Singed Tongue

root - Posted on 24 June 2009

Israel. Enough. Not in my name

by Joanna Letz/ PNN

Held tight. My throat singed with the colonizers language. But it's what I grew up on. Suckled on English letters as my grandma sang Yiddish lullabies in my mother's ear. And argued with grandpa over little things I could never understand.

I can't blame my family. By losing the shtetl language- the language of resistance- my family could pass- could become white. And all the privileges that came with this.

Yiddish words my mom scolded me with.. what's that shmutzin on your shirt. You are totally crazy- meshugga. My grandma's terms of endearment- my little bubele.

Bits and pieces strung together without any order. A way of connecting to a Jewish identity and at the same time rejecting it.. Yiddish- the "shtetl" language. Rejecting a rich past. What of the lives before the war - I know little- my grandparents from Eastern Europe, Poland- the towns of Zlochev and Sokol.

Clinging to a Jewish identity on the one hand and rejecting a rich past on the other. Clinging to an identity- based on victimhood- the holocaust- a sense of outsiderness- "the chosen people"- the only ones who know suffering. Upholding an image of the victim to support the false need for a state. And at the same time also assimilating to Amerikkkan life and the privileges of white skin, but denying the existence of these privileges.

I am left with a singed tongue. Grasping, struggling to cough up words to describe my lived experience. Straddling worlds. Left uprooted. Searching. My family became white when they crossed over- landed in New York City on Ellis Island. Shed names and language.

My mom only 6 months old. A new life in the U.S--anywhere but Europe. How could my family stay? Why would they want to? All my family and their friends were dead. No Jews left in Sokol or Zlochev. Anywhere but Europe. As the plane flew over the water. my mom didn't know, but apart of her was lost in Europe. My family killed and buried in Europe- our struggle not lost- but little of how they lived- before the war- remains. A whole way of being- forgotten. My grandma carries what is left of my roots. Her words sung in Yiddish accent.

My mom was baptized in Amerikan waters. White.
Why not accept privilege if it can be had. New Jewish immigrants with white skin entering the U.S. of Amerikkka.

History of slavery. Blood seeping out of every orifice. Piece of paper- statue- piece of soil. Jewish immigrants with white skin entering Amerikkka. Granted privilege. All you had to do was play along.

Cut your tongue. Cut your tongue. And throw it away. Close the door on a long history of resistance. Lock it up and throw the key in the ocean. Along with a greater sense of knowing- a deeper connection to family. But then pretend your privileges don't exist.

Europe and Judaism - the Holocaust, victimhood, suffering, Period. Throwing away and turning our backs on our Polish Jewish identity. Instead claiming a Jewish identity of suffering, and separateness, a falsely unified, single Jewish identity. What of Jews who resisted, who never wanted to leave Europe? What of Jews who did not experience the holocaust? What of Moroccan Jews and Ethiopian Jews?

Most of what I know about Europe- is the stories I hear about how my family survived. And the guilt of survival. My closeness with these stories with the fight. I am a granddaughter of survivors.

Then again…

Aren't we all in some form.

I want to know about the Europe before all the killing. I want to know about the Judaism before my family came to the U.S. I want to know about the people who never wanted to leave their homes and move to Israel.

I want to know what its like to feel Yiddish vibrations on my tongue.

I am left straddling worlds of contradictions. A renunciation of the "shtetl language" a shedding of European clothes, sounds, ways of being..

At the same time packing Judaism, Jewish identity into a neat little bag, victim..

A claim to Israel- to a Jewish homeland.

I am left feeling space- air between my feet and the ground. I cannot comprehend an identity based on victimhood.. used as a means to mask white privilege .. and colonization.
I am left wanting Yiddish words to say enough. But all I have is English and another colonizers language.. Spanish. Basta.

Enough. I must speak to the skin privilege I have as well as understanding the loss that came with becoming white. And this loss has scarred my body. It scarred my mother without her knowing. Took away her blankets. Her love and left her standing in a doorway. Her head continually looking backwards.. to see whose coming. A frightened body. But stern, set face. Life said- here. Amerikkka said here- eat me- have me- but in the process the ability to heal- mend wounds will be lost.

This loss, this severance leaves scars. Leaves scars we cannot see and don't know exist. For the loss is not seen as loss, the severance not seen as violence.

Israel ripping Palestine to pieces and calling it a homeland for the Jews.

Israel, not in my name.

Israel- another colonist trick- to divide and conquer. Israel stifling the screams, the grief. Israel, military outpost.

Israel- A way to bury the complicity, to bury the story of Amerikkan support of the Nazi's.

Israel. Enough. Not in my name.

Israel- dividing and conquering, separating all our stories of struggle, and survival. My family did not heal. No, stifled screams, and dreams, drowned by Amerikkan and Israeli lies. So much to unearth, bring to the surface, unbury, what a world of shadows. Amerikkka said- If you become like all the other people with white skin- who have assimilated -than maybe you have a chance at making it. And keep your mouth shut. Amerikkka- continuous process of divide and conquer

How do we begin to heal? And all I hear- is English words ringing in my head. As I ask for something more.

I pray for-

Realizations of the heart

And to see each other as one

In our many prayers. In our many universes of love songs, and dances, and nutritional healing.

Prayers into the night sky- abundant sky.

Arms linked heads leaning on the sun, barefeet on the earth.

And recognize- what I have lost- in benefiting from a system of white supremacy, a system of institutionalized racism.

We cannot be free

Until everyone is free

Our freedom is tied to the freedom of all peoples.

I breathe into these scarred spaces and begin to heal.

Begin to connect the missing pieces.

I wish to open my heart.

Reconcile the disparate part of my life.

Try to create bridges, with the words I am left

With what I can find forgotten underneath old clothes

A kind of desperate search

I am calmed by our collective voices rising up

Varied tones, timbers, words.

Stories of resistance and persistence

Accepting and giving love

Realizing we all deserve love and happiness


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