when my dad was in college he had a friend who told a girl he’d take her on a date unlike any other she’d ever been on and so he took her to the supermarket to watch the lobsters fighting in the lobster tank
“Chivalry in later ages may have had merits, but in the 11th century it was a social disaster. It produced a superfluity of conceited illiterate young men who had no ideals except to ride and hunt and fight, whose only interest in life was violence and the glory they saw in it. They were no good at anything else, and despised any peaceful occupation.”—David Howarth. 1066 the year of the conquest (via greasequeen)
“Are you the SAT because I’d do you for 3 hours and 45 minutes with a 10 minute break halfway through for snacks, and then I can stare at you for like 10 minutes and think ‘wow, I hope I don’t ruin this.’”— Dude on OKC with the best pick up lines I have ever heard (via katamarang)
“Once I did an Anne Rice novel, called VITTORIO, THE VAMPIRE. I had to do a scene where a teenage vampire was having sex for the first time, or was being bitten, maybe a combination of both, and it was so intense that they had to stop because they thought I was going to hyperventilate. I was doing lots of breathy vampire acting, and I was starting to fall off the chair. That was my most perilous moment in audiobooks.”—Alan Cumming on Narration [x] (via yunafire)
The other day, I posted a series of tweets about how I was sick of seeing “These Jews are protesting against Israel” photos being tweeted and retweeted. I explained that those Jews are usually from extreme religious sects who are anti-Israel because of their messianic beliefs. I said that it was bullshit tokenism from the Leftie Liberal Twitter Bubble considering that they wouldn’t agree with these groups on any other issue, especially given their views on women.
I got a lot of fluffy responses, “thanks for telling me this,” “oh wow that’s so important to hear” and I also got a response that was thoroughly anti-Semitic and made explicit reference to the murder of Jews in the Holocaust. So I took a screenshot of it and posted it on twitter with the commentary “Being a Jew in public”.
The responses I got from that were even more irritating, “oh my goodness, I’m so sorry” “Wow”, lots of expressions of shock and surprise. I’ve had a lot of feelings over the last week as I’ve been watching but not engaging with the conversation, such as it exists on twitter, about the current assault on Gaza by Israel and so I sort of… exploded. I posted a series of emotional and angry tweets about why Israel exists, why it reacts the way it does, what my connection to it is, how Kiwis (and especially white Kiwis) don’t have any understanding of what is actually going on over there, and why I don’t normally discuss these issues in public.
Afterwards, when I calmed down, I took those tweets and other thoughts that I had, and wrote this in an attempt to explain why I feel the way I do about Israel.
Roots and Butter Curls.
A great-great-grandmother of mine led a fundraising effort in Groningen, Holland in the early 20th Century to buy a cow to send to a kibbutz in what was then Palestine. The cow was bought, sent, and duly named after her, “Rebekkah”. When her grandson, Joop, my grandfather, was a young man and was turning out to be somewhat wayward, he and his cousin Fritz were put on a boat to Palestine, to join the Jewish community there. When the war started, they tried to return to fight for Holland but by the time they got to Europe, the Nazis had already invaded. They were redirected to England where Joop and Fritz both joined the Princess Irene Brigade of the Dutch Free Forces, eventually making their way over to Europe to fight in Operation Market Garden
During the war, my Dutch and German families were decimated, unprotected & turned on by their home states. I grew up with stories of my grandmother, Anneliese, fleeing from her school on Kristallnacht, the house being ransacked, and my great-grandfather being arrested by the Gestapo. My grandmother, aged 16, travelled alone from Germany to France to England where the rest of the family were waiting for her. Her journey took a year. My great-great-grandfather, aged 85, died in Bergen-Belsen. He kept himself clean, free of the lice that spread disease. He exercised, he was living, he would have survived. But his false teeth broke and he couldn’t eat the hard bread that was the only food and so he died. But for those broken teeth, he would have survived.
Lives were restarted & rebuilt in England; previous careers were useless. Who wants an old German lawyer in England during war time? My great-grandmother ran a British Restaurant, a scheme set up to feed the public during the Blitz. My clumsy academic great-grandfather watched for fires from the rooftops, while learning English from newspapers, unable to help in any other way. He was a decorated veteran from WW1 and was not afraid.
My grandmother worked in a hotel, alone, several miles from her family, too far to visit regularly. Her job was to set the tables with the dishes for breakfast. One day, homesick, she scraped the butter into delicate curls in each dish, like she remembered from when she was a child. Each curl was squashed into ugly lumps by the woman who ran the place, “We don’t do that here.”
My grandparents met in England & my mother was born in ‘47. She was unexpected but greatly cherished. Her birth brought hope after so much loss. My mother was seven months old when the State of Israel was declared.
Eventually the family moved to Israel and spent years there. My mother served in the IDF during the Six Day War in ‘67. My aunt did her army service by acting as a guide in the National Parks. But it’s a hard country, full of anger, and eventually my mum & the middle sister left.
My grandfather is buried in Haifa, my grandmother in Jerusalem. My other aunt, the youngest sister, lives there, in Orthodoxy. She is blessed, her son is engaged and her daughters are both married, one with a son of her own.
My German grandmother had no gift for languages. She always said that God knew this and tested her, making her learn English, French and Hebrew. My mother speaks six languages. I’ve told this to people and they refer to her as lucky, as blessed to speak so many languages. But it wasn’t really luck, it was necessity - they moved around a lot. Refugees have no roots.
When people ask me where my mother is from, I tell them either “It’s complicated” or “Europe.” She herself tends to identify as Israeli. Born in England, they moved to France, she learned German at school, moved to Israel, moved back to France, moved to Israel again (did army service and a degree), moved to Holland (met my British father there), moved to Italy (my brother was born), and finally, finally, moved to New Zealand, where I was born. When my parents made the decision to move here, it was with the knowledge that it would be permanent. They were leaving behind their families but my life, my brother’s life, would not be disrupted the way my mother’s had been. We could start growing those roots that had been missing.
I have started to refer to myself as Accidentally Kiwi, the only member of my family born in NZ. My mother was already pregnant with me when she arrived here. But, you know, we’re not real immigrants. We’re white, we have money, we speak English. We fit in, we pass. We even have a Christmas tree, just like my thoroughly-assimilated German grandmother did as a child in the ‘20s and ‘30s before everything changed.
I have almost no extended family in New Zealand, aside from some second cousins in the Bay of Plenty. I had to explain to a co worker in charge of a style guide that “Christian name” and “First name” are not synonymous, that unless you’ve been christened, you don’t have a Christian name. The phrase stayed put (“Perhaps in the next version?” I was told. This was five years ago). When I pointed out, in a progressive space, that a karakia is generally a Christian prayer, multiple cultures were belittled when someone replied that karakia don’t really count. I get questions when I take time off to help my mum set up for Pesach or Rosh Hashannah. I’m sick of educating people about my traditions.
People ask stupid questions (Do you speak Jewish? Isn’t that the one where you can only eat pork? Isn’t Judaism a kind of Christianity? Why did you kill Jesus lol lol?) or they tell me I’m the first Jew they’ve ever met or they share some uncomfortable and ignorant observation and suddenly I am different, my butter curls are squashed, as people realise that my family are new to New Zealand and that we’re not what they expected.
As a child, I read the novel Altneuland by Theodore Herzl. It is idealistic and unrealistic but it drew a picture of safety, of collective support and community, of familiarity, of no longer being a stranger in a foreign culture. I fell absolutely in love. My feelings were immature and without nuance but after a childhood of making Christmas cards at school and knowing that something about Easter just wasn’t quite right, reading about a Jewish country was a revelation.
I grew up in a socialist zionist youth movement. My movement had its roots in the scouting movement of Britain and in the vibrant community that used to exist in Poland. Members of the Polish movement fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. From nine years old to 21, this was my main connection with my history, the faith and the race that I came from. When I was 18, I worked and saved and the Jewish community in New Zealand helped pay for me to spend a year studying in Israel. In return, I was to give two years of leadership back to the youth movement and the community. In reality, it was more like five – I had been leading since I was 17. The ideals of Theodore Herzl seemed marvellous. We painted his portrait on the wall of our moadon.
The utopian socialist vision from Herzl does not and can not exist. As a naïve 18 year old who arrived in Israel, thinking that as a Leftie she was well educated in its flaws, this was a source of exhaustion and heartbreak. It’s the flaw in every ideology – we forget that people don’t exist in a vacuum, that they’re influenced by their experiences.
Israel is twisted by its foundation of pain & suffering, the actions of its government guided by paranoia. It’s like the entire country has PTSD, constantly exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. Israel cannot be weak! Any perceived weakness will be exploited! There is no other way to continue to exist! These are harsh lessons, learned from hundreds of years of slaughter, pogroms, expulsions, riots, holocausts, exterminations, bad faith and betrayal. To trust any other country or government to keep us safe is to be foolish.
I don’t support the attacks in Gaza. I don’t support the settlers in the West Bank. I abhor the greed and the racism and the violence and the thirst for conquest that I see in the extreme right in Israel. Nothing in the zionism I love says anything about oppressing others. But I can’t not support Israel’s existence. Israel fucks up over and over but I keep hoping it’ll get it right one day. When I was in Israel, I went to a peace protest of 10,000 people organised by Shalom Achshav. It was held in Kikar Rabin, a public city square named after a Prime Minister killed by a Jewish right wing extremist who hated Rabin for his peace process. This was 10 years ago. Those peace protests haven’t stopped. I’m not defending Israel or justifying its actions. I’m just asking for a little bit of understanding.
A while back, I was having a moan to a very good friend, annoyed at the kneejerk reactions of white Kiwis who know nothing about anything, annoyed about assumptions made about me.
“I can’t stand it, I don’t want to talk about it with these people! Because I’m not, I’m not…” I struggled for words.
“Because you’re not a zionist!” she exclaimed, sure that she’d struck the right phrase.
I was disappointed by her lack of understanding though perhaps I should have expected it. With my history and experiences, with my family’s experiences, how could I be anything else? It is as integral to my belief system as my feminism and just as misunderstood by other people.
What I meant was that I didn’t want to be a mouthpiece, I didn’t want to be anyone’s Jewish Authority On The Issue. It is not my job to be an ambassador or an educator about my culture. At a party, drink in hand, I don’t feel like being lectured or interrogated by a POLS student, or Wellington policy wonk who did a few religion papers at Vic, for whom this topic of conversation is interesting, it’s academic. He (because let’s be serious, it is usually a he) is sure that if we can just talk about it enough, we can all sort out it out and get peace in the Middle East! Jews are just so interesting with all their history and stuff! How laudable they are, these discussions.
I set my friend right very quickly, by the way. I am a zionist. It is not a dirty word for me. It means freedom and defence and safety and unity and friends and family. It is self determination and family history. I know there are Jews out there who don’t think I am zionist enough. I know there are Jews out there who think I am too zionist. There’s not a whole lot I can do about that, I only know my own experience and I’ve tried to explain it here. As the old saying goes, where you have two Jews, you have three opinions.
My grandmother remembered lying in bed as a child in Germany, listening to her family in the garden, laughing with each other on a summer’s night and feeling safe, cherished, and loved. My mother has no such memory. By that point the family had all been murdered or scattered around the world. I have a vague idea, as my parents built their lives here in New Zealand. I hope that my future children will be the ones to have grown those roots again, whose butter curls won’t be squashed.
Bergen-Belsen: Nazi concentration camp.
British Restaurant: Communal subsidised kitchens set up throughout London which sold very cheap but nutritious meals without taking ration cards.
Gestapo: Nazi Secret Police.
IDF: Israeli Defence Force, the army of the state of Israel. There is compulsory military service in Israel.
Karakia: Prayer in Māori, often Christian in denomination.
Kibbutz: Collectivist village, originally with an agricultural focus.
Kristallnacht: “The Night of Broken Glass”, 9/10 November 1938, a series of attacks carried out on Jews across Nazi Germany and Austria.