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.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My darling eats a bush grown apple

Radio interview given, taken leave of Nicole and Aina who are off to Jakarta, leaving Aina's zine, "Solo Homo: A Travelogue: Searching for Queers in the Polish Motherland," copies of which I will make sure get back to LHA in Brooklyn, reading the zine, "Butch Is Not a Dirty Word," edited by Esther Godoy, so I can help launch it on March 18th at Hares and Hyenas, the queer progressive bookstore here. Maps of ideas and experience where the roads go forward and back and in circles and then off the allotted geography. My old friend Daniel returns and we spend a sleep over doing our old things, he eating tofu creations and I what ever I can find--too tired to cook, talking about the New York conference he is in the throes of organizing honoring the work of Jonathan Ned Katz, another old friend, I find an extra pair of Quantas pajamas for him and we sit in front of the tv-our feet resting on the same hammock,watching "Death in Paradise." kibitzing. In the morning I make us scrambled eggs on toast with slices of our home grown tomatoes and green slivers of basil fresh from their stalks. La Professoressa is away for several days in Adelaide to be with her mother who has recently entered a nursing home and to attend a loved nephew's wedding. It is good to have Daniel's company.When you leave one history in your 60s and enter another, it feels like a wonder to be able to say "old friends," but now it is almost 16 years since Melbourne has become my home, another life time, and those who have welcomed me here or found me here, are gifts beyond words.

Have just finished reading Patti Smith's "M Train,"--she too was with me carrying New York and Detroit and Brooklyn in haunting journeys of the imagination, of the body on missions of gratitude and remembering. Of words let free to roam, of images seeping through the morning light or in the depth of cracked familiar coffee cup. Of pain of loss and enduring love. The night of the day I  finished reading her words, I had this dream.

I am walking my beloved Cello, a small black dog, through the streets of a city, perhaps New York. Suddenly I am startled and lose Cello. for hours, days, years perhaps, I call his name through streets, under overpasses with cars whizzing by, my heart breaking at his loss, running, shouting. searching searching. For such a long time I call for him, I am known to the people of the city as the one searching for a lost love. Suddenly,in dream time, perhaps ages, in what seems like a shelter, a woman calls out we have found your dog. I am old now, my heart leaps and in she comes with a large black dog by her side, and here I am conscience in the dream of the self that is dreaming--knowing that the dog is not Cello, I say, thank you, thank you, you have returned my love to me. Still dreaming, the outside self  stops running, nods with approval, the dreamer has accepted the offered replacement, the acceptance of a gift from someone who wanted to help, to end the agony of searching even when what is offered is not what is lost.
Our little Cello, now gray muzzled and with unseeing eyes who still knows exactly where we are

I awake bathed in sweat, both shaken by the sharpness of loss but also touched by the comfort of the dream. I thank Patti Smith for this journey, for this freeing of dreams to find their language. Later walking on the Anglesea beach with La Professoressa's brother, Peter, who long has lived with the dreams of Blake, I tell him, I think I finally have accepted the loss of New York, that this home of expanse of sea, I am grateful for. Perhaps also I think of the woman in the dream who had worked so hard to find what I had lost, she too spending years looking for the missing little Cello, the one whom I could not disappoint, or make her joy of discovery meaningless, was Di, with the orange halo, who all these years would not let me slip away. Perhaps I saw that to be human is to lose, to yearn beyond heart breaking for the irreplaceable and then, the wonder of human understanding so deep it calls forth a new life of love. We can comfort each other. We must. Perhaps too all the images of women, men, children pushing at the  world's ungiving walls, the images of Aleppo in ruins, of Gaza in ruins, the immeasurable loss of home and laughter and play without fear, perhaps all of this too was part of my dream.

For those who have waited for my words to return, I thank you. I cannot say what I will say from now on but you will know what is on my desk, in my heart, on my mind, how far my legs can carry me, how much of the world  still finds me here.

I want to make this space my one remaining site of public thought as I grow more tired, as movement becomes more difficult, as I said to Jordy, it is clear I am running out of steam. Perhaps I always wanted to be a steam engine, with my short study legs, chugging through the years. Sunlight hits the bush, the beach, the apple, my darling's hair, an orange burst.
Jewish voices raised in opposition to Israel's occupation give me hope, the courage of the writers, their refusal to be silenced by shouts of traitor or anti Semite, their hearts broken but their voices calling to the future.

An Amazing Turn for a Major Leader of the American Jewish mainstream: Rabbi David Gordis Rethinking Israel

David Gordis has served as vice-president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles (now American Jewish University). He also served as Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee and was the founding director of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel. He founded and directed the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies which became the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies.
David Gordis is President Emeritus of Hebrew College where he served as President and Professor of Rabbinics for fifteen years. He is currently Visiting Senior Scholar at the University at Albany of the State University of New York.  Here is the article he submitted to Tikkun. He joined Tikkun's editorial advisory board. We publish it with the same sadness that Gordis expresses at the end of this article, because many of us at Tikkun magazine shared the same hopes he expresses below for an Israel that would make Jews proud by becoming an embodiment of what is best in Jewish tradition, history, and ethics, rather than a manifestation of all the psychological and spiritual damage that has been done to our people, which now acts as an oppressor to the Palestinian people. For those of us who continue to love Judaism and the wisdom of our Jewish culture and traditions, pointing out Israel’s current distortions gives us no pleasure, but only makes us deeply unhappy, frustrated, and re-energized to support peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and around the world..
–Rabbi Michael Lerner (

Reflections on Israel 2016
by David M. Gordis

While reading Ethan Bronner’s review of a new biography of Abba Eban, I was reminded of a time when in a rare moment I had the better of a verbal encounter with Eban. It happened about thirty years ago  at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which brought together leaders of American Jewish organizations, sometimes to hear from a visiting dignitary, in this case Eban, Israel’s eloquent voice for many years. I was attending as Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee. Eban had a sharp wit as well as a sharp tongue. He began his remarks with a mildly cynical remark: “I’m pleased, as always, to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, though I wonder where the presidents of minor American Jewish organizations might be.”  I piped up from the audience: “They are busy meeting with minor Israeli government officials.” A mild amused reaction followed and Eban proceeded with his remarks.
Looking back on Israel oriented meetings from those days, I attended a monthly meeting, alternating between Washington and New York, with my counterparts at the Anti-Defamation League, Nathan Perlmutter and the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman, along with Tom Dine of the America Israel Public Affairs Commission (AIPAC). Though the atmosphere was cordial, a clear fault line separated Perlmutter and Dine from Siegman and me. AIPAC and ADL were on the ideological and political right, particularly when it came to Israel, the American Jewish Congress was on the left and the American Jewish Committee straddled a centrist position, with its lay leadership tending center-right and its professional staff clearly center left. A policy adopted by all four public policy organization was honored inconsistently. The policy was: support whatever government was in power in Israel, right or left, and avoid criticism of its policies. This was honored when a right wing government was in power. However, the agreement dissolved when a left wing Labor government was in control because neither ADL nor AIPAC hesitated to criticize Labor government policies. At our meetings Dine and Perlmutter agreed that a Labor government in control in Israel was a problem for them. So it was Perlmutter and Dine on one side of the divide, and Siegman and me on the other.
Things have moved a long way since those days. The American Jewish Congress has disappeared from the stage. The current executive of the American Jewish Committee appears to aspire to fill the role of the retired ADL executive Abe Foxman as a leading spokesman for the ideological and political right. AIPAC’s support of the right wing in Israel and its alliance with the right wing in the United States is more palpable than ever. And of course, there has been no significant opposition to the entrenched Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is nearing a half century in duration. Netanyahu’s “facts on the ground” steps to make a two-state solution impossible are bearing fruit, and there still appears to be no significant opposition to these policies in Israel itself. A number of smaller organizations supporting a two-state solution have emerged, notably J-Street and Americans for Peace Now, but recent steps by the Israeli government to delegitimize these groups are proceeding. The bottom line as I see it: The right has triumphed; the left has been defeated.
The Israel of today is very far from anything I dreamed of and worked for throughout my career. I can clearly remember the day in 1948 when the State of Israel was established. I was in the fourth grade at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. The entire school was summoned to the schoolyard in celebration of the momentous occasion. It was announced that from that day on the school would adopt the Sephardic (Israeli) Hebrew pronunciation and abandon the older European Ashkenazic.  I well remember driving out with my parents to Idyllwild Airport, now JFK, to see the first airliner with the Israeli flag adorning its tail. This was a transformative moment. Jews had returned to the stage of history after the devastation of the Holocaust. Israel was to be the great laboratory for the rebirth of an ancient tradition in a new land and in a country committed to being a model of democracy and freedom for the world.
What happened? We can debate the reasons but the bottom line for me is that it has gone terribly wrong. On the positive side, Israel’s accomplishments have been remarkable.  Israel has created a thriving economy, and has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of the displaced and the needy. Israel has generated a rich and diverse cultural life and its scientific and educational achievements have been exemplary. In spite of these achievements, however, Israel in my view has gone astray. And it in in the area for which Israel was created, as a Jewish state, embodying and enhancing Jewish values that I see this failure. Throughout history, at its best, Jewish life and thought have successfully navigated between three pairs of values that are in tension with one another. First, the Jewish experience has balanced the rational with the affective, the assertion with the question, where often the question emerges as the more important.

Second, it has embraced both particularism with universalism, probing Jewish interiorities but looking out to the larger world, recognizing the common humanity of all people. Third, it has shaped positions which looked to the past for sources and inspiration but at the same time projected a vision for a world transformed in the future into something better than its current reality.
Present day Israel has discarded the rational, the universal and the visionary. These values have been subordinated to a cruel and oppressive occupation, an emphatic materialism, severe inequalities rivaling the worst in the western world and distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behaviors rather than the best.
And most depressing of all for me, is that I see no way out, no way forward which will reverse the current reality. Right wing control in Israel is stronger and more entrenched than ever. The establishment leadership in the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this dismal situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel out of this quagmire.
 So, sadly, after a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.