(Originally posted here)
By Jeremy Wood
Al-Ramla was built in the beginning of the 8th century on dunes and sometimes I like to think you can feel that here, that there is nothing under this place but sand, that there are no hungry zombie hands of history. Yehuda Amichai said that the air above Jerusalem is thick with prayers like the smog over a factory town. I don’t feel that here. There is a lightness. Al-Ramla translates, loosely as “Queen of the Desert”.
This is not a place without history. In ’48, 10s of thousands of its inhabitants were exiled, by Israeli intimidation, by the hope of refuge and revenge in the Jordanian camp. Leaflets were dropped, promising death if they did not leave. There is a deadness in the south of the city. In a couple weeks will be the anniversary of that exodus. I hope to sit in the Muslim cemetery that sits under the old Mamluk minaret in the centre of town and say Kaddish or Fatiha or something to commemorate. They say there are sahabas buried in that cemetery. They call the Minaret, the Tower of the 40 Martyrs. 40 is lowballing it.
Many stayed though. I saw a woman in Niqqab today. I don’t know if she gets hassled or not. I assume it’s not easy and I respect her. This is not an easy country to live in for everyone but it feels often like a harder country to leave.
This is a country where past and present are, like Jews, always screaming over eachother. Right now the tension is fresh. Soon, maybe in a week, maybe less, Iran intends to send two aid ships past the Gaza blockade with partial military escort. It seems nothing but a ploy for primacy in the region that, once again, uses the people of Palestine as an empty reference like others in the neighborhood use “history” or “G-d”. Politics mask Religion mask history mask everything and I am reminded of what Declan de Barra, an Irish rebel singer once told me that sometimes the only way to sing about any of those is by singing about love. Irish poets saw their country as a beautiful and tormented woman. So did the Prophets. There are some things that can only be spoken of, as they are, to a point. Sometimes we are not prepared to see things as darkly as they can be. There is poetry after Auschwitz because there has to be.
I hope Ahmadinejad reconsiders. I am hopeful. Egypt has opened Rafah indefinitely, even though a year ago Al-Azhar declared any suggestion at doing so “unIslamic”. There is talk in the government here of lightening the Israeli blockade. It feels like the Rachel Corrie finally called Bibi’s bluff. Barukh Hashem.
All that heavy end of the world stuff aside, we’ve been planning ways out of this town. In the next few months are Jazz Festivals in Eilat, Klezmer Hasidic Acid Rock in Tzfat and Theatre in Akko. Next week is the World Zionist Congress and I’m excited. We’re invited to some sort of Gala. I hope Mimi will get me an invite from Meimad to sit in on some of the real stuff. Being in this place, reading Haaretz every day again, makes me more comfortable in calling myself a Zionist, knowing more precisely what I mean by it and not having to listen to people tell me I’m wrong.
I still haven’t been to Shul here. I bought an Artscroll in Mea Sharim and I’ve davvened Shabes Maariv with Lindsay and a few Shacharits on my own. I’m nervous. Some of the shuls here don’t even have Mechitza. They simply don’t allow women. I am worried I’ll feel nothing in a place my sisters are kept out of. But do I respond by excluding my less feminist brothers? I don’t know. Is inclusivity anything more than neutrality here? I didn’t feel much at the kotel this time around. I just pictured women being handcuffed in Tallis. My religion is not an old boy’s club. Apparently the hookah bar here is. What does that say?
Our coordinator in this place is Nir. I like him alot. His grandfather was Etzel so I’ve steered clear of politics. I do respect Etzel’s willingness to take action against the British. I like to think I would have picked up a gun for that. I can’t forgive the rest. But past is past and Jews are Jews and sometimes that’s enough for me.
Nir set me making Shnitzel tonight and I fell into the kitchen dance though I did spill oil all over my foot.
And with that,
Shalom, salaam, peace