combat soldier, had caught three bullets and been stabbed twice. “I don’t know what fear is,” he said quite simply, “But man, when that dentist comes up to me… I’d prefer Gaza!”
As we got chatting it turns out that he has interesting opinions on micro versus macro economics, and that our military strategy is all wrong. We are, apparently “defending ourselves to death”, and the Iron Dome system is going to cripple us financially. We should be investing in better ways to attack them, not defend ourselves. Destroy not just their homes but also their entire families’ homes. “But hey,” as he said, noticing my ever-raising eyebrows, “this is a conversation for a long-distance trip to Tel Aviv, not just up the hill from Carmiel to Tuval…”
As he dropped me off, I realized I was smiling. Although I hugely disagree with him, he’s a lovely guy. A full human being. He gets a vote too, and he gets a say.
Candle #2 for people who teach me the world is broader than my opinions.
Here is the thing about the Berlin Balagan and the Milky Moan. They have nothing to do with the city of Berlin or the Milky dessert.
The controversy has been simmering for some time. Young Israelis have been working to attain European passports so as to more easily leave Israel. Berlin is their most attractive and symbolically incendiary European destination. The thought that an Israeli could actively seek to live in the Land of the Holocaust sends shivers down Zionist spines.
The rhetorical stakes are high. To Full Post
Cross-posted with ejewishphilanthropy.com
Image by Shay Charka
I have recently returned from an 8 city, 11 flight, 2 weeks’ tour of campuses in North America – with 4 questions.
I was one of the Jewish Agency’s Makom team running full-day workshops on “Gaza, Israel, and the Jews” for the staff of thirty Hillels. Our aim was to empower Hillel and campus leaders to frame constructive conversations about the Gaza Conflict by identifying pertinent questions (rather than institutional answers), and by defining a successful conversation as one that leads to a second conversation…
Apart from learning that DC taxi drivers are the most interesting in the world, and that United Airlines are not always to be trusted with your luggage, I have been left with a few thoughts to ponder: To Full Post