Aleppo, I, Matityaho Ibn Shifra, your old daughter, a grandson of your Arab-Jews, mourn the erasure of your city of poetry
Aleppo, how did they forget to save your libraries
Aleppo, was it not fireworks that lit the skies of the Arab spring? Or were the night stars shining all night long
Aleppo, tell me who is the devil that drops explosive barrels upon your residents, and thinks that in this way — they will write his name in love
Aleppo, will you listen to the old, weeping Iraqi who lives inside of me? Here, at the gates of our European towns, stand thousands of your sons and daughters, standing with keys to lost homes, waiting to enter
Aleppo, rich poems will flourish in your botanic gardens; Free, we will walk among your Middle Eastern shifting sand-novel-dunes; freedom will be tattooed on our children’s hands, red words of prayer will spread in the wind
Aleppo, torn poetry books fly in the wind; your children’s memory squashed beneath the rubble
Aleppo, the few who read your heart’s beating poems fighting with those who don’t know shit about the little girl who dances while she writes a love letter to her mom
Aleppo, your daughters, are the new Jews, who are exiled between the libraries of the world, and inside their headphones you can hear the compassionate womb of the Oud
Aleppo, we will not fight with weapons that lead to victory. Nope. We will put our hopes in the gentle candle wax and surrender to mountains of words where the sweet snow melts into rivers; where love springs out
Aleppo, tell us again how we can raise neighborhoods of believers and atheists; among the alters who scattered our souls
Aleppo, your stories will come back to my ears, like a child who sits on his grandmother’s knees
While trying to plan a new life abroad following the failure of the 2011 social protests, Regev Contes uncovers a family secret that radically alters his Israeli Jewish identity.
Regev Contes’ new documentary film, “Goodbye Adolf,” which recently aired on Israel’s Channel 1, is full of courage and honesty. (Warning: this article includes spoilers.
Contes, one of the leaders of the 2011 social protests, brings to the screen what we social activists felt after the failure of the protest: how it divided us, how we gave up and surrendered, how we scattered and dispersed to all corners of the globe in search of a suitable home. The film revolves around Contes, who cannot contend with the soaring housing prices in Israel and, contrary to his friends, whose parents are in no position to offer him financial assistance. In other words, Contes is part of the Ashkenazi disadvantaged class. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the film.)
In a moment of bitter disillusionment, Contes is resigned to using his last remaining savings from his pension fund. Contes and his wife, Shir Nosatzki, are thus forced to migrate, finding Berlin to be a convenient and suitable location. The only thing that bothers them seems to be Berlin’s Nazi past, and the fear of being a Jewish minority in Germany.
Contes’ film deconstructs the Israeli national imagination — one based on national identity, which views itself as an imagined family meant to provide citizens with food and security. The disintegration of national identity makes clear how class functions in Israel, with the rising cost of living leading to fear and anxiety. But in 2011 we did not fall into the trap of blaming each other for this situation. Instead we refused to believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told us that we should unite in fear against the Iranian nuclear threat or Hamas. In the internet age, we no longer believe the lies of the ruling class as and its right-wing neoliberal government. The 2011 protests changed our collective ethos. The Israeli public learned that the government lies, using spin and media campaigns to mask its corruption and plunder.
Solidarity from the ultimate nemesis
Contes wakes up and realizes that the country is not actually providing him with the answers he is looking for. He opens up his laptop and starts to read about options for immigration.
One interesting moment in the film takes place toward the end, when Contes tries to find out why he was given his middle name, Michael. Growing up, his father had told him that he had an “uncle” named Michael. It is while digging through the family archives — in order to put together the paperwork needed for a Polish or Slovak passport — that the course of Contes’ life changes. Suddenly he is re-writing his roots: he discovers that not a single person in the previous five generations before him, on both sides of his family (dating back to the first half of the 19th century) was called Michael. Only then does Contes discover the origin of the name: a Hungarian SS guard named Michael Gombkoto, who stole potatoes and gave them to his grandmother, an act that saved her life while she was in the concentration camp.
Decades later, as Contes deconstructs his national identity, he understands that his Israeli Jewish identity is not fixed and static — that it is fluid and can change. Contes is able to see how a Nazi guard, his ultimate nemesis, could also be someone with whom he could build solidarity.
“Goodbye Adolf” ends with the desire to travel and emigrate, but not with the move itself. We grew up in the national imagination that outlined the beginning of our life. We didn’t have the opportunity to see the humanity in the Other. Jewish nationalism brought us up to believe that Israel can rely only on itself. But in the summer of 2011, we learned that we couldn’t rely solely on our government for real social change. Five years after the failure of the social protests, with social inequality only deepening, we are still looking for a new direction. We must forget about national borders, and instead aim to find humanity and solidarity beyond the scope of our exclusivist national family.
What would happen if our education system taught us that Israel is not the only safe refuge for Jews? That nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are not an insurance policy for us? What would happen to students who began to view their parents’ immigration to Israel as just one of several options? Do anti-Semitism and fascism pose a similar threat today as they did before World War II? Maybe this way Israel would not need to endlessly victimize itself and unite against an imagined enemy.
A real cosmopolitan model for Jewish life
Contes’ film reveals to us how German identity is far more complex than the worn out binary of friend or enemy, Nazi or Jew. Instead we see how nationalism is reconstructed around other values. In a rare moment, the SS officer’s name becomes part of the Jewish story, lodging itself into the most intimate memories of Jewish traditions. Although the parents claimed to have “forgotten” Michael’s story, Contes’s determination sheds light on the truth.
Israel is tied to the German regime. The Jewish people suffered near-extinction in countries under Germany’s control. But Israel also adopted the old model of German nationalism: one nation, one language, one land. That is why Israel seeks to get rid of the Palestinians and do away with the bi-national reality in Israel-Palestine. The fleeing of more than a million Syrian refugees and asylum seekers to Germany has created a cosmopolitan reality. Israel, on the other hand, cannot even imagine the return of millions of Palestinian refugees, who were expelled when the state was founded in 1948. Despite the ugly reality, Contes, who represents the Ashkenazi lower-middle class, is able to dig deep and find the most profound sense of humanity.
This seed that grows and connects humans to one another, one that sprouts as Contes faces his deepest crisis, shows that even the failure of the 2011 protests can teach us something that goes beyond our secure national borders. This seed leads me to recall Berlin before World War II, which served as a real cosmopolitan model for Jewish life. Perhaps today we can see a new model being built among Israelis, Palestinians and others from the Middle East, along with other immigrants, living together in Berlin.
Thank you all for coming and experiencing our poetic musical journey from Baghdad to Berlin. It was the first show and because of its energies we will do more!
Thank you Gidi Farhi – our dialouge enrichen me so much!
Thank you Dury de Bagh AND Cafe De Bagh for joining our Baghdad – Berlin poetic train. We could not do it without your support and help. It was a great night for me, because poetry is window to my soul and for one moment you all were inside of me.
Here are the poems that i was reading:
“seventy kinds of different dates were in Baghdad”
my grandma told me
“and shame that we left,” she added
“over there, they didn’t put antibiotics in our food
we didn’t eat cow meat and our Kuba rice dish was filled with lamb”
and even if my way to Baghdad Has been ruined
and although I don’t speak the language
now I know that my life is a piece of a Darkened history
that sits on
a hook, a moonlight tale of my grandma.
Words of Departure
This poem will soon collapse
I left the life of guaranties
To find a new life in Berlin
I speak broken English, Broken German, Broken Hebrew, Five Shekels a Euro
I disconnected my Jewish phone
I said goodbye to my mom
My life’s beloved
The jazz of Berlin
I ask fewer questions
And lose myself more in the jazz of Berlin
Flowing from the many Diasporas
At night I climb through women’s windows
In the morning I labor
And on Sabbath with holy words
I talk to myself in Hebrew, with no country
I talk to others in another tongue, with no country
I miss my father’s memorial
And recall him in every word
I don’t know where I come from or where I’m going
But even strangeness has a birthday
And I’ll wake in your arms
And between your thighs
Remembering like a child.
Passports also break I tell you,
Passports also become worn out over the years, made by strangers, exchanged across inhuman borders
Passports also lie, that they are always new, like a biometric seal of worn out, tired, rough and diminishing skin
Passports also become refugees, when the dream’s stars do not immigrate in time from the night’s darkness
Passports are also jailed when the wall turns into a wedding, and hope remains single
Passports also struggle to pull out of the earth, which pretends being a pillow, and its heart is tough, and cold, dry-land of frozen lava
Passports also continue going to work, and not read and write the way out of the prison of thought
Passports are also saddened, when we discover that you went missing between waves of broken glass
Passports also get lost, when confronted by a prayer that does not have you in its end
“Our love has no passport,” you answer me, and write a new poem in the heart of the world.
[Translated by Na’aman Hirschfeld. 2016]
And I regret that I missed a way to his heart
I don’t know why he loved to eat above the sink
without a plate, dark bread, salty cheese.
He sits, coiled on the black sofa, with an open book
inventing funny names for anyone, who enters the house.
and I’m sure he was a free spirited poet like me, despite working in a shop all his life
truth be told I have no way of knowing, discovering or talking with him.
The only way is to write…
that he wasn’t happy than I
but I remember him reading one of my early poems one day
and coming back happy to our house he told me how in the “Old age” club where he visited
his friends liked my poems.
and perhaps with my inspiration, he started to write the story of his life
of how his wealthy grandfather was thrown out of Mashad by the local Muslims in Iran
and how he immigrated to Palestine round the start of the 20 century
[Damm, why didn’t I keep this paper?]
and now I regret every moment I ignored his point of view
I could have hugged him and understood that was his story
and what is left for me? deep regret
what is left of him? one unfinished poem
and the days are getting less
while these memories grow in their nakedness.
[Translated by Dov Waterman . 2016]
There Was Never a Home in Poetry
“There was never a state in Eden
East and west never were
We were not expelled, nor defeated”
The black eyebrows sway
The coffee cup with cardamom trembles
On the train at Hermannplatz
Ubahn, U7, one stop
And naked love, approaching in the foreignness
To be revealed
And we shall recite poetry
And clear a path out of Egypt
When the stars shine
[Translated by Na’aman Hirschfeld. 2015]
On April i will be reading my poems with the bass player Gidi Farhi on the 8th Poetic Hafla in Berlin. 1.4.17. Details soon.
On June i will be performing in A Jerusalem festival in a special show about my move to Berlin. I will update soon.
The story “To the son of a bitch” will be published on the spring edition of “Connsequence Magazine“.
Dr. Rachel Seelig talks about “Motherless Tongues: German-Hebrew Literary Exchange” (De Gruyter Press) that will includes first chapter of my coming novel will publish both English and Hebrew translations!
15-17 of December – I will be reading my poems in the International Helicon Poetry Festival in Israel.
9 of December – Shemoelof & Farhi | Spoke word & Music in Berlin
The story “The Black River” was published on spring edition of “The Bombay Review“.