COMING HOME TO A BAT MITZVAH

Carol Marsh (Brooklyn, New York)

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In this bizarre thing we call life, less than 10 hours after I returned from Palestine, I attended a Bat Mitzvah for a 71-year-old friend at the Romemu synagogue on 105th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan.

I barely had any sleep in the last few days as the last rush of the trip and having to leave for the Tel Aviv airport at the god-awful hour of 4:00 am. So, to say the least, I was exhausted and quite vulnerable. This congregation is unique in my experience. I am Jewish, but quite secular, so my experience could be limited. The only word I can think of to describe it is “ecstatic.”  The joy on everyone’s face, especially my friends was a shock to me. I was happy for her, but I didn’t understand it at all.

The rabbi made the usual statement about Palestinians and Israelis, finding peace. Before the trip, I might have been pleased to hear a statement like that – no blame, treating them like equals, which of course they are not.

Now that I am home, what I learned from the trip is the pretty statements like that are nice, but meaningless if there is no action tied to it. It’s one of the big lessons I learned.

Then, the rabbi started talking about “Jerusalem Day.” And everybody was shouting in support. I immediately felt claustrophobic, but my response was to start sobbing. I was there when Israeli nationalists marked Jerusalem Day, and it was not a joyous occasion for the Palestinians who lived there.

There was so much noise, no one noticed my anxiety. What I really wanted to do is scream: “Don’t you have any idea what Jerusalem Day was like in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank?” They were clueless. I got myself together and was only able to keep myself under control, thinking that I didn’t want to ruin my friend’s special day.

It may seem that this reflection is about me, but it is not. 

It is about Bassam an Afro-Palestinian who has a beautiful shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. My friend Bonnie and I stumbled in there by accident. I saw a glimpse of a postcard that looked different than the others I had seen. I was right. He said he had the only collection of “political” postcards around. There were ones showing a female Israeli army soldier next to a Palestinian woman at a checkpoint. It’s an image of power. Then there were ones showing a family who had lived in a refugee camp for 70 years. A postcard against house demolitions. And of course, pictures of the wall. And many more. The shop was beautiful and it functioned as a café as well. Chairs and sofas covered in beautiful bright colored materials.

Then Bassam showed us a video on his phone about what happened in the Old City to his best friend on Jerusalem Day, the day before. If you were in East Jerusalem that day, and were Palestinian, you had to close your shop and stay indoors. If not, you could be beaten by Jewish Israeli fanatics or the Israeli army and police.

Bassam’s friend was with his 8-year-old son and they were leaving the church in the Old City where he worked. He was immediately beaten by an Israeli Jew and then the Israeli police beat him his well - all in front of his 8-year-old son.

I’ve learned that these beatings are often purposely done in front of children, so as to belittle and humiliate their fathers. What does a child think who sees his father, who is supposed to be strong and protect his children, when he is savagely beaten in front of them?

Then of course, they arrested Bassam’s friend.

This is a story that happens all over East Jerusalem and the West Bank every day.

When brought before the court, the judge wanted to release him, but the police said no. The judge said they had until 8:00 that night to come up with charges.

I don’t know what happened to Bassam’s friend. I hope he is with his family at home, safe (for the time being).

That is what I was thinking about in the synagogue when the rabbi was talking about Jerusalem Day.