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Posts Tagged ‘jewish voice for peace’

[The meeting ] has been about much more than naming oppressions. We danced (some of us), sang, laughed, wept, mourned, strategized, debated and disagreed and most importantly we dreamed. We dreamed of a beloved community.—Nyle Fort [one of the presenters]

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This description is not hyperbole. My 3 days in Chicago (my hometown) were extraordinary, often brought me to tears. In large measure this was the perfect storm of mystery, political action, and soulfulness, ritually enlivened by the best practises of Judaism. It is all and more what I’ve long desired for Quakers–no split between holiness, love, and political action.

Love, joy, outrage, smart thinking, argumentation, energy, cooperation, innovation, singing, dancing flooded the meeting of over 1000 participants—and of course the stuff of conferences, meeting and learning. I was in tears twice on the last day, first during the morning plenary which was meditative, based on the power of rocks. I wept because I felt I was so perfectly in the right place, with a community that melds spirituality and political action. We sang Jewish, prayed Jewish, danced Jewish, lit candles Jewish, and tried to fully embody Jewish justice traditions. In some weird way, I may be more Jewish than some of my Jewish buddies. Without the pedigree probably.

Secondly, our closing included words from the Palestinian activist, Rasmea Odeh, whose trial I attended in Detroit two years ago and who has now offered a plea bargain–voluntary deportation, no prison, no fine. A Black activist from the baptist preacher tradition, Nyle Fort, and Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of the DC Women’s March, Brooklyn born, Muslim, wears the hijab, and has been wildly targeted, joined her, all three pushing us up on our feet.

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Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil, whereby men and gods are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, and reign over us.’ But the vine answered them, ‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’

—Judges 9: 8-15

Courtesy of the internet

Yes, much to grieve.

Hilda Silverman died on May 6 at the age of 69, too soon as many have said, including her. Of acute leukemia and lymphoma. She had been feeling “a little low, under the weather,” as she’d said repeatedly over the past several years. Suffering a complete transplant of bone marrow, one remission, chemo, she finally died at Mt Auburn hospital in the presence of her daughter and son, with many hovering in vigil holding her in various ways of love.

Recently at the talk by Sandy Tolan, author of the exemplary, The Lemon Tree, Sara Roy and Hilary Rantizi, following Cathy Hoffman, eulogized her. Sandy told us that Hilda had been the first to approach him more than one year earlier, inviting him to Cambridge.

So it goes, never on time, never too late. My turn? Your turn?

At a Women in Black demonstration, Harvard Square, Cambridge MA, 2006

On May 25, one day before Memorial Day, I attended the memorial service for Hilda at Temple Bethlehem-Shalom, site of innumerable Cambridge holocaust memorials that she had a direct hand in organizing. As expected the hall was filled, with perhaps 200 people. I was stunned to learn that the song “When I’m Gone” by Phil Ochs was on the program. I’d not realized that she had admired this song as I had and perhaps had requested it for her service, as I would for mine.

At Hilda’s earlier admonition, her son and daughter hired Walid, the Palestinian owner of the former Sepal restaurant in Watertown, to cater the reception. I’d noticed how juicy and flavorful the domas were, grape leaves wrapped around rice and other treats. Also the hummus stood out. Walid and I conversed, he with his perpetual smile.

The service itself consisted of three interspersed songs by a chorus from Workmen’s Circle, opening remarks by Sara Roy, a series of short talks by family members and friends, highlighted by Alice Rothschild’s superb pithy poem (later I asked her for a copy, please see below—a poem is such a perfect way to encapsulate multiple thoughts and feelings, in a discourse directed to the deceased), with open speaking, much of it moving (Elaine’s humorous anecdotes, such as Hilda always carrying heavy bags of paper and books in her car, that somehow migrated into her hosp room), ending with all of us standing to sing “When I’m Gone.”

Someone, maybe Elaine again, a humorist, spoke of Hilda’s regret that she’d never been arrested. The closest was when she was detained, held in a line, and overheard her colleagues being questioned: name, address, color of eyes, height, weight? Oh no, not weight! she exclaimed. And she somehow left the line.

There wasn’t as much obvious emotion expressed as at the memorial for Tom Frank a few weeks earlier; rather it was a remembrance—respectful, measured, admiring.

One significant conversation with AB, an Israeli Jew, arriving in this country when 20 years old. She and a friend are documenting historic Israeli atrocities, returning over and over to Israel. She confided to me how painful this process is for her, an Israeli Jew feeling responsible for the suffering. Many times, she told me, she’s wanted to quit. I sensed remorse in her voice, sadness, even despair. Certainly great pain.

When I asked her how she might explain the ferocity of pro Israel attitudes among the likes of Hillel Stavis (she’d been telling me of an episode when she was picketing his then main store, Wordsworth Books, after he’d led a campaign to withdraw support from WBUR FM because of its alleged tilt toward Palestine) that part of the story is new power felt by Jews thru the state of Israel. Imagine it this way: you’re oppressed for generations, centuries, millennia, and relatively suddenly, the first time in 2 millennia, you have power thru the state dedicated to you, a Jew. Israel means self assertion, confidence, pride, and any threat to it is grievous.

This, plus a sense of identity for Jews who might feel not fully Jewish, might begin to explain the “hysteria,” AB’s word, of support. This second line of thinking is as follows: Suppose I’m a Jew by lineage, by culture, but not by practice. I do not believe, I do not attend synagogue, I do not really feel Jewish. Yet Israel stands for all Jews everywhere, so by identifying with Israel I identify publicly as a Jew.

Similar to how the American flag collects all aspiring to be American, even the most recent immigrant. So Israel for even the most tenuous Jew is Judaism writ large. Thus it must survive, it is good in all ways and at all times, and any who challenge it belie a deeper wish to destroy it.

This is partially the view of the very intelligent but often limited CE. That those of us criticizing Israel might in fact mask a tendency to deny its existence. To wish it away. To desire to annihilate it. From prospect to fact in one easy leap. I might; therefore, I do.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I feel I’m making some headway into the psyche of various staunch supporters of Israel. Hilda is exceptional in her ability to go beyond this more traditional—and understandable, yet ultimately destructive to Israel—fallacy of thinking.

Obituary

“The Work Unfinished, Remembering Hilda Silverman,” by Jennifer Bing-Carter

When I’m Gone, by Phil Ochs

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Poem to Rachel Corrie, by Hilda Silverman
March 18, 2003

Whatever words might have been adequate
have become a high fluting cry

like the keening whit-tu-tu
of the unseen bird outside

my window. All day I have been trying
to break free from the bulldozer’s

blade, piled earth, steel treads fracturing
skull and chest, that moment of resistance

and protest, stilled frame reverberating
beyond the moment, like the kid

in Tiananmen Square before the tank.
Her bright orange jacket

and megaphone.
Her kind and tired eyes.

All day I have been pierced
by the high note of helplessness,

the ragged beat of despair.
Shrouded body with its blur of blood.

The quiet hands of mourners
bearing her, flag-sheathed, across the town

And why was she there?
Ask the ones whose truths she saw

and sought to speak. Ask the child
sitting atop slanting slabs

of concrete, debris of his demolished home.
Ask the husband of the pregnant woman

trapped beneath crushing rubble,
the neighbor’s bulldozed house

bringing their own walls down,
who cradled her toddler as she died.

Ask the families—hundreds
huddled in wind-ripped tents

homes wrecked without warning
to make way for the separation wall.

Ask the ones who aren’t American
and don’t make the morning news

Whatever words we have are useless
against this cruel weight. The bird’s cry

keens from every crack in the edifice
of history. Before she died, Rachel Corrie wrote

of the privilege granted her, an outsider,
but denied to those under occupation.

“I have a home.
I am allowed to go see the ocean.”

Hilda Silverman was a writer and member of Visions of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine (VOPJ), an association of Jews in Greater Boston working to promote a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. She was also active in Women in Black and Jewish Voice for Peace. She co-authored the exemplary book, When the Rain Returns, by a working group from the American Friends Service Committee.

The above poem was written in memory of Rachel Corrie, 23 years old, member of the International Solidarity Movement, killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent demolition of a Palestinian family’s house.

(courtesy of Women’s World)

To Hilda

May 2008

By Alice Rothchild

Today you are floating above the tearful faces and outstretched arms,
Of your friends and relations,
Like a gauzy blue vision in a Marc Chagall painting.
How impossible it is to believe,
That only a few weeks ago
You were eagerly chomping down stuffed cabbage,
Joking, “Well, at least I have the same disease as Edward Said!”
Comparing Haggadahs with your cheerful, very Jewish oncologist,
And busily scribbling lists on that frayed yellow pad beside your bed.

I wonder,
How will Jen and David and Sara ever decipher your hieroglyphic handwriting,
As they sort through the voluminous, quirky, monumental paper trail you have left behind?

Death was lurking under your bed,
But you had so much left to do.

And that is the tragedy for you and for us, the survivors,
Inspired by your unwavering persistence in staying the moral course,
Asking the most challenging of questions,
In your frenzied, insistent, smart voice.

We were constantly awed by your phenomenal recall of every event, meeting, lecture,
book, or speech ever given,
You were a living history lesson for us all,
A meticulous editor for me,
The sounding board for many.

With your crown of curly hair, your tasteful, slightly clunky jewelry,
(Was that favorite, big orange necklace from Algeria?)
Your ethnic, patterned, ever-so-Cambridge jackets and billowy pants,
You felt like the political mother, mentor, and teacher so many of us needed.
Reflecting on your meeting with Arafat in Tunis in 1987,
And the significance of the Holocaust in understanding Jewish trauma,
And the importance of “not hating Israel more than she deserves,”
You never took a breath as you bridged the seemingly unbridgeable.
I remember you talked of joining a boat brigade to break the siege of Gaza, until you hit your own personal siege.

But you also knew how to play.
There was a coy, girlish side to you that always took me by surprise.
You loved to gaze at the sea in Rockport,
To feel the salty wind over the rocky beaches,
To relish a great Afghan meal at Helmand’s
(I recall you loved the Aushak, leek and scallion raviolis, and the Kaddo, baked pumpkin with yogurt and garlic and mint, and you raved about the lamb.)
You listened avidly to symphonies,
(Wasn’t the Elgar symphony those young musicians played at the end of Barenboim’s Ramallah concert your favorite?)
You jumped at the chance to be the indulgent grandmother to Sara and Jay’s Annie and Jess.

You were never afraid to swallow, to inhale, to wrestle with the world around you.

We are all enriched by the example of your lust for life and your passion for action.
The letters on your ancient computer keyboard were long rubbed off and dissolved
By the sweat and the pounding of your frenetic, talkative fingers.

I can just imagine at the hundreds of meetings, actions, and vigils that loom
before us,
When we are lost in political confusion,
Someone will finally ask, “Well, what would Hilda do?”
And your unrelenting voice of conscience,
Will be our compass,
As we gather our grief and disbelief,
And stumble forward.
Honoring your memory by the work that we do,
Painfully aware that this life can be rudely snatched away at the least expected of times.

It is no wonder that you were always in such a hurry.

Alice Rothchild is an obstetrician-gynecologist who has worked in the health care reform and women’s movements for many years. Since 1997, she has focused much of her energy on understanding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams, Stories of Jewish and
Palestinian Trauma and Resilience.

J Cronk sings When I’m Gone

Donation information as Hilda requested:

Jewish Voice for Peace Boston

Memo: Hilda Silverman Fund

P.O. Box 400479

Cambridge, MA 02140

Tel: (617) 984-0532

Or Jewish Voice for Peace (national) (‘Hilda Silverman Fund’ in the memo)

Or, to the organization of your choosing.

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