Singer’s Restless Spirits in the City That Never Sleeps

Written by Mary Roche

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Take a moment to imagine New York City. Almost immediately, visions of streets clogged with traffic, the constant crush of hurried bodies and subways chocked full of impatient commuters come to mind. Like any densely populated metropolis, The Big Apple bustles with ceaseless activity. It’s a city that magnetizes countless people, a place where dreams are born, and the sky, although jagged with skyscrapers, is the limit — so we are told by familiar tropes. It’s seldom associated with the supernatural. Tireless Gotham in much of American literature is the backdrop for dreamers, a land of unlimited opportunities. Therefore, it makes an unusual setting for a ghost story. In Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, “A Wedding in Brownsville,” readers are taken off guard as they discover some of whom reside in the city that never sleeps indeed remain restless even in spite of death. By incorporating unassuming realism with thoughtful ambiguity, Singer offers an atypical ghost story in the most unlikely of places.

There’s no indication of supernatural forces at work when the story of Dr. Solomon Margolin commences. On the contrary, it begins with ordinary realism — Margolin is conflicted about attending a wedding in the far reaches of Brownsville.  A self-proclaimed agnostic, yet an active member of the Jewish community, he is tormented by his obligation to attend. He thinks of the wedding as  more so a burden than a call for celebration. Attending would undoubtedly widen the rift with his wife, who is adamant about declining the invitation while her husband was at liberty to indulge in a “feast of poisons” (1). To complicate matters, the occasion falls on the one available evening they would otherwise spend together. Gretl, his shiksa wife, has endured her husband’s commitments to the Jewish community throughout their marriage and another night spent apart will undoubtedly cost Margolin marital bliss or perhaps more practically, some much-needed sleep: “Dr. Margolin admitted to himself that his wife was right. When would he get the chance to sleep?” (1). We are immediately acquainted with the tenuous dynamics of Margolin and his wife’s relationship, as well as his estrangement to his faith, yet the persistent mention of his need for rest initially seems insignificant.

The subtleties of Singer’s writing are so sophisticated, they nearly go undetected.  Sleep, or lack thereof, gains prominence as the story progresses. Margolin’s lethargy is noted repeatedly before the wedding, so much that it shows while he makes an assessment of himself in the mirror: “Today of all days he looked his age: there were bags under his eyes, and his face was lined. Exhaustion showed in his features.” (1). Margolin’s exhaustion persists throughout the afternoon. After breakfast he spends the rest of the day napping and reclining on the sofa in a state of deep introspection.  In repose, he takes inventory of his life’s achievements; he was a prodigy as a child, a devoted student of the Talmud and became a successful, cultured, and well-traveled physician. Despite this, he still thought less of himself: “But secretly, Margolin had always felt like he was a failure. “ (2). His disappointments outweighed his achievements, especially the loss of Raizel, the true love of his life.  Plagued with the pain of outliving his family and the loss of hope for humanity, Margolin regards himself as tormented.

As a young man, Margolin managed to escape the Nazi’s sweeping tirade in Europe during World War II. He was one of few survivors from his hometown Sencimin.  Margolin among a handful of others, later known as the Senciminer Society, managed to immigrate and begin a new life in New York City, which was known as the destination of infinite possibilities.  Meanwhile, Sencimin fell in ruin and the majority of their loved ones, including Raizel, met brutal deaths during the Holocaust. This passage of Margolin’s introspection is reminiscent of life passing before one’s eyes. He steeps in unanswered questions and his deepest fears. He has witnessed and survived the real-time horrors of human atrocity. This liberal use of realism stretches well into the story and the only evidence of haunting initially appears to be Margolin’s inner turmoil. This spiritual interlude seems nothing more than the typical pre or post-sleep stream of consciousness, but I’d argue this may be the moment Margolin’s death transpires.

The ambiguity of Margolin’s death only becomes apparent after rereading the story and reconsidering the moment of his demise.  His final interaction with Gretl may allude to this.  She enters the room where he is resting on the sofa and offers him a vitamin, which he refuses and as she leaves the room she wavers: “And slowly she walked out of the room, hesitating as if she expected him to remember something and call her back.” (2). One might question why Gretl is reluctant to leave the room. Indicative of a longstanding intimate relationship, perhaps she was sensing something unusual about her husband’s lack of energy, surely, he would call out to her if something was amiss. Although not implied this was the moment of his death, one may wonder why this scene takes place before he readies himself for the party only a half-hour later with renewed vigor. The timeline is muddled here. The expanse of hours is lost between the time he laid down on the sofa until he leaves for the party.

Margolin’s cryptic departure from the mortal world continues to puzzle the reader. When he takes a taxi to the wedding, the driver never speaks to him. This curious detail doesn’t quite reveal or refute the state of Margolin’s mortality, nor the moment that the cab comes to a screeching halt as they come upon a car accident. Only his meditative state in which he considers the precarious nature of life is apparent. The scene is written to appear as a brush with death but nothing more. Singer’s play with ambiguity persists until the closing scene. Margolin looks out of the window from the back seat and feels unfamiliar in his place of residence. An unsettling feeling of Margolin’s alienation to life itself is revealed when he observes people outside of a tavern: “The people at the bar seemed to have something unearthly about them as if they were being punished here for sins committed in another incarnation.” (3). It may be a complex indication that Margolin is traveling on to another dimension and merely passing through the neighborhoods of the afterlife. It seems deliberate his ultimate destination is just past a synagogue and a funeral parlor. 

At the wedding, he is greeted by fellow members of the Senciminer Society, who cajoled him into the frenzied celebration oddly juxtaposed with bits and pieces of conversations about the brutal deaths of their kin during the war. One line that stands out is: “All of us are really dead, if you want to call it that. We were exterminated, wiped out. Even the survivors carry death in their hearts. But it’s a wedding, we should be cheerful!” (4). Whether these guests have perished or not, we learn that they are all haunted by their dearly departed.   

The feverish quality of Margolin’s experience at the wedding reads like a dream sequence transitioning from the ordinary to the surreal. He can’t recall having a drop of alcohol, yet he feels intoxicated by the commotion and slightly disconnected from the other guests during brief moments of melancholy reflection: “The foggy hall was spinning like a carousel; the floor was rocking. Standing in a corner, he contemplated the dance. What different expressions the dancers wore. How many combinations and permutations of being, the Creator had brought together here. Every face told its own story. They were dancing together, these people, but each one had his own philosophy, his own approach.” (4). He considers the divine intervention that brought him together with the other guests.This hazy, out-of-focus scene seems somewhat disorienting to the reader. At this point, it is still uncertain why, despite his reluctance, Margolin ends up at this wedding.  

It is not until he is reunited with Raizel that we know for certain Margolin has met his fate. Realizing that it is impossible for Raizel to not only survive the ravages of the Nazis but also manage to avert the wearing effects of age, he deduces his state of being:

“An eerie suspicion came over him: Perhaps he had been more than a witness? Perhaps he himself had been the victim of that accident!   He began to examine himself as if he were one of his own patients.  He could find no trace of pulse or breathing. And he felt oddly deflated as if some physical dimension were missing.  The sensation of weight, the muscular tension of his limbs, the hidden aches in his bones, all seemed to be gone. It can’t be, it can’t be, he murmured.  Can anyone die without knowing it?” (7).

 After considering the car accident on the way over the loose threads of the narrative begin to weave together. Years of religious estrangement have suddenly come to an end at the celebration. Margolin likens an unexpected reunion with Raizel to the arrival of the Messiah (6). Now faced with an opportunity to have faith work in his favor and no longer obligated to the mortal world (i.e., Gretl), Margolin can finally spend eternity with his true love, and he revives the faith he had strayed from.

 At first read, the story in its entirety prickles the nerves. Given the relatable quality of the characters and their everyday struggles or even the extraordinary challenges of post-traumatic stress and loss, Singer cleverly disarms the reader with magical realism. Suspension of disbelief does not require the reader’s direct participation. Singer has a way of seducing the reader by creating a credible world with only accents of the supernatural. His carefully deployed clues shimmer with enlightenment as the story unfolds. New York City, although not often associated with the spirit world, is successfully reinvented as the city of unlimited possibilities.


Work Cited

Singer, Isaac B. “A Wedding in Brownsville”. Commentary Magazine. Found on the web: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/a-wedding-in-brownsville/ . 04/28/2019.

My Walk Home

Written and photographed by Tamar Weir – Feb 7, 2020 in Santiago, Chile

Looking ahead
Remaining alert
“Always be aware of your surroundings,”
They say…
Construction on all sides
Tall and short men
Leaning on tree roots
Grabbing onto any shade provided
By the big branches of the city trees
Relaxation
A break
Swarms of pigeons
One identical to the others
Groups
Runnin around
My feet
Hard hats
Reflective yellow vests
A pop of color
Muy fuerte
Rips, dirt, and obvious wear at the knees
Do I look in your eyes?
And for how long?
What is too long?
I don’t know anymore.
As I walk down the sidewalks
And uneven concrete
I can’t help but feel this fine line
A threshold
A look too long, lingered
Gives the signal that I am open
A look too short, without a smile
No upward curves or creases
Gives the signal that I am closed
Reserved.
I can’t help but feel caught
In between the two
Bags all full
Covering the empty spots in the sidewalk
Some packed with crunchy leaves
Trash stashed away in more bags of trash
Pavement scraps
Cars parked on the thick cement sidewalks
Filling every last space
Clean the streets
Nunoa trash service
Trying to erase the evidence of last night
The litter of the people
Passing by.
“No tengo, lo siento.”
Red coffee mug
Empty.
Taking a second look
I’m in awe.
Behind the big metal doors and
Gates
An unknown world
Filled with beauty
A noticeable difference
From what is scattered on the streets
Vines creeping and swaying
With the subtleties of the summer breeze
My eyes widen
This new sight will not be forgotten
A reminder to open my eyes
A mantra i repeat over and over
Keep looking, stay alert

Cane in one hand,
Leash in other
Rhythmic steps
So many faces of the city
Santiago
Nunoa
Mi barrio
My neighborhood
For now
Panaderia
Cafeteria
And all the short momentary
Encounters
Until I get home
To my apartment
The little red building
On Avenida Jose Domingo Canas

Easy Shakshuka Recipe

Written and photographed by Rachel Ledeboer

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tomatoes OR 1 can of tomatoes OR 2 cups of tomato sauce
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1/2 of an onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • Parmesan OR feta cheese
  • Vegetable oil

Season to taste:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Paprika

Start by cutting up the onions, garlic, and peppers, then sauté them with a bit of oil. After about 7 minutes, add in the tomatoes, and cook until some of the liquid has evaporated and it has the consistency of a thick sauce. Add all the spices, with the amount depending on your preference, and stir. 

Make 3 divots in the sauce and crack an egg into each of the divots, keeping the yolks intact. I find it easiest to crack the egg into a little cup and then carefully pour it into the sauce. Put the heat on low and cover the pot. Let it sit for 10 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked the way you want them.

Remove from heat and add grated parmesan or feta cheese to taste. Enjoy!

Letter from the Staff, Spring 2020

Dear Readers,

We would all like to thank you for keeping up with the art and writings we work to produce, curate, and edit. We are currently living in the strangest, most confusing and fearful period of recent history. It is one of the most bizarre times of the already unpredictable first decades of the 21st century. 

While our country has unquestionably been built on the backs of oppressed persons from the beginning, never in our lifetime have the right-wing driven polarities been so drastic and our democracy so delicate. It is in these times of uncertainty that art and literature are most important. We believe this work and that of all progressive publications to be integral contributions to social discourse; every critical essay and every thoughtful piece of creative writing offers something new to the constant discussion and debate. 

It is through this belief and our love of the Leviathan Jewish Journal that we have found solutions to the significant barriers constructed by the global pandemic. The pandemic has compounded generalized fear of the United States’ current political and social direction and makes the case for progressive publications all the more strong. 

With physical demonstrations and protests rendered impossible (or at the very least, incredibly irresponsible), publications like Leviathan are a necessary tool to continue the discussion. 

In lieu of a physical publication, we will be publishing at least one new piece of writing and/or art every week until the time comes when we can return to our regular means of production. 

In addition, we want to continue sharing work that celebrates Judaism and demonstrates the creativity of our community. We encourage people to submit anything that fits the theme of the magazine because escape, happiness, and learning are just as important as discourse and current events.

We dearly hope you stay safe and practice self-care as we overcome this obstacle. Despite its enormous scale, it is still but another obstacle in a long series. If we keep working to accomplish a safe, empathy-driven civilization we are confident we will get there. 

Keep writing, keep making art, keep talking. Keep contributing your voice to the discussion. Your voice is important as any other, and we want nothing more than to amplify it through our publication. 

We greatly look forward to hearing from you and offering work we are proud to publish. 

Jackson, Mary, Rachel, Amanda & Raina

Readers Respond

Shalom Leviathan Readers,

All of us here at Leviathan Jewish Journal hope to maintain a positive, creative outlet for sharing Jewish culture on campus and beyond, and we feel that we can achieve this goal if you, dear readers, join the conversation. We invite you to submit to our Spring 2020 issue,  and we especially encourage your voice to join ours.

With that, we would like to commence LJJ Readers Respond.  This section will be devoted to readership engagement. Our editors and staff members will list a handful of topics we’d like to hear our readers commentary on, and you may submit a piece on whatever interests you. It can be a candid memoir, a political editorial, a poem or a work of fiction. We will also consider original photography and artwork. Our editing staff will review your submissions and curate them for our next publication.

If you would like to participate, send your response to leviathanvoice@gmail.com.

 -M.R.

Spring 2020 Topics: 

  • Alfred Kazin            
  • Mel Brooks                  
  • Bob Dylan      
  • Spring Fever
  • Communal Living on Campus
  • Birthright     
  • The Dining Halls
  • Passover        
  • Friday Night  
  • Meals for One    
  • Driving in the Rain

The Inevitability Of Conflict In The Modern Promise Land

by Wayne Chien

There have been many times in history where conflicts between various groups have been deemed irreconcilable and unending due to the intractable nature of the conflict. Many, like the American Civil War or The Palestinian War of 1947-48, can be considered existential conflicts, as a defeat for a particular side would cause the demise of the entire nation. In Palestine, the day after the British Mandate ended, the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, declared itself to be an independent state. This was immediately followed by several Arab nations declaring war on Israel, under the assumption that the state of Israel was an illegitimate outpost of Western colonialism in the heart of the Arab world. This essay will attempt to show the irreconcilable differences between the State of Israel and the Arab Middle East through an examination of Zionist writings, as well as Ari Shavit’s retrospective account in his book My Promised Land, argues that these differences made the conflict between Israel and its neighbors inevitable.

The conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs of the Palestine region can be traced to the creation of Zionist thought and its implementation. Zionism can be best described as a sort of “returning home” movement for the diaspora Jews living in the world after being defeated and expelled from Palestine by the Romans circa 135 C.E. (1) The Jewish people migrated and settled around Europe and parts of Asia; however, they were almost always treated as second class citizens or worse, with waves of anti-Semitism rising periodically. In the late 1800s, a wave of anti-Semitism hit Europe in the form of pogroms against Jewish shtetls in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia. This was only one of many events occurred, and lead to the flowering of Zionist thinking.

The pogroms in Russia were mainly caused by false accusations leveled against the Jewish community after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. (2) The Russian government believed that placing the blame on the Jews would channel people’s attention away from the country’s economic problems. This lead to the Kishinev Pogrom, which saw 49 Jews killed and the destruction of multiple Jewish communities. The Kishinev Pogrom was unique in the fact that, although Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, no comparable level of state-sponsored violence experienced in Europe since the Spanish Inquisition. (3) This would eventually lead to high levels of migration to Palestine and cultivate a new attitude towards the existential need for Jews to establish their own state.

Before the Kishinev Pogrom, Jews in the West were targeted after the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish captain was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. Although Dreyfus would later be acquitted, Zionists such as Theodore Hertzl saw the event as proof of a virulent anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe. Thus, the Dreyfus affair drove his efforts to establish a Jewish state. (4) The idea was to “normalize” the Jewish people by giving them a state of their own and thereby eliminate the arguments that Jews were perpetual aliens in other people’s lands. 

The first settlements in Palestine were undertaken by pioneers from the Russian Empire and Romania, who eventually received support from sponsors such as Lord Rothschild. Herbert Bentwich, Ari Shavit’s grandfather, was another early sponsor of Zionist settlement. The Zionist pioneers shared the common principle of Zionism, which was the establishment of a sanctuary for the diaspora of persecuted Jews, but they did not attempt to rapidly transform the land like the Labor Zionists that came after them. They stayed at vineyards owned by Lord Rothschild, where hired Arab labourers completed most of the work. (5) This relationship between Jews and Arabs during this time was relatively peaceful, as the Jewish settlers provided a source of income for local Arabs. (6) However, this would change, as the ultimate goal of settling the vast diaspora of Jews started to threaten the existence of Arabs in Palestine, especially as the Labor Zionism of the Second Aliyah would endanger the agricultural relationship between the Jews and Arabs.

Labor Zionism and the establishment of the kibbutz would eventually lead to the disintegrating relationship between Arabs and Jews; however, the relationship was fairly amicable and beneficial to begin with. The kibbutz is a small farm in Israel, created by the Labor Zionists in an attempt to regrow the land from desert to forest. The first people to live in the kibbutz were idealists, believing that they could create a socialist community based on Jewish unity. Ein Harod, one of the first kibbutzim created, was rapidly transformed by the Labor Zionists, who drained the marshes in the Valley of Harod to produce arable and malaria-free land. This made the land much more attractive to live in; however, it would soon become a source of conflict between the local Arabs and the Jewish settlers, as now there was something real and tangible to fight for in the form of higher quality land and an increase in Jewish migration and agriculture. (7) Moreover, the pioneers of the kibbutzim intended to do their own labor, which left Arab workers unemployed and resentful of people whom they now see not as potential employers, but as intruders.

From the establishment of Ein Harod to the death of Dreyfus in 1935, the Jews and Arabs both benefited from agricultural and technological advancements undertaken in Palestine. Shavit tells the story of the Rehovot Orange Groves, which were extremely profitable and put Jewish produce on the world stage. The Jews had bought the land owned by Arab landlords and compensated the fellahin, agricultural laborers in the Middle East, living there with either cash or land grants. (8) The Labor Zionists at this time did not have the numbers to harvest the oranges by themselves, so they still employed Arab laborers; however, their ideology of Jewish cultivation of the land in anticipation of creating a productive Jewish settlement composed of Jewish labourers left the Arab inhabitants bereft of land they considered theirs. The relative peacefulness of Palestine at this time was still built on unstable ground, as Jews in Rehovot were starting to notice the widespread intolerance of Jews in Europe and a need to complete their Zionist vision, while the Arabs are beginning to become weary of the ever-increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants.  

Both the Jews and Arabs began acting on their mutual distrust of the others’ goals. The Arabs organized nationalist cells that targeted Jews living in Palestine, while the Jewish community began illegally importing munitions for the Haganah, the Jewish Self-Defence Organization. (9) The roots of a prolonged Arab-Jewish conflict would culminate in April 1936, as Arab and Jewish communities began carrying out tit-for-tat attacks on each other, which were completely different than the sporadic attacks the Jewish community experienced before this period. These attacks reflected the animosity and distrust between the two communities; however, both of them reflected a greater existential threat that was their common denominator. The Jews were afraid that their new country would be overrun by the large Arab populations bordering them, while the Arabs in Palestine began to form a national identity in reaction to the Jewish one. In 1939, the Arab insurgencies became more organized, as did the Haganah, which ultimately led to the seemingly unending violence seen throughout the history of Israel. 

The inevitability of the conflict becomes more clear when considering the ethos of Zionism. Although Zionists such as Herzl believed that a peaceful state inhabited by both the Jews and Arabs was possible, the early Zionists, captivated by their romantic mission of returning to the Promised Land, were less capable of acknowledging complexities of creating a Jewish state. 

Unlike the romantic Zionist leaders before him, Ze’ev Jabotinsky had no illusions about the role of Arabs in the new Jewish state. Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism called for not only the settlement of Jews in Palestine but the rapid transformation of the land into a primarily Jewish state. 

The Jewish majority in Eretz Yisra’el: What then is, practically speaking, a Jewish “State”? When can it truly be said that our country has ceased to be “Palestine” and become Eretz Yisra’el? Only then, when there will be more Jews than non- Jews; for the first condition of a national state is national majority. . . . (10)

Zionists did not want to remain a minority after the Jewish return to their homeland like they had been in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and the United States. Jabotinsky understood the Jewish need to become a majority in their new country of Israel, and the need to address the Arab question. 

In 1937, Jabotinsky submitted evidence to the House of Lords in the UK for both the need for a Jewish state and for massive Jewish immigration to Palestine, regardless of current Arab settlement at the time. His evidence implies peace would be achieved due to the bettering of the Arabs economic status under a Jewish state, but does not hide his intention of making Arabs a minority. (11) Jabotinsky’s attitude can be seen as colonialist in nature; however, his justification still comes from the Zionist theme of trying to provide Jews sanctuary in an increasingly anti-Semitic world. 

The existential necessity for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine is what ultimately makes the conflict between the Jews and Arabs inevitable. Though there were instances of relative peace, as seen in Ari Shavit’s depictions of life before 1937, the irrevocable differences between the desires of the Jewish state and the Arabs create a situation where conflict cannot be avoided.  The settlement of the Jewish diaspora must mean some relocation of Arabs, which was unacceptable to the growing Palestinian national movement that was reacting to the Zionist movement. 

Jabotinski’s and Herzl’s theories of economic development promoting peace between the Jews and Arabs also turned out to be untrue. They believed that Jewish settlement would improve the lives of both ethnic groups; however, as the land in Palestine became more valuable, the fighting over resources became zero-sum, as gains on one side were seen as stolen by the other side. As such, the Zionist project of statehood for the Jewish people who would redeem their ancient homeland by working the land themselves was bound to cause conflict with the current inhabitants, who resented the effort to convert them into a landless minority. Even if the Zionists had been more sensitive and tactful toward their Arab neighbors, Shavit suggests, they could not have altered the basic conflict between Zionist settlers and the Arab inhabitants of the region they were inevitably displacing. (12)

The displacement of Jews first occured after The Palestinian War of 1947-48, as the war caused an influx of refugees that had recently had their homes destroyed. After the war, many of Israel’s Arab neighbors started to pass anti-Zionist laws, which in the spring of 1951 caused over 15,000 Jews to flee from Iraq each month. (13) Shavit describes how the Israeli government bulldozed and confiscated Palestinian land to accommodate new Jewish immigration. He describes how there is widespread denial about the Palestinian tragedy, even as the Arabic names of the cities change. 

Asud becomes Ashdod, Aqir becomes Ekron, Bashit becomes Aseret, Daniel becomes Daniel, Gizmu becomes Gazmu, Hadita becomes Hadid. The Arab City of Lydda is now the new immigrants’ city of Lydda. A dozen towns and hundreds of villages and thousands of sites receive new identities. An enormous refugee rehabilitation project is carried out in the homes and fields of others who are now refugees themselves. (14)

Israel as a country could not have survived if it did not undertake this displacement of the Arabs. As Jabotinsky stated, the Jews needed to have a majority country, as this was simply not possible if the state did not conquer lands inhabited by Arabs. The goal of Zionism, a majority Jewish state that would support the entire diaspora of persecuted Jews, cannot coexist with the limited resources of Palestine, thus making conflict inevitable.


References

Dowty, Alan. Israel – Palestine. Cambridge: Polity, 2017.

Shavit, Ari. My Promised Land: the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2018.

Thompson, Bruce “Origins of Zionism “ University of California at Santa Cruz, (September 30, 2019)

Thompson, Bruce “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah“ University of California at Santa Cruz, (October 4, 2019) 

Thompson, Bruce “Varieties of Zionism“ University of California at Santa Cruz, (October 2, 2019) Troy, Gil, and Anatolij Ščaranskij. The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018.


Footnotes

  1. Bruce Thompson, “Origins of Zionism”, University of California at Santa Cruz (September 30, 2019)
  2. Alan Dowty, Israel-Palestine, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2005) pp.31-35
  3. Bruce Thompson, “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  4, 2019)
  4.  Bruce Thompson, “Varieties of Zionism”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  2, 2019)
  5. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.6-11
  6. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.51-52
  7.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.42-47
  8. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.53-56
  9.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.59-62
  10.  Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “The Fundamentals of the Betarian Viewpoint (1934)” in The Zionist Ideas ed. Gil Troy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018) pp.68-71
  11. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “Evidence Submitted to the Palestine Royal Commission  (1937)” in The Zionist Ideas ed. Gil Troy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018) pp.71-72
  12. Bruce Thompson, “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  4, 2019)
  13.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.147-151
  14. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.161

 

Visiting Israel

Written by Amanda Leiserowitz

Photo courtesy of Amanda Leiserowitz

When I was about fifteen, the Temple Sinai youth group took a two week trip to Israel. Our new Rabbi and the Israeli woman who both coordinate the youth program were the only adults on the trip; the rest of us were teens of various ages and desert city high schools, maybe ten in total, including my older brother and me. 

Most of my memories of that trip are a blur; we travelled all over Israel in an incredibly short span of time, spending no more than three nights in any given place. Remembering it is like a slideshow of snapshots – the first is getting off the bus to eat falafel, pita, and hummus at a restaurant that had red-and-white checkerboard patterned tablecloths. The table was long to accommodate our whole group, out on a covered porch. The cups were plastic. The next snapshot: a nighttime scavenger hunt in a city where we were allowed to wander away from the adults, weave through Hebrew-speaking crowds. I think we ate ice cream. Another snapshot: walking along a beach at night near a noisy market. There was music playing nearby; maybe someone had a ukulele. Another: sleeping in bunk beds at a hostel. I had an upper bunk. Downstairs, there was a dining room, with clear pitchers of water, long tables, and a sliding door that led to a garden. And looking out from a hill over an ancient city, and walking through a crowded market, and floating in the Dead Sea, which stung every part of my body, and visiting the Western Wall, where I was awed by its height, before we went underground to the cool, dim tunnels, where more of the Wall still stood.

The trip was a fast-paced whirlwind, but one place that sticks out to me is the kibbutz we visited, our last stop before flying back to the United States. We stayed with host families who had kids our age, who made the place feel even more real than it had felt before.

One night, we walked through the neighborhood with them, talking in English. They’d grown up with English as much as they’d grown up with Hebrew, or at least nearly; they were far more fluent than I could even have dreamed of being in another language. 

It was evening, with long shadows cast down on the road from one-story houses with small yards—and beyond the houses, sand. It was like any other suburban neighborhood I’d been to, the heat and sand especially familiar, reminiscent of the Southern California desert I’d spent half my life in by that point. 

I slept on a mattress on the floor, in the bedroom of a girl my age. Her room faced the street we had strolled down, hours before. I remember the streetlamp shining in, and thinking of the bicycles, the culs-du-sac, the language, even the shadows we’d walked through—and the world felt small.

The next day, we piled into a roofless Jeep and drove through undeveloped land around the kibbutz. Someone pointed at some not-so-distant sand dunes.
“That’s the border,” they said. “We’re pretty much at the country’s edge.”

“It doesn’t look like anything.”

“Not really, no.”

“Where is it?”

“There, see?”

We all squinted against the sunlight. Was there a line in the sand? Any type of indicator that one land became the next? 

No matter how hard I looked, I didn’t see anything. It was all just desert, seeming endless from where we were. 

Eventually, we turned around and drove back to the kibbutz, hot wind rushing past us as we bumped along. We had traveled all over Israel for two weeks, from end to end. The country’s smallness boggled my mind. It was an entire country, smaller than my home state of California, far smaller—a fact that I had known, but hadn’t felt quite so real until I was there at the edge. (It wouldn’t be until years later that the vastness of California was clear to me, driving more than eight hours up and down the state—but that’s a story for another time).

We had Shabbat services at the kibbutz’s temple, separated from our old and new friends by gender. Shabbat dinner followed; we all piled into a huge dining hall with long tables, white tablecloths. Both the American and Israeli teens were seated at a table parallel to the windows, turned into dark mirrors as the sun went down. Before us on the table were candles, plates of chicken and vegetables, covered challah. The seating was mixed, unlike in the temple.

The conversation I remember from that night is fragmented. 

“Does everyone who grows up here stay?”

“No, no.”

What happens to those who left? Those who stayed? I don’t remember all the answers we got to our incessant questions, as there were many. But I do remember, clearly—one of the Americans asking, “Do you like living here?”

The answer was a clear, “Yes.” But it wasn’t a short answer; there were things they wanted to change, including the inequality of genders that was built-in to parts of their lifestyle. And they were prepared to make it happen.

Our last days were much more upbeat. We visited the cows that the kibbutz owned, as saw their mechanized milking process. The teens took us to a public pool with green-painted walls and a tiny convenience store filled with Israeli ice cream. Our last night at the kibbutz was our last night in Israel; they had a barbeque for us, outside, near the community center. We sat on the grass.

When my American group piled back into our van early the next morning, we took selfies with our new friends. It was dark, and we might have been illuminated only by the lights from the buildings—I don’t remember the drive to the airport, or even which airport we went to. I don’t remember the long plane ride home. I must have slept through most of it.

The kibbutz was a paradox of the familiar and unfamiliar. It was a world not unlike my own, with suburban streets, barbeques, and Shabbat dinners. But their society’s rules were different from my own; they followed Shabbat much more strictly than my family ever had. Their synagogue still had gender-separated seating, with women looking down from a second-floor balcony. The teens were bilingual, and brimming with the confidence to make change happen. The community of the kibbutz was tight-knit, but it was no utopia.

There, in the kibbutz, I think I understood what my parents signed my brother and I up for – to see the smallness of the world, and the similarities between people across the globe. Despite the different lives we led, the kibbutz teens and I had a lot that connected us – not just our shared (albeit different) Judaism, but our intersecting worldviews and cultural artifacts as well. It didn’t hurt that we all loved kariot, the chocolate-filled cereal, that we all ate for breakfast, unafraid of asking for seconds.