As an Israeli American, I was moved by Anna Blackshaw’s brutally honest interview with Israeli author David Grossman [“My Enemy, My Brother,” October 2008].
Grossman says, “It is important that Jewish Americans who oppose the occupation communicate their point of view here [in Israel], because we mainly hear from the right-wingers, who are much more vocal and sure of themselves. . . . If [U.S. critics of the occupation] are silent, if they do not make their opinions heard here, Israel will believe that all Jewish Americans support Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”
Grossman’s words have inspired me to do just that, beginning by writing an essay about my Israeli cousin, who put his freedom on the line by refusing to serve in the occupied territories and who is now an active member of an amazing group of Israelis and Palestinians called “Combatants for Peace” (combatantsforpeace.org). I am also compiling essays for an anthology that reflects Jewish Americans’ struggle with their love for Israel and their hatred for its government’s policies. Information about the peace anthology can be found at www.wakenowdiscover.weebly.com. I would love to hear from Sun contributors and readers.
In your October interview David Grossman says, “As the world shrinks, we feel the need to minimize the surface of our soul that comes in contact with its harshness, because if we feel more, we suffer more.”
His comment is just the first step in a transformation that we as a species are undergoing. It begins with the fear that our soul cannot face the horrors of the world. As Grossman describes, this leads to the construction of complex mental structures such as ideology, prejudice, and separation from others. The mind tries to shield the soul, but regardless of what “logic” the mind may adopt, the soul knows that suffering is not justified by ideology. For the soul, suffering is suffering.
After a long and painful struggle, we are left with but one choice: to open our heart. As we open our heart, instead of being crushed by the weight of the world’s harshness, we are relieved of the burden of propping up those complex mental structures that never were more than temporary distractions.
I am an American Jew, and I agree completely with David Grossman about the difficulty of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need for change. I have been alternately angry with how Israel has treated the Palestinians and proud that my people have a homeland, a country that extends its hand to me, no matter where I live or what I do. I agree that the Holocaust and the occupation of Palestinian lands are different in magnitude. As Grossman says, the Israelis do not intend to exterminate the Palestinian people. But that is also the crack in his argument. If you strip a people of their dignity, their basic human rights, their self-determination, and their pride, and if you also inflict physical abuse, violence, death, and destruction on them, the distinction becomes a form of denial.
David Grossman’s effort to humanize the Palestinians and Israelis to each other exemplifies the highest of human impulses and is perhaps the best hope for peace, but an important distinction gets glossed over in Anna Blackshaw’s interview with him. The catastrophe that befell the Palestinians was no accident. There is broad agreement, even among Israeli historians, that Zionist leaders planned the wholesale dispossession of the Palestinian people from their land and homes, with the result that 1.3 million of them now live in squalid refugee camps. Those in Gaza live on the edge of starvation while Israelis reside in their former homes a few leagues away.
Grossman seeks to equate the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians and make their shared suffering the basis of a new relatedness — a laudable project. But the bridge of reconciliation must rest upon the ground of truth. I don’t want to minimize the horrific suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust or Israelis in the struggle over Palestine, but to imply that there is parity between the suffering of the Palestinians and the Israelis is akin to equating the suffering of the rapist and the rape victim. Sure, the rapist has wounds that spur his violence, and even rapists deserve our compassion and understanding, but the possibility of healing and forgiveness is precluded while the perpetration is ongoing and the perpetrator is unrepentant. I invite Grossman to look reality in the eye once again and call it by its name.
As another parent of a special-needs son, I want Poe Ballantine to know that his essay about his own son did not offend me, as it did reader Kate Hutchinson [Correspondence, October 2008]. My son’s torment, schizophrenia, is a plague that affects one in a hundred people, and though I both love my son and find him beautiful, I hate his disease and fear for his future. Not only is it OK to call attention, as Ballantine did, to unpleasant disease-related behaviors like tearing up magazines and breaking Legos, it is essential in order to increase understanding. How else will my son’s unconventional behavior be tolerated or his place in this world be anything other than some version of a padded cell?
More than ten years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Florida, an editor from a prestigious literary review visited our school. At a dinner party I asked him when he’d last been moved to tears by a poetry submission. He gave a little chuckle and said never; he wasn’t the type to be so moved by a poem.
I don’t regularly blubber over poems, either, but the tears welled up when I read the last line of Naomi Shihab Nye’s “For Aziz, Who Loved Jerusalem” [October 2008].
I started reading Wayne Harrison’s “The Jump” [October 2008] at home this morning. When it was time to go, I threw the magazine in my satchel and ran to catch the streetcar. By the time I got off, I was in tears. Thanks for a painful, wonderful story.
Day care and preschool were closed today for Rosh Hashanah, so I brought my two kids with me to work. They delighted in the drive, but by the time we arrived at my office my daughter had decided it was “not at all fun.” Within ten minutes, my son managed to lose my building and office keys. Later my daughter coaxed my son into applying a permanent marker to a digital white board. At the end of the day a colleague offered both kids candy, which resulted in their screaming their heads off during the forty-minute ride home. After they’d drifted off to sleep, I sat down with Andrew Boyd’s “Dad for a Day” [October 2008]. I’m still smiling.
I was thrilled to open the October issue of The Sun and see Marisa Handler’s essay “The Magic-Makers of Havana.” I lived in Havana for seven months in 2000 and 2001 and wrote a book about my experiences. During that time I read everything I could get my hands on about Cuba. As Handler notes, what little I found was often one-dimensional. One visitor to Cuba would see a thin child in front of a crumbling building and turn out a story about poverty and disillusionment with the revolution. Another visitor would go on an official tour and see smiling, well-fed people and write about the beauty and simplicity of life on the island. (I used to think of the latter as “foreign Fidelistas,” more passionate about Cuba’s revolution than its own residents were.)
But Handler saw the truth, which is that Cuba is full of contradictions. It is a beautiful place with a proud and educated population, and it is a prison of sorts, where the residents have traded ambition for resignation.
The October Sun was filled with thoughtful, nourishing writing. The interview with David Grossman was an unusually candid and sober look at the agonizing Israeli-Palestine situation. It’s not often we get such straightforward talk from someone who deals compassionately with both sides of the issue.
In her account of her visit to Cuba Marisa Handler recognizes the complexity of the debate, rather than just reciting the party line on either the Left or the Right. She reveals the confusion and uncertainty that lurk behind easy assumptions and recognizes that nothing is ever all good or all bad; each thing carries within it the seeds of its opposite.
Andrew Boyd’s essay “Dad for a Day” was delightful, as was Wayne Harrison’s short story “The Jump.” The whole issue was a welcome relief from the usual heavy dose of abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, religious angst, and general self-absorption in The Sun. Though sharing negative experiences is valuable, these positive, outward-looking pieces provide a welcome balance.
I’m a busy full-time student and belong to many clubs and organizations, so I don’t have much leisure time. I recently made plans to go to a concert with a friend I rarely get to see. I was looking forward to visiting with my friend and taking some time for myself.
Then I checked my e-mail and found an invitation from Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services to participate in volunteer training; I’d sent them an application several months ago. The training would take place over seven days, including the Saturday of the concert. I was torn. Should I go with my friend to see one of my favorite bands? Or should I attend this volunteer-training session that happens only a couple of times a year?
A few hours later I picked up the September Sun and read Marc Polonsky’s interview with John Records [“Leave the Light On”], and I remembered why I’d applied for the training in the first place. Records says, “We may have more time than we think we do. And we might find a greater happiness from giving where we are needed than from being entertained.” When I read that, my decision was made.