The news is grim. Thousands of Palestinian children have been bombed and killed. Water and electricity have been cut to Gaza as people are forcibly relocated. There are still hostages and Israel is not safer despite the war. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are both on the rise. People are getting fired for essentially saying what Barack Obama said a few days ago.
I am trying to educate myself, fast. I want to know more so I can help. I aim to boost voices which deepen our empathy and enlarge our vision. I'm always nervous, so it feels weird saying this, but knowing more makes it much easier to give effectively. Knowing less, I've found, turns moments where we must address a need into a loyalty test. A few terribly ignorant people demand so much help that they steal the attention required for the task at hand.
Zena Agha's "Elegy for Return #1" stunned me for a number of reasons, some of them selfish. I'm thinking much of the time about what I want in a partner. How I'd like a certain kind of communication, where we acknowledge and respect each other's higher motivations. To be sure, this might be a bit of a dream. I'm 99% certain that a lot of being in a relationship involves venting about work and watching home improvement shows. Still, even in my wildest dreams, I can't imagine trying to communicate to a partner the power of rootedness. How new life springs from the old. How a respect for an ancient cycle of life is our true home, especially when we are told we do not have one:
Elegy for Return #1 Zena Agha Let me be clear about what I want. I want to return, yes, but more. To turn stones back. I read once about a mosque being made into a bar. Now I'm not an iconoclast, but that did offend. You hate when I talk about return but some things just have to be spoken and anyway, my father is older than you and while he never spoke it, he was mighty pleased to see the lemon. I told you it's a kibbutz now. Off route 90, near where Jesus fed five thousand. And so, it is perfectly right that my savage nose of a father was born near Jesus and my grandmother turned chairs into thrones.
Agha speaks transformation. Not just "let's go to the gym together." But I want to return, yes, but more. To / turn stones back. I want you, as my partner, to understand where I am from and how it speaks through me. You hate when I / talk about return but some things / just have to be spoken. I need you to know that things will change, and we want those changes to create dignity, freshness, provision, and power. A mosque reclaimed from a bar; a lemon; Jesus fed five / thousand; chairs into / thrones.
I'm not just thinking about the space created by the three Abrahamic religions, a space all too real, projected upon, and opened in incredible ways by one's imagination. I'm thinking about how to support all this. How it is all deserving of support and how it will transform everyday life. You hate when I / talk about return. I am struggling to understand if I realize what return is.
I don't know that it is only the things I do. Some people give with the worst attitude, the wrong spirit. That matters. The wrong attitude or spirit means there's no commitment, no follow-up, no possibility of higher gains. I give when I can. I hope I am aware that has to be accompanied by hearing others fully. That takes a long time. If done right, it is like stepping into a space you've both imagined, together.
Other readings on the crisis:
- Josh Paul's resignation letter from the State Department is an incredible primary source. It details not just how policymakers create frameworks, but also how motivations are built around those frameworks.
- Spencer Ackerman, in Forever Wars, calls POTUS out. POTUS is not explaining that we are risking involvement in a wider war.
- Arielle Angel's meditation on Exodus is a must-read. "We Cannot Cross Until We Carry Each Other."
- Jonathan Katz's "Out of Zionism" doesn't just provide the recent history of region, but how it is possible one would know what needs to be known.