It would please me most if you would have the time to come to the first, highly exclusive event at the Soho House: “Tel Aviv meets Berlin” – discussion and reading with Alon, Tal Norbert Kron and me.
Written by Mati Shemoelof 12.05.2014 Read More »
A “digital roundtable” held Nov. 14 is the latest example of how 21st century technology is breaking down international borders and transforming Cornell’s campus in the humanities as well as the sciences.
“New Mizrahi Writing in Israel: Digital Roundtable,” held in a Martha Van Rensselaer Hall videoconferencing facility, brought together writers on three continents to discuss the contemporary Israeli literary scene for an on-campus audience of students and faculty. The writers were chosen, said organizer Deborah Starr, because their work grapples with the cultural and linguistic heritage of their families who immigrated to Israel from Arab or Muslim countries (termed “Mizrahi Jews”).
“The webcast panel offered students in Ithaca a glimpse into the vibrant Israeli literary scene,” said Starr, professor of modern Hebrew and Arabic literature in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. “And it gave the writers a chance to get to know each other. It was a pretty lively discussion, as they had very different points of view”.
Michal Held, poet and scholar of Ladino, participated from Jerusalem, and began the event by reading a poem in Hebrew and English that she called a “manifesto” against not being categorized “Mizrahi”.
Her manifesto was echoed by Sami Berdugo, participating from Berlin, who read a poem in Hebrew, Arabic and English that reflected his ambivalence toward Hebrew and his Israeli identity. “I feel I have no community in Israel, religious, Mizrahi, sexual or other,” he said, adding “no category applies to me.
Poet Anat Zecharia, calling in from Tel Aviv, said she agreed with Berdugo. When someone reads her poems “as a manifesto of feminism or as an Israeli poet or as a Mizrahi poet, it makes him see maybe the end of the poem, but he never gets down deep to what I mean or think”.
But Almog Behar, award-winning author and poet and a visiting scholar at Cornell, said, “For me, you can be Mizrahi and Israeli and Jewish and Arabic and so on and they don’t contradict each other.” He noted that in the previous generation, “calling people ‘Mizrahi writers’ was a limiting title that was meant to place them in a narrow place in Israeli culture which would be marginalized within Israeli literature … but as a self-definition it also has the power to broaden Israeli literature. It allows us to connect with parts of our literature that were hidden from us”
Poet and playwright Mati Shemoelof, participating from Tel Aviv, said he has begun writing in prose “to find a new place in the culture so the categories focused on my writing will be different. In my prose I am less aware of the categories and try to write less politically and more freely than before.” Still, he added, “I’m proud that my work until now has been Mizrahi work. I’m proud of my ethnicity.
The roundtable was sponsored by the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Jewish Studies Program and the Society for the Humanities, with support from the Hope and Eli Hurowitz Fund. Behar’s visiting scholar appointment is funded by the Shusterman Foundation.
Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences
Poetry made of charms
In order to write, I fill my room with charms. These magical objects transform my simple wooden desk into a space crafted from unknown magic, with no beginning or end. The east opens, and I can see a new world – reaching all the way to the dark edges of town.
I start collecting my charms: a vintage photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron (Check her page) entitled “I Wait”; An old photo of me standing next to Nadav Cohavi RIP, from the time we had a band in LA; A gray plastic elephant my girlfriend Ayala got me, a magical cat standing at the gates of the ancient world of eternity, which I bought during a visit to the Pyramids many years ago; a Palestinian postcard from old Jaffa to complete them all.
I look at them surrounding me, and start hearing an old but new melody of prayer.
A spirit of Love and social change.
Mati Shemoelof, Tel Aviv/Israel
It is extremely unfortunate that certain far-right elements are trying to fan the frustrations felt by residents of the country’s peripheral areas against foreign workers. Last week’s rally in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood was a low point that should serve as a warning sign.
When I arrived at the rally last Wednesday, I looked at the asylum seekers and felt sorry for them. I asked myself whether they were aware that that night would be a menacingly difficult one. A man stood at the podium and asked the crowd, in a shaky voice, to refrain from violence. The very request raised concern. The demonstrators appeared visibly frustrated. Some of them held signs criticizing the government, not just the refugees.
The fear was mainly of the Sudanese infiltrators, and it boiled down to the fact that they hail from an Islamic country. One of the speakers at the rally warned that they would build mosques everywhere and that we would lose the Jewish state. Another speaker said he had no problem with the Chinese workers or the illegal Palestinian workers, but that the Sudanese and Eritreans were inspiring fear, buying and renting apartments everywhere. His remarks made me very sad. Another speaker took the stage and demanded that her daughters be protected from rapists. The crowd’s calls reflected their desire to take the law into their own hands.
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who condemned the violence, demanded that they be “expelled immediately” in addition to building the border fence between Egypt and Israel and completing detention centers. The demonstrators chanted: The people demand deportation of the Sudanese!
Many Knesset members have made extremist remarks lately, but when MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) blamed Israel-hating leftists for the situation, I could no longer bear it. You can’t have it both ways. The politicians on the Right need to decide whether they want to incite violence or to offer a real, serious solution. The elimination of thousands of refugees will not suddenly create jobs or a sense of security for Israelis. The problem is not the refugees, but rather the absence of a welfare state.
The situation requires a complex solution. The asylum seekers must be removed from the cycle of poverty by giving them work permits, because only in this way will they be able to earn an honest living while they are in Israel. Such a measure would also lead to their dispersal throughout the country, thus relieving the burden on the weakest socio-economic areas. Either way, as long as there are those who prefer to denigrate and incite, the issue will remain in the headlines rather than being seriously treated.
And regardless of one opinion or another: Whoever incites to violence against foreigners should be punished in accordance with the law, so that the issue can be discussed reasonably in a public atmosphere that is rational rather than hysterical.
This article was first published on Israel Hayom
The following was translated from the original Hebrew by Dena Shunra.
Lisa Goldman response to me in her piece, “Does Israel’s cultural life offer hope for its democracy?”, and raises important points about the discussion of the connection between the cultural and the political. She explains that Tel Aviv is a sort of a bubble. The avant-garde activity occurring in the metropolis reminds her of something:
“There is also a palpably feverish quality to the creativity in Tel Aviv. It reminds me of descriptions I’ve read of Weimar Berlin, which was also the artistic, scientific and financial capital of a new democracy that was threatened and buffeted by an environment of political extremism. Not to belabour the point or anything, but Weimar Berlin did not exactly make Germany more democratic. It was a feverish and brief explosion of artistic and scientific accomplishment that occurred between two episodes of total war, both ending in incomprehensible destruction.”
The comparison could be true, but I will not easily accept the historical reference. Israeli is a state founded on otherness. Different currents flow out of this otherness and into the culture, and nourish it. Mizrahi music expands and conquers new audiences and is closer to the Middle Eastern culture than the European. It could just as easily be heard in any Arab capital and does not require a European model as a symbol from which it would draw the memory, composition, and forms.