Friday, May 13, 2016

My 76th Year

A year I never expected to reach, not from my starting point in the fractured Regina Nestle family, or from my own precarious life, precarious with the need to support myself from my teens and in the later years because of my bouts with cancer or perhaps dance is the better word. I do not beat upon cancer, I await it, I thank it for giving me years many more then I ever thought possible and I thank the doctors and nurses and the health care I have been able to access in two countries. I thank Deb and Di who shored me up during hard times and still do. It is the arms of women who have kept me walking this earth.

Yesterday was my birthday. How did I spend it? First, Di came into my room and presented me with two gifts, a silver bracelet with the word "cherish" in braille imprinted on it and a warm throw made here in our neighborhood of  West Brunswick. Cello came up on the bed and gave me a kiss. In the mailbox was a card from Deb and Teddy.

At mid day I joined La Professoressa at the Law School, where she and Ali Miller where holding a symposium on "Exploring the Structures of Gender Written into the Yogyakarta Principles." The room filled with students and colleagues and I took my usual place in the last row--a stranger to Law but known as Di's older partner who often haunts her presentations and learns, learns. Three students who have become my friends as well--Debolina, Oishik and Maddee--were there and part of the gifts of the day was holding them in my arms. Debolina and Oishik will soon return to Calcutta and continue their thinking there, beyond my reach. Maddee is a young writer, thinker, activist who the flow of life will move beyond me but for now she is willing to share her writings with me and even throw a ball around with me in the hallway of the Law School, a high bouncer that I always carry with me, the ball of my Bronx days, perfect  for Hit the Penny, Stoop Ball and just plain catch. How can I explain the joy I get from throwing and catching, the knowledge that there is  friend at the other end who will join me, the pleasure when my eye and hand work together and I snatch the ball from the air.

Home so I can work with Alexander, my 13 year old friend from across the road. We read the second act of Romeo and Juliet together, talk about his school week and I take in with great delight his treasure trove of new words he has gathered for our session. Dear Alexander who gives me once again the pure happiness I find when I can be of help to a learner, and in the process I always learn more about our human selves. I speak to him as the poet he is, a poet of soccer and struggle and together we give examples of how our lives are haunted by paradox--one of his new words.

Then I put Mendelssohn on, his trios. I have time before Di will come home and I will return to reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' memoir, "The Beautiful Struggle." As Mendelssohn's heart fills the room, I think of how some have said because of my anti-Israel occupation stance, I am not Jewish enough. Sometimes I have such a need for Yiddishkite in my life, for the diasporic old world, a taste, a sound, an atmosphere I can almost touch--my Bronx days again, my mother's worker face, the sound of Indian nuts cracking in her teeth, her Chesterfield cigarettes. So long gone to me, the only parent I knew who hardly could do that deed but somehow between standing with me when I was ten in front of the bronze plaque to the women who leaped to their death in the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire and between cracks of her nuts, telling me of the wonders of Paul Robeson, somehow this woman who turned tricks for money to pay the rent and to ease her need for touch, gave me the strength to stand alone, to make a life for myself without support, to be a queer in the late 50s and all the years beyond, somehow she gave me the life force to take on the lonelinesses that came from deviant political positions in 1950s America and beyond. Somehow. somehow.

All of this comes to me as I turn the last page of Coates living voice of life. He often feeling too fathered until the Knowledge takes him in its arms has been with me all these last days. Others have raved about the honesty, the vitality, the love, his determination to break open the American silence about what it means to be a Black man-child in this century, still, still. He breaks it open into a beautiful center of reclaimed knowledges giving back strong histories of kingdoms and poets, of organizers and resistance fighters and most of all, in the dogged determination of his father to save him from the loss of mind and heart, of life, that America turns its back on, thus encouraging the loss of generations. I kept thinking of James Baldwin, as did Coates, of the essay I taught so many times, "Native Son," in which the young Baldwin tries to flee the father who knows his history too well until Baldwin turns again to the thin harsh man in the doorway, barring his home to the white well meaning teacher, not my son, not my son--and the writer collapses into the arms of his father's history, never to be escaped, never to be run from but to be understood, the history and the man so bruised by its weight and by his love--fathers and sons trying to hold onto meaning they must dig up from the unspoken, the buried, the long withheld, the greatness of a people.

On this day that will never come again I sit with these texts, the music of Mendelssohn, the words of a man named for a newly resurrected kingdom of accomplishment, his sentences symphonies of life on the page heralding another America yet again, I sit with a young man struggling to learn, his eyes big with the push to make connections and find the words for them and I sit with the paradox that haunts me in these my last years, how did the Jewish people end up with a state in their name that imprisons children, that suffocates a whole people, that sells its history of suffering as an excuse to escape accountability. that tries to silence those who dissident, how? how?

From Israeli singer and songwriter Chava Alberstein's 1989 modern version of Chad Gadya sung at Passover:

Why are you singing this traditional song?
It's not yet spring and Passover's not here.
And what has changed this year.
On all other nights I ask the four questions, but tonight I have one more:
How long will the cycle last?
How long with the cycle of violence last?

The chased and the chaser
The beaten and the beater
When will all this madness end?
I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep
Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf.
I used to be a dove and I used to be a deer,
Today I don't know who I am anymore.

Another year of dissent, of loving, of teaching and learning, of the beauty of the sea and the ancient cliffs, of Di in my arms, of Cello prancing in the face of fading life, of friends who share my days and the dreams that come at night, the dreams in which sometimes, my mother, Regina, all I had once, lives again.

With Lana and Maddee at Women in Black Vigil, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hopelessness as a Tourist Attraction

Last month I read an article entitled "Israeli Settlers Skew Focus to Tourism" (The Age, April 23, 2016, p. 40) by Middle East correspondent Anne- Marie O'Connor reporting from Havat Gilad, the West Bank. Even as I write this long introduction of the whos and wheres, I feel the anger, the heart break rising at its contents. It has taken me a month to believe again that words can do anything in the face of such heartlessness, with all the blows Israel strikes daily at Palestinian aspirations, with its control of revenue ("Israel Freezes Palestinian revenues," Jan 5, 2015) as punishment for Palestinian attempts to join the International Criminal Court, with its control of ocean, air ways, border crossings, knowing all of this, the cynicism of turning the settlements into tourist attractions stopped me cold.
   "They are offering a sampling of 'the good life', with fine wines and artisanal cheese on tastings are a new weapon against a two-state solution...Holiday chalets are the new facts on the ground...The 1.5 million annual visitors to the West Bank now encounter 15 new multilingual visitor centers, 20 boutique wineries and some 200 bed and breakfasts (to be found on Airbnb). A settler says, 'When people come here, they experience a different side of us: nature, music, olives, lemons. The reporter says, 'But not Palestinians?'
'It just won't fit,' the settler replies. Karni Eldad, the co-author of Yesha is Fun, a guidebook about vacationing in the West Bank gives an explanation. 'The 1970s and '80s were the settlement era, when we had to build as much as we could, otherwise they would give it back to the Arabs. We had to block the Palestinians.'

Oh, and that they have. Children lie in the rubble while tourists eat cheese in the hill tops of another people's land. Never, never say this is the nation of the Jews. This is a national policy that builds villas on the bodies of the unwanted, that turns settler colonization into a quick freeze new history. And those who book their beds on Airbnb, who pile into the buses escorted by Israeli military to the mountain tops to breath in the 'new'air, how empty are both their hearts and minds. I keep seeing the crowds that laughed as the Nazis played with their Jewish victims in the streets-- this is not a Jewish state, but a despotic State that will do anything to keep its hold on power, a bankrupt state that only knows the tools of humiliation and torture when it turns its eyes to the people Israel displaced. This Jew says build me no such States but the other way of being, the way represented by the peace activists of Israel and around the world, the inclusive way that does not dance on the mountain tops of displacement and genocide, that refuses all religious claims to exceptionalism from what one human being owes another.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Small moments...

Hibiscus Orange in Our Front Yard

Cello looked up at me, his eyes that other worldly blue, but still with intent. He walks very carefully next to me these days as I struggle with balance but he never deserts his unsteady friend of almost 16 years. That glance from  small creature to old woman caught my heart. Such an old story, this rush of gratitude to another species who does not turn away, but today, Cello brought me to language. Everything around me of beauty, of kindness, of shared endeavor, of color and wind, is a word to my heart.

Walking with Debolina and Oishik 
Friends, some I have known the whole time I have sojourned here like Beth and Pattie and Leslie and Louise and Daniel and others, new and deep, brought to me on the waves of La Professoressa's engagement with students, like Debolina and Oishik who must return to Calcutta very soon, deep new younger friends, like Maddee and Maddy, sitting with me, talking, living thoughts, my glimpses of the future. Michelle, like me, a traveler here, an old friend who too soon will return to her other home in the cobbled streets of Cambridge, coming and going, carrying intimacies. Maria and Maureen too soon to leave for the streets of London and the Welsh mountains.  I will stay put now. Too tired to bridge the oceans and because of this, every word, every touch of shared life, every talk into the night, opens the heavens to me. Every shoulder I rest upon is like Cello's gaze.
La Professoressa, the Gardener, the Bringer of Life
And the woman who for all these years in this new land of mine has held me in her arms, in the joy of life, looks down at me and says, "You will not leave me until you have too,"

Friday, April 1, 2016

Walking with Cello With My Mountain Climbing Sticks with Cezanne and Zola in My Heart

Thank you, Dovey and Libby, for Capturing Cello and Me in Action, March 2016

     Walking the Anglesea beaches in the early winter days of April here, with stratas of time watching the finite way of an old woman, so happy with the possibility once again of walking, with the Antarctic Sea bathing the shore with its cold and so unknown waters. Grateful to the thin strong walking sticks that give me the security to step out, that keep me anchored in the firm sands. Walking without the fear of falling is like running with the wind for me. If like me, you have fallen several times and fear it happening again, try these supports that breath adventure. I walk mountains, flat mountains, but always stunning new terrains, even in my home.

Today I turned over the 9 boxes of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, the oldest progressive Jewish group in Australia. that I had prepared for their lives as an archival source to Sivan and Larry. Here on these new shores I have used my LHA honed grassroots archives skills for three collections: that of the first published Yiddish poet here in Australia, Pinchus Goldhar; the AJDS collection going back to the 1980s and the Women in Black Melbourne Archives, to be given, hopefully, to the  State Library. The day closed with meeting wonderful young scholars and activists, Max and Jordy. All expressions of the other Jewish community,the anti occupation Jewish voices. My time here has been enriched by these pieces of paper bearing testimonies of persistent struggles against Fascism. All kinds of histories hold me up here, of the land and of the  inclusive human spirit struggling for change.

Reading all I can about the friendship between Cezanne and Zola, their comradeship of the exiled. I have an opera in mind--The Home of the Refused. Vastness of thought, of how to counter the growing violence, on the streets, in the human heart, the unacceptable once again exploding into our social worlds. The bohemian spirit grows in its tenderness amidst struggle and its dedication to telling human stories.
Vastness of My Vistas Here, Now. The Mermaid Pool, a Swimming Spot Formed by the Tides

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thursdays with Ms Ruby and Other Moments That Give Hope

Ruby and us for her weekly Uni catch up and vegetarian dinner

      I move through these days with a constant storm of hateful speech, killing virilities, pandering politics at my back. What is happening in my country of origin? Distance makes me a trapped viewer of CNN and I reel from one sad collapse of public discourses to another. I say to my friends here,  how did we get from Adali Stevenson to Donald Trump, how did we go from Edward R. Murrow to Fox News? Mostly the past names have no resonance here; Australians have their own falling from past graces to worry about, but this is what happens with aging, the nouns that live on are living photographs of those who made a difference in your own public journeys, who gave insight into what we could say to each other when we were concerned with balanced, probing actions and words.

    Knowing I wanted to stay in touch with all of you in this dismal time, I sat down to write and find images from our days here. Then Ms. Ruby's lovely face looked up at me, holding up  one of the essays she was reading for her International Relations class as we gathered for our weekly shared meal. The simple beauty of her, the long journey she has undertaken with minimal support, the way we all found each other, the care we are committed to, the gift of her presence overwhelmed all the ugliness Trump had thrown into the air. Here on little Fitzgibbon Avenue we found the caring human way again. And Ms. Ruby even liked my eggplant involtini cooked especially for her from my first ever vegetarian cookbook. The 75 year old marked here by her glasses learns always from the questing young.

La Professoressa sitting on the stoop of our Anglesea home

My anchor, my comrade, my love, here in a quiet time, with her pruning clippers used to encourage her beloved gardens. How she holds me so I can make my way in her world, how she teaches and writes and encourages and loves.

A visitation from Maddy, Natalie, Jamie and Esther, a new generation of fem-butch women, on the eve of the launching of Esther's new zine, "Butch Is Not a Dirty Word" on our front veranda in the late afternoon. I have told Maddy that this event to be held in Hares and Hyenas bookstore will be my last public outing and how fitting it was to stand before over 200 members of the butch-fem community and take my leave, almost where I started over 50 years ago. 

From my notes for the evening:

I acknowledge the Wurunjerri people on whose lands we stand, having the privilege of discussing our identities.

Thank you, Maddy, Esther, Jamie and Natalie for letting me part of this launch and coming to talk on the front porch abut fem-butch desire, politics, lonelinesses and exhaltations the other night. oh what sounds we poured into the sultry night air. How lucky Iwas at 75 to be once again in another age and place with a community much like the one that given me lesbian life over 50 years ago.

My own words of appreciation for the butch touch, the competencies, the tender power, the tough power, the stance, the taking on of societal judgement--butch, a complex gender intermingling, a living erotic marked by surrounding histories--I tell of the couple described by William Cullen Bryant in a 1843 letter to the Keene, New Hampshire Evening Post of his visit to the home of "two maiden ladies who dwell in the valley as companions for life...I could tell you," he continues to write," how they slept on the same pillow and had a common purse, and adopted each other's relations, and how one of them, more enterprising and spirited in her temper then the other, might be said to represent the male head of the family, and took upon herself their transactions withe world without, until her health failed, and she was tended by her gentle companion, as a fond wife attends her invalid husband. I would tell you of their dwelling encircled with roses..but I fear I have said too much already." We live our desires in history. I tell of how the American butch-fem community risked all to bring a public gay world into being: The voice of a working class butch lesbian of the 1950s Buffalo, New York community, remembering in 1993.
 "Things back then were terrible, and I think because I fought like a man to survive, I made is somehow easier for the kids coming out today. I did their fighting for them. I'm not a rich person. I don't have a lot of money, I don't even have a little money. I would have nothing to leave nobody in this world, but I have that I can leave to the kids who are coming out now, who will come out in the future, that I left them a better place to come out into. And that's all I have to offer, to leave them. But I wouldn't deny it;even though I was getting my brains beaten up, I would never stand up and say, 'No, don't hit me, I'm not gay, I'm not gay. I wouldn't do that." 
My wonderful Natalie

My closing words: We are at a time when claiming gender territory seems very important--I want to suggest that in a way we are absorbing into our communal conversations the territorial tensions that form the language of the States around us. There is room in our communities for all our gender, sexual, identity expressions, no need to patrol the borders. What we do need to do in this time of growing Facism--I refer to Trump--is to say what needs to be said to each other about the complexity of all our identities, to listen and learn and replace shame and invisibility with appreciation and acknowledgement and then to find ways to form a united front, body with body, against the rising Right-- using all our knowledges--lesbian feminist, intersexed, gay, dyke, queer, butch, fem, transgendered, no gendered, bisexual--let us link our differently history-touched arms and say No to nationally dictated hatreds, no to relentless incarcerations of those declared unwanted.

And my last moment of hope came to me as a Jew who watched all the worst speak in front of  Americans for Israel Lobby Group, saying everything they thought their audience wanted to hear, gentile voices pledging their undying love for the Jewish state, with Trump verbally holding up  his imagined Jewish baby like a biblical sacrifice for the Jewish vote. I thought of the terror, the abhorrence, if we just put the word Christian in place of Jewish. How have we come to this, my people. The terrible mix of Holocaust pain and fear mixing with headiness of National Power over another people has made us loose our senses and our hearts. And then, and then, the only Jew in the race, Bernie Sanders, turning his back on the Washington venue and its racist hate fest posing as a loving embrace of the Jewish people while demonizing the Palestinians, our Bernie with the oh so Jewish name, says, after criticizing Hamas' violence, "However, let me also be very clear: I--along with many supporters of Israel--spoke out strongly against the Israeli counter attacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians and wounded thousands more. I condemn the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps. Today Gaza is still largely in ruins. The international community must come together to help Gaza recover. That doesn't mean rebuilding factories that produce bombs and missiles--but it does mean rebuilding schools, homes and hospitals that are vital to the future of the Palestinian people. These are difficult subjects. They are hard to talk about both for Americans and for Israelis. I recognize that, but it is clear to me that path toward peace will require tapping into our shared humanity to make hard but just decisions."

Doing the hard thing, whether it be 18- year- old Ruby stepping out into a world of ideas that she has never known, or butch women rejecting shame or saying the words that mark you as traitor because you see more pain then just your own --or giving your heart in full love in the face of  mortality--the wind sings with these possibilities.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ms Ruby On Her Way and Other Delights

Here La Professoressa and Ms Ruby and I share a vegetarian dinner to hear Ruby's first week adventures as a Monash University student studying international affairs. One of the ways I mark my life here is by our friendship with Ruby, starting when she was 12 and wanting to work on her writing. Now we sit and listen to her worries, her hopes, her excitement at the new world of thought opening to her. A gift to be part of this young woman's journey.

The curve of our beach, the beauty I have found here,
With new friends, Kylie and Brigid, and my cricket bat.
Apples from our Anglesea garden. How lucky I have been.

Monday, March 7, 2016

After Seeing "Son of Saul"--The Naqba and the Holocaust, the Madness of Racial and National Intoxications

From our Women in Black Vigil against the Israeli Occupation, March 5, 2016: Esme,  Alex, Joan, Debolina, Sue, Marg, Maddee, Marina, Sandra and supporters on the streets of Melbourne, Australia. Standing and talking.

Last night I saw "Son of Saul" and more then ever, I wept in the darkness for the immeasurable human catastrophe unchecked national and racial hatred brings into being, more than ever I saw Palestinian bodies along side Jewish ones--more than ever I saw the Naqba and the Holocaust as huge shared histories, more than ever the need to understand each other's losses and each other's rages but now Israel holds the guns, builds the walls, garnishes the millions, builds its armies ever stronger, every day destroying possibilities of doing something truly life giving with these two legacies of despair and resistance. Please you do not need to agree with me in all things, but what ever daily action you can take, from having a conversation to not buying a settlers' product to not traveling to Israel on a pleasure trip and if you do, please make some kind of effort to touch, to look, to stand and witness across the walls, the checkpoints, the settlements stretching further and further into another people's last hope.

For immediate release on February 24, 2016
Naomi Dann:, 845-377-5745
Ramah Kudaimi:, 202.332.0994
A full-page color ad calling on Oscar nominees to #SkipTheTrip being offered by the Israeli government in swag bags was published in the Calendars section of today’s Los Angeles Times. The ad, which is sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, urges nominees not to endorse Israeli apartheid by participating in a government-sponsored junket. The same admade waves this week after Variety declined to publish it at the last-minute, despite previously publishing a politically-charged ad criticizing the Obama administration for its Israel policies.

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“We’re glad the LA Times is running our ad. Censorship has no place in a serious publication, whether in ads or editorial content,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP.  “We know that when people have access to information about Israeli policies and their impacts on Palestinian lives, they are more willing to speak out for justice. This is a small and important step toward that goal.”
After initially accepting payment from JVP last week, Variety informed the organization that it was unable to publish the advertisement because “it would need to have a softer tone.” Following an inquiry about specific edits that could be made, Variety’s Director of Strategic Partnerships Patrice Atiee elaborated that: “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week’s edition.”
The ad is part of an ongoing campaign urging Oscar nominees to #SkipTheTrip being offered by the Israeli government in swag bags distributed by Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based marketing company. As Variety itself reported last week, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is suing Distinctive Assets for copyright infringement after it marketed its swag bags with slogans such as “Everyone Wins at the Oscars! Nominee Gift Bags.” At $55,000, the 10-day luxury trip to Israel is the priciest item in the bag. Other freebies include a “Vampire Breast Lift,” a vaporizer, and a sex-toy, among other things. The bags are going to nominees in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress, and director categories. Host Chris Rock is also set to receive one.
Getting celebrities to come to Israel is part of a “Brand Israel” strategy by the government to improve the country’s image abroad in the face of growing boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns (BDS) that challenge Israel’s military occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians.
“As was the case many years ago in South Africa, celebrities are being asked to refrain from whitewashing apartheid policies,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. “By refusing to be used as props in the Israeli government’s perpetual occupation production, they are protecting their own reputations and standing for freedom, justice, and equality. Israel’s casting call for apartheid lackeys is one any actor or actress with a conscience should not hesitate to turn down.”
2016 Oscar nominees Mark Rylance and Asif Kapadia have already pledged not to visit Israel professionally as long as the human rights violations persist. Last week, five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, director Ken Loach and musician Brian Eno publicly denounced the Israeli government’s propaganda initiative, which is being promoted by Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a vocal proponent of Israel’s illegal settlement project who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.
A petition launched last week urging nominees to follow the lead of celebrities like Ms. Lauryn Hill, Danny Glover, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Angela Davis, and others who have refused to lend their names to Israel’s past propaganda attempts already has nearly 10,000 signatures.
The Palestinian Performing Arts Network, which represents the majority of the Palestinian cultural sector, is also calling on Oscar nominees to #SkipTheTrip, and the Palestinian BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee, the broadest Palestinian civil society coalition, welcomed the Academy’s moves to distance itself from the swag bags.
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for the freedom, equality, and dignity of all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP is one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in the US, with more than 60 chapters and 200,000 members and supporters.
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a coalition of hundreds of US organizations working to end all forms of US support for Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies. We support freedom, justice, and equality for all.