December 24, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
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.
December 24, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
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.
December 23, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
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.
December 22, 2014 by Shlomit Naim-Naor
The fifth candle I chose to light with the poetry of Esther Ettinger. She was born in Israel in 1941, and lives and works in Jerusalem. Her writing is suffused with religious language while addressing human existential questions.
In the poem Dynasty, she uses shoes as an object that passes from generation to generation and carries within it historical memory. Shoes are often used in Israeli art as a metonymy for the Holocaust and disaster. In this poem they become a source of power.
Hanukkah is a festival full of light, in which we see women lighting Hanukkiot, and taking a full part in the festive joy. In honor of the women who are creating new dynasties of religious activity I lit the fifth candle of Hanukkah.
black suede, size thirty-eight
that I bought in Rome with my mother
near the fountain
My granddaughters walk in them.
Their big toes swim down into the boats’
and they sail on their high haunches
on a journey through the rooms,
fail and stand up again.
This is how we establish a dynasty.
© Translation: 2012, Lisa Katz
© 2011, Hakibbutz Hameuchad
From: Night and Day
Publisher: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 2011
December 22, 2014 by Makom
Apologies to non-Hebrew readers, but my fifth candle has to be for the unbelievable online project, 929. This just started yesterday, and I’m buzzed.
The thinking is to invite everyone to read a chapter of the Tanach every day. On the site are videos, illustrations, and short articles by all sorts of fascinating and diverse people, responding to said text. It’s simple, beautifully designed (to my eye), and absolutely inspiring.
To read Genesis verse one: “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, and then look over to the comments space and see Etgar Keret’s oh-so-Keretian question: What happened in verse zero? An absolute delight.
Backed by the Ministry of Education and various charities. Totally free. Provided for all citizens of the world who read Hebrew.
My fifth miracle candle.
December 21, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
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.
December 21, 2014 by Shlomit Naim-Naor
Yona Wollach is a mad woman, the cursed prophet of Hebrew poetry. The woman who wove her madness into a tapestry of words that presaged a great change in the Israeli public. This can be seen in the next poem – Yonatan.
The final line “Forgive us, we didn’t know you were like that” is directed at the older generation, with its hierarchy and expectations of what is masculine and feminine behavior.
This final line that ends the poem, raises many questions regarding what we do expect from someone who is “like that”. That they should behave differently when being beheaded? Wollach plays freely with the Biblical Jonathan, reminds us of the love of David and Jonathan, not only the story of the honey forest. Is this the reason for the beheading? The blood lust? And what is the gladiola doing there? Is it a guillotine? Or an aesthetic flower that beautifies the horrific crime that is taking place?
I dedicate the fourth candle to those women who were before their time.
I run on the bridge
and the children after me
Jonathan they call
a little blood
just a little blood to top off the honey
I agree to the pierce of a tack
but the children want
and they are children
and I am Jonathan
They lop off my head with a gladiola
stalk and gather my head
with two gladiola stalks and wrap
my head in rustling paper
Jonathan they say
forgive us really
we didn’t imagine you were like that
|© Translation: Linda Zisquit
From: Wild light
Publisher: Sheep Meadow Press, New York, 1997, 1-878818-54-6
|© 1966, Yona WallachFrom: Dvarim (Things)
December 19, 2014 by Shlomit Naim-Naor
In honor of Friday – in honor of Shabbat eve, I choose the poetess Zelda to add some light for us.
Zelda (Shneurson-Mishkowsky) was a Chassidic poet, and accepted in the secular world. Her poems were first published by the United Kibbutz Publishers, in the days when they mainly published poets from kibbutzim connected to the working settlements.
The poem I have chosen distils the difficulty I feel every Friday. What does the sacred feel like? How can one usher in the Sabbath, the rest, the sacred, into a heart still full of quotidian concerns?
Light a candle,
Softly the Sabbath has plucked
the sinking sun.
Slowly the Sabbath descends,
the rose of heaven in her hand.
How can the Sabbath
plant a huge and shining flower
in a blind and narrow heart?
How can the Sabbath
plant the bud of angels
in a heart of raving flesh?
Can the rose of immortality grow
in a generation enslaved
a generation enslaved
Light a candle!
Slowly the Sabbath descends
and in her hand the flower,
and in her hand
the sinking sun.
December 19, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
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.
December 18, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
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.