A blog switch over

Hello fair followers,

Just to say I’m popping over to America for a few months to live on a ‘jewish farm’ and I will be writing about it on my other blog – https://jewofthewoods.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/the-next-chapter/

Do follow if you’re interested!

Much love,

Sara

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Seder Night/Time Travel

Seder – means ‘order’ and is what Jews typically ‘do’ to bring in Passover. It is a service rich in ritual and tradition, based on gathering together to celebrate and remember the story of our liberation from slavery in Egypt. We also have to drink four cups of wine, eat different symbolic foods from the ‘Seder plate’ – and of course EAT.

I went to see this last night… A play written by Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil performed at Arcola Theatre.

Honestly, if the night before that was best spent with my wonderful (and growing) close family then this had to be the best way to spend the second night of Seder –

Listening to the Palestinian Seder story – of the exodus from their own lands in 1948 and the struggles for redemption since.

Tears kept spilling, not just because of the shocking and very moving portrayals of occupied life but because of the uncanny similarities between our own story, the one that we demand is told and re-told every year and what was happening before me.

I step out from one story told round a table where faces shine in the candlelight, to one where faces shine in the glow of the theatre lights. The last scene depicts a tour of a Palestinian community to the village they were expelled from almost 70 years ago. The oldest member of the community tells the story of their village. Of what lived there, what was seized; the scenes of dispossession. The youngest member was then asked to re-tell it, because the stories MUST be handed down, remembered, re-told, year after year, day after day.

I was dizzy suddenly.

Imagining this community as US, a thousand years ago starting to tell the story, and then imagining THEM, like we do, sitting round tables with olives and oranges as props telling a story that hasn’t been forgotton though the relevance has perhaps been lost.

These Seder tables are our collective memory.

And in a time of FORGETTING, endorsed by governments and states the world over in order to wriggle out of accountability – REMEMBERING is resistance, is solidarity, is re-writing the world as it really happened (not according to the victors).

It is not just the Palestinian story I think we should be telling at our Seders. It is ALL our stories. The ones we have been told to forget. The ones lived by our neighbours. The ones from Syria and Calais. The ones from the birthing room, the ones from the time of Thatcher, the ones from that other time. The ones that ache in silent hearts.

Our stories need to be told. All of them.

Seder night should be inspiration to find these stories, to speak them, to amplify them.

THIS IS JUDAISM.

To find out which ones we are not hearing. To find out who is silencing them.

I am so religious for these stories.

Hag Samaech.

And go and see that play if you haven’t!

 

“The Book is Coming”

For a long time I have been thinking about how to write this story.

Turns out you have to do more than live it. Though that is a fundamental part of it.

After living it, there is the telling. And that’s where I’ve been struggling. Struggling to make sense of all I’ve seen and heard and felt over these years, particularly in the last little while. Struggling to envision a way of chronicling it and passing it on that actually evokes and does justice to the complexities of what is going on, the heart of mine that has got so tangled up in it alongside all the simple unstoppable rage for the madness.

Help.

I don’t know how to tell this story.

I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know which language to speak. What frames to use.

So I begin and continue from here – in the not knowing.

In the still trying to make sense of a very complex, heartbreaking situation.

I try to tell this story with much love.

It’s the only way I can.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you for being with me on this ride.

I love you all x

The best of England

I am writing, hunting through old photographs and journals, scouring my emails for messages hinting at where I was and how I was feeling. Remembering it all!

Remember with me.

I will re-post 10 (ok no limit) of my favourites from each country I cycled through. Most of the very good ones were taken by the very talented Daniele. All credit to him (And god for posing the landscapes).

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Never Again, for anyone. Ever.

I have learnt ‘Never Again’ my whole life
kept my eyes peeled, nose to the ground
sniffing for clues of hands raised and angled in a certain way, yellow stars, striped pajamas or large orders of gas

But the thing with Never Again is
when it does come round again it will not look the same

and it may not even be directed at you. We still must act.

On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 I reflect on the words of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.

I will our questions to come alive and keep coming alive. For us to challenge what we’re told, to investigate what is happening in our world and to disobey when necessary.

Yesterday I was honoured to take part in an action for Holocaust Memorial Day at the Home Office with Holocaust survivors and activists from Never Again, ever, demanding Never Again for anyone, linking the struggles of the Jewish refugees in the 20th century to the refugees of today, who are not being afforded nearly enough protection from our governments… The aim of the protest was to send a message to the Home Office and Prime Minister to act immediately to uphold the terms of the August 2015 agreement between the British and French governments to help people access their rights under Dublin 3.

Since 2015, European immigration policy has resulted in 3,771 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, as part of 5,350 deaths worldwide and over twenty-five at the Calais / UK border.

As a Jew, who would not be here if my great grandparents had not been allowed to flee to Britain before the Holocaust, the links are clear – I feel a deep sense of responsibility for and solidarity with the struggle of migrants today. The refugees from Syria today are the same refugees from Poland 70 years ago.

It is essential to link these struggles, to actualise ‘Never Again’ and fight for it where it really needs fighting for.

After the vigil I went to sit by the Thames. It was a really beautiful day, dreamy and with a backdrop of Westminster beneath a blazing blue sky I watched all these different kinds of birds scrabbling for crumbs held out by a couple beside me. I heard them talk and they were speaking Hebrew and so I said Shalom.

They sat down next to me on the bench then and we spoke a little in my broken Hebrew and their English.

And then out from this dreamy scene of river and blue sky and funny birds, the gentlemen mentioned casually that the whole world now faces the problem of “the Arabs”, it’s not just in Israel. I stared at him and fell silent and his partner pulled her to him and spoke low (possibly scolding) and then they left. (If this doesn’t make you shudder please imagine replacing the word Arabs with Jews).

I think if we do anything this Holocaust Memorial Day, let’s wonder at the prejudices we harbour today. Prejudice allows us to commit atrocities, allows us to be the common people who allow atrocities to be committed. Let’s expose them to ourselves and pick them apart until they’re nonsense.

I vow for another year of love, a scared adoration for all living things and for that to be manifested in its political love form – an absolute resistance to harm done to the living, in protection, friendship and solidarity.

For finding the words to challenge with strength and love the racism spouted with such nonchalance to random strangers on benches.

For acknowledging the privileges this lifetime has bestowed on me, for unravelling what still goes unchecked, the prejudices I have learnt from my socialisations that I must explore and expose and rub raw.

This is what it means to remember. To say ‘Never Again’ and mean it with your heart and your feet and your whole precious life.

I love you all. Let’s stop killing each other.

Never Again for anyone, ever.

More photos at: http://lucaneve.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/25-01-2016-Holocaust-Memorial-Day-Vigil-2016-No-More-Migrant-Deaths-Refugees-Are-Welcome-Here/G0000LuPjuKfqbFI/I0000iMXegWKp5qc/C0000GPpTqAGd2Gg

 

Limmud, for learning is a Jewish thing.

I spent the last week at an event called Limmud, an incredible gathering of over 2500 people to learn, shmooze, eat, drink, dance, find a shidduch, argue, network, create, inspire…

I have been to Limmud most years for the past few, to the summer ‘festival’ event and to smaller day events throughout the country.  This year there was a venue change which saw Limmud move from Warwick University campus to the Hilton Hotel in Birmingham.

On the first day I sat on a purple velvet sofa in the bar area introducing myself to a friend of a friend who had just arrived.

“Why do you come to Limmud?” he asked.

“It is the only place I feel Jewish”, I responded.

But as I sat one morning with my porridge and my coffee beside the little lake that surrounds the hotel, finally breathing some G-d breaths and feeling able to recharge, I questioned my answer. Maybe things change. Limmud felt difficult and different. Maybe because there were more people than usual, maybe because I found the setting stifling, I am not sure. Maybe it’s me who has changed.

But if Judaism and being Jewish is about connecting to and knowing G-d then this is where I feel most Jewish – outside with my back against a tree, breathing in and out, watching the trees and the movement of light on the water.

Going back ‘in there’, back to conference, pouring over texts, being trapped within walls, talking talking talking, I felt ung-d, unconnected, unjewish.

Are these the affects that stay with me after a cycle journey that had me up close to the cheek of g-d everyday for an extended period? Where I would wake up and lie down on the ground beneath stars and a rising sun, where I would pick leaves for my tea from the forest floor and dig my own hole for a toilet?

The other end of that cycle ride involved landing in Israel/Palestine where my relationship with Judaism had its most trying period. Too many times I witnessed a so called expression of Judaism wreak horror and tragedy – from the Israeli government who purport to speak on behalf of all Jews, to extremist settlers who attacked trees and people in the name of some sort of Judaism. I very almost gave up on this religion that could allow or foster space for that to happen.

But painfully and determinedly I realised I could not give up. That what I was witnessing was not Judaism, not the one I am interested in anyway. Again I didn’t find my Judaism in the places I expected – shul, Jerusalem, Friday nights. I found it in the West Bank on hills picking olives, acting as protective presence to Palestinian farmers, in solidarity.

I presented a couple of sessions about this trip at Limmud. I talked about the cycle ride and my time in the West Bank in one session and another one on Cycle ’48, a remapping project I was part of to learn about the Nakba. (The Nakba is Arabic for ‘Catastrophe’ and refers to the displacement of the Palestinian people from their homes in 1948 and beyond).

This last session was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Far harder than the 5000 mile cycle ride that brought me there or the mountains in between, including the Alps. The morning of the session I decided I wouldn’t do it – I’ll do a creative writing session instead, a lake swimming exercise, a ‘how to make g-d purr’ workshop, anything but this trip, this topic.

But a wise, firm voice in my head told me I must.

The kind of voice you’re meant to listen to.

So I did it. And it was really, really hard. But important. And I was blown away by the words of encouragement and support afterwards, the hugs had, the hands held, the tears that fell between shoulders of Jews who believe there has to be another way. And much laughter as the room realised together that my poignant last slide (the image you see on this post) that I thought meant ‘remember’ in Hebrew, is actually just someone’s name graffitied on an old Palestinian house in the rubble of Ajjur.

I am so grateful for difficult opportunities that have to be gone through. I now have so much to learn from – that I could learn only by beginning. Now I carry on, dedicating myself to learning how to tell these stories well, how to carry on even when it is terrifying, how to have hope in our humanity.

I want to give voice to this difficulty because it is important and transformative and there is another side of it. I want to encourage young (and all) people to speak out, whether you’re Jewish or not. You have something important to say. Say it.

Find spaces to speak out and if they don’t exist stand on your chair. Start a blog. Buy baigels and invite friends over.

We need to talk.

And right now, more than ever, people are ready to listen.

This is Judaism – the great conversation. This is the holy thing – learning how to demonstrate solidarity with people who are being oppressed. This is what is possible for Jews who really want to LIVE  v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha (to love your neighbour like yourself).

Many people expressed interest in learning more about some of these stories and getting involved. Do keep in touch if you’d like to get involved in this – sarasmoons@gmail.com

Below is a very limited list of some links and resources for more information.

On the Nakba:

http://zochrot.org/

The Zochrot website has pretty extensive information on the Nakba, including a Nakba map with details of hundreds of villages that were depopulated and/or destroyed in 1948 and 1967, as well as testimonies from Palestinian refugees and Israeli soldiers who were involved.

http://nakbaeducation.com/

An American project offering educational resources to American Jews and a general American audience about the history of the Nakba and its implications in Palestine/Israel today. The Nakba refers to the forced displacement of Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment, and that continues to this day.

Mornings in Jenin, Susan Abulhawa

Everybody should read this book. My mum couldn’t put it down. Generations of Palestinian stories from the Nakba to the present day told in novel form.

Sacred Landscapes, Meron Benevisti

Geographer and former mayor of Jerusalem, Benvenisti explores the multi dimensional map of Israel/Palestine, the Arab spaces he grew up with that vanished and the reality of a shared homeland for all in the region.

On the JNF:

http://www.foei.org/resources/publications/publications-by-subject/human-rights-defenders-publications/environmental-nakba

A report documenting some of the environmental injustice, colonialism and ethnic cleansing that a delegation from Friends of the Earth International observed in 2012.

http://www.zochrot.org/en/article/55963

“Most JNF – KKL forests and sites are located on the ruins of Palestinian villages”, Eitan Bronstein Aparicio

 

http://www.whatsbehindjnf.org/

A project of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society exploring the role of the Jewish National Fund.

https://cycle48.wordpress.com/

The blog from the bike remapping project I was part of and discussed at Limmud – cycling from Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem to Jaffa along the JNF cycle trail.

 

Sukkot – One year on

So entrenched is the calender of Judaism in the rhythms of nature it is a map of its own – we make a geography of cycling through the seasons, a poetry out of what we do when the new year comes (lose the bike), yom kippur (utterly surrender and go on retreat), sukkot (pedal up north and join the olive harvest)

And now I am back in the UK a year on in another dimension. Here I pick blackberries by the river Mersey, apples from the roadside, this is the garden, this is the harvest. Spared from military uniform and access permits, spared extremist settlers sticks in hand walking down the hill to shoo you away, spared are the uprootings, the looting, the burn. Spared are those swinging guns and the shrug, loh, loh hayom, not today, spared is the brutal but quiet forbidding of one of the holiest gorgeousest family time on the land.

This week we celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival. At the same time Palestinian farmers all over the West Bank and Gaza will be attempting to harvest their olives. The olive oil industry makes up 14% of the agricultural income for the oPt and supports the livelihoods of approximately 80,000 families. In the West Bank, over 7,500 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were damaged or destroyed by Israeli settlers between January and mid October 2012. (UN OCHA 2012)

This time last year I joined in solidarity with Palestinian farmers in one of the greatest forms of resistance to the continued occupation and confiscation of their lands – being on the land and working on it.

The harvest is still being thwarted. Volunteers (unfortunately) are still needed: to help harvest where there is very limited access, to act as ‘protective presence’ and to document any human rights abuses if they occur.

Multiple groups and organisations are working with local farmers to co-ordinate volunteers during the olive harvest, including Rabbi’s for Human Rights, ISM and IWPS

These are the latest chapters of the Torah, this is Sukkot, this is what the harvest looks like. Let trees be trees, let them grow, let them bloom and let loving hands pick their fruits.

Links to last year’s posts on the olive harvest:

“Autumn is an olive tree”

“Olive Harvest (Part 2)”

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