A short non-fiction piece about my recent visit to Israel. Any literary magazine interested in publishing it - please send me a brief cover letter, a short bio of your publication and why do you think your magazine is right for my writing (up to 250 words). Submission fee is $7 (paypal to oribeacon [at]gmail.com). Due to a large amount of submissions I won't be able to answer personally each submission, but I promise to consider any large or small publication without bias. Please share with your editors friends.
Five Days in the Holy Land
Five days in the holy land. It's been more than three years since my last visit. I am here now, in America, a Jewish man who chooses everyday not to live in Israel. “I’m pregnant,” said the email that brought me here. And what’s here and there these days, what’s a promised land, what’s a cursed one? Give me your hand, said one leader to the other and so they danced naked in the forest while their people are still killing one another.
Rabbi Nachman, the 18th century Hasidic Rabbi left the Ukraine for his journey to the holy land. But he did not make it to Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself is an unfinished journey, trying to make it to all the dreams and illusions people have about it. One night I was walking out of the old city of Jerusalem. I cut my finger somehow, rubbed the blood on the walls of the old city pretending I’m the messiah, knowing how crazy it is. “If I’ll ever forget you, Jerusalem, my right arm would get paralyzed.” says the psalm that Jews have been chanting during the wedding ceremony, as they break the glass to remember the destruction of the city. Our friend Stephan thought it is a political statement and didn’t want to include it in his wedding. The convert lesbian Rabbi refused to conduct the wedding without it.
The Wall by Pink Floyd, that album flushed through my bare teenager soul. And here I am, some twenty years later, comfortably numb. I was once in a party in which they played Mami, one of Israel’s harshest protest songs: the story of a young Jewish girl that is raped by seven Palestinian workers. “We’ll fuck you ’cos we were fucked”. People danced, the land is being raped for centuries, the Greek, the Romans, the Ottomans, the British and the Jews all sodomize the land in one neverending occupation. They build walls and highways all over the ancient hills, but very few bridges.
I talked to a prophet in a cafe in Tel Aviv. He quoted this and that, explaining why it’s all bound to collapse, how capitalism, corruption and Netanyahu ruined Israel. One year there’s an election, the next year there's a war, he said. But he didn’t look in my eyes while he was saying that. It’s over. The dream is gone. The skyscrapers, the alleys, the guns, the souls of the unprotected folks who had to die through all of this. The cause and the price we had to pay. Wars are always stupid.
A silly pop song, an American one. I remember the first Mcdonald's in Ramat-Gan. I was ten, there was a one hour line in order to have a taste of the American dream. And now how I crave these hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the old city. The fig tree is poisoned, its fruits are filled with the juice of hate and intolerance. So are the dates, and even the hummus. And what makes a place? Its smell, its food, its music. Its ideas, its violence, its history. Cultures rise, cultures fall, it’s all just stories we tell ourselves.
There’s no privacy in Israel. In government offices and banks clerks scream questions about your private matters to the supervisor across the hall, always giving you a sense that they’re doing you a favor. Everyone smokes there. The single justifiable war America had fought in the last fifty years completely failed to make its way overseas. It feels like everything can get blown away any second, and there’s always enough smoke in the air to make it evident there is fire. The tone of voice there. The fact that I don’t miss it so much. It’s been three years since the last visit, and facebook gives me a taste of home without the aftertaste.
The Hebrew in Israel is often broken. "Nahag, shtayim Akhora", Driver, two back, said the woman who passed money to the shuttle van driver, a sentence that makes no grammatical sense, while passing to the driver twelve Shekels, six Shekels for each passenger who sat in the back. Languages have lives of their own, and so the Biblical Hebrew had to fit somehow into the shuttle van, the street and the checkpoint. Hebrew and Arabic make love for over a century, a passionate, forbidden affair. Bad words here and legal terms there, like semen and eggs.
Some things you just can’t translate; the puns, the context, the sense and the non-sense of a culture, they're often untranslatable. But I’m writing this in English, I can’t express it that way in Hebrew, not anymore. “It’s scary,” told me an Israeli writer, a wife of, who suddenly found herself in New York. “And what if I won’t have any language?”
The air got thicker, another war started, it’s only a matter of time. The temple is broken, the heart still functions.
I gathered my childhood memories in a small, portable container. Kissed my mom goodbye and went over to the Duty Free store to get a popular book, The History of Tomorrow. I never thought I’d leave. Was never too excited to travel, always happy to come back. Maybe it was the war, or the pregnancy, or New York. Anyway, I’m here now.
During my army service I had a certain lip balm that had a very specific taste. Even many years later, when I come across a similar semi-strawberry flavor I right away feel like I'm a soldier again, with everything that this feeling arouses in me. I have a similar, or rather an opposite reaction, to the voice of Arik Einstein. When I hear his voice I feel comforted, I feel at home.
Einstein is credited as the first one to create Rock music in Hebrew but he wasn't a great philosopher, poet or activist. I love him not like an idol but more like a friend, a mentor. His voice often accompanies me with me with an advice, a feeling or a story that are usually very meaningful, simple and often wise.
"sitting in San Francisco on the water (...)
It's so beautiful in San Francisco on the water
It's too bad you're not here with me to see,
you'd say you'll never come back..
Suddenly I want home (...)
Give me a piece of the Tabor mountain,
A piece of the sea of Galilee
I love to fall in love with the small land of Israel
Hot and wonderful"
Lyrics : Einstein, Music : Shalom Chanoch
Homesickness. Israel, the sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water and mount Tabor, I still remember how in love I was when we hiked there together (she wasn't that much into me). We had tea on the way down, met some Bedouins who hiked there as well. It was many years ago.
Like Einstein, I also love to fall in love with places. I even managed to fall in love with a small town in upstate New York. I love the mountain here and I love the river and I really love the people here. If I live elsewhere I'll miss all of those, I might even write some songs about them.
The exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said that homeland is like a suitcase. I guess for some it is a suitcase, for some it's the melodies and for some, like me, there is no clear definition of what homeland is. For Einstein, who was born in 1939, homeland was what he called good old Israel, pre-skyscrapers Tel-Aviv, idealism, and some innocent sense that he had as a child and maybe Israel had too. Besides being an incredible performer, that might be what made him so popular among so many Israelis who yearned to similar things.
Israelis don't talk a lot about where they came from. Zionism, the Jewish national movement that was born at the end of the 19th century and eventually established Israel in 1948, intended to bring Jews from different cultures from all over the world and unite them in Israel under the new national umbrella that was inspired by the ancient Jewish state at Biblical times. The Zionist greatest myth, the "Sabra", is the Israeli Ashkenazi native Hebrew speaking male who was born in Israel and is actively building the country from vacuum while structuring the perfect society that will occupy it. The new Jew that would finally have a homeland of his own and would be the mirror image of the Jew from the diaspora.
During the attempt to bring this dream to life languages disappeared, people didn't find their place and some communities are still looking for their common identity. The Sabra wasn't supposed to look back much, like a famous saying of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister - “From Tanakh to Palmakh” - From the Bible to the Jewish combat units. As if nothing happened in between. As much as I know how destructive this myth was for so many people, when I hear Einstein's voice I believe it, like a child listening to a story. A good story, where we are the good guys and we go through lots of trouble until the happy end.
Bush is no longer a president, but this song is still powerful. Young said he read an article about the war in Iraq and started to sob, soon he wrote “Living with War”, not the most mellow protest album out there. He said he looked at the younger musicians and they didn’t say much against the war, so at the age of 61 he did it himself, and later toured with CSNY around the country and made a documentary about it
As far as I know, the only Israeli mainstream musician who sang more than 3 protest songs in his career is Shalom Chanoch. His last protest song was sang in 1997 – “A person is a person don’t call me a nation”. After the first Intifadah (1987) many Israeli singers vocalized what they think of the Israeli army treatment of Palestinians, like Nurit Galron (“Don’t tell me about a girl who lost her eye”) Shlomo Arzi (“we haven’t learned anything, apparently”) Si Himan (“I didn’t ask for a green plastic hero”) and Chanoch (“your enemy is just like yourself”). But soon after, a political silence came and there are almost no anti-war songs written in Israel these days, similar thing is happening in the US. Therefore Young’s voice is so special.
As a snail mail artist (yes, there is such thing, you can see some of my art here) who send a lot of letters to Israel and to the US, I often try to make political statements using the old fashioned method. Maybe it’s a form of a protest letter, I’m not sure.
Hendrix: What’s up Abe?
Lincoln: I’m worried
Joplin: is it because of the Israeli Palestine art world?
Hendrix: it must be the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, he’s a lefty
Woman: He doesn’t answer. Hang him!
Reflection of the recent restrictions on the freedom of speech in Israel and Palestine
(a sketchbook made out of old record cover, see more of them here)
Lincoln: Who said “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”
Bird: Pirkey Avot?
Lincoln: What’s up with you? Are you on drugs? It was Neil Young in his masterpiece album ‘Rust Never Sleeps’
Lincoln: Abe, you forgot to mention that Young didn’t write it about anyone specific but about the spirit of the Rock’nroll, even though Kurt Cobain quoted it in his suicide letter