Shana tova and a gut yor

5775 went by so fast I can barely remember it. I do know that I’ve neglected this blog terribly. I will now attempt to make up for it by kvetching a year’s worth of blogging into one post. It’s taken me almost a month—partly because of the inexplicable fatigue that’s hit me recently, but if nothing else it’s forced me to work out just what I’ve been doing this last year.

Last Rosh Hashana I was enjoying the warm spring in the backyard, drawing and discussing my love life with my flatmate’s dog. I’m not a relationship person. Every relationship I’ve ever been in—whether monogamous or poly—made me miserable. I don’t like feeling like my life revolves around one person. I don’t like being expected to prioritise one person over everyone and everything that makes me happy. Most of all I don’t like the constant guilt and shame associated with failing to be exactly what my partner expects me to be.

It was spring in Sydney. Things were growing. For the first time in my life I had a lover who was interested in my politics, who valued the activist work I do, who actually read (and liked) my writing, who thought of me as a whole human rather than an accessory. It was strange and it made me suspicious, but the advantage of being a whole human whose life doesn’t revolve around one person is that I can afford to take emotional risks, and I knew this one was worth it. I learned that although I don’t need a partner, having a partner is worth it when that person makes my life better.

Towards the end of Tishrei New Zealand’s election results were announced. It was much of the same: National won, the left (or what passes for left) did badly, and about a quarter of eligible people didn’t bother to vote at all. I’m not one of those people who get excited about elections. It seems that every time a new leftwing party or candidate comes along the entire left drops everything in favour of the new messiah. Right now we have Corbyn in the UK and Sanders in the US. Last year it was the Mana–Internet Party alliance. Any time I expressed doubt about Kim Dotcom’s principles I got shut down with one word: ‘strategic’. Sure, Dotcom’s politics aren’t perfect (particularly where women are concerned) but in order to get anywhere in parliamentary politics one has to be ‘strategic’. In the end it turns out that supporting a party founded by a millionaire wasn’t all that strategic after all, and considering his admiration for Donald Trump that is just as well. Moving on…

Cheshvan was the first time I returned to Aotearoa since moving to Sydney. I didn’t tell anyone I was visiting; I wanted to avoid social obligations. I spent most of the trip dealing with tedious life maintenance stuff—doctors, banks, storage, that sort of thing. On Halloween Entropy and I went to a gig at Moon, dressed as the devil and the grim reaper because 123 Mart was selling plastic pitchforks and scythes for $5 each. It used to be that I’d go to a show in Wellington and know at least half the people there. This time I barely recognised anyone and to be honest it was kinda nice. I had a strange moment walking down Cuba St, when I suddenly noticed how light I felt. I wasn’t carrying any of the tension or anxiety that usually weighs me down. It wasn’t what Wellington used to feel like. Old memories didn’t sting. I was actually happy. Turns out that moving away was the best decision I made in a long time.

Also in Cheshvan, Julian Blanc, ‘pick up artist’, got chased out of Australia. In principle I’m opposed to borders, but I wasn’t all that upset when this schmuck’s visa got cancelled. Building a career out of encouraging men to manipulate and assault women doesn’t earn you much sympathy in my book. I realise that Blanc’s attitude to women isn’t particularly novel. It’s an unsurprising result of an ideology of gender that views women and men as opposite forces locked in an eternal battle. I’ve met (and dated) too many men who struggle to understand that women are more than trophies or mobile masturbation machines. My dating advice for hetero men is this: treat women like human beings. That way, even if they don’t want to have sex with you they will still think you are a nice person. (Handy hint: while great for having sex with, women also make neat platonic friends.)

Kislev came along and reminded me why I oppose state control of borders. Monica Jones was on her way back to Australia from the US, to finish her social work qualification. She was allowed to board her flight, but when she arrived in Sydney border control informed her that her visa had been revoked, and detained her. Her bail hearing seemed like some kind of performance art on the nature of White supremacy. Here was this inspiring, brave, principled woman who devotes her time and energy to fighting for sex workers’ rights, and here were lawyers and judges discussing her fate as if she was invisible. In the end, Jones agreed to return to the US because the alternative would’ve required her to stay in detention for at least two weeks. It’s hard to untangle all the ropes that curbed her freedom of movement, but they include racism, transmisogyny, anti-sex worker stigma and state bureaucracy.

That same month I traveled to Melbourne to see family. I’m pretty sloppy when it comes to lighting Hannukah candles, and that year I only celebrated on two of the eight nights. Once was with ultra-orthodox family friends. We ate certified kosher food and recited all the required blessings and I managed not to say anything that offended anyone or mix up the milk and the meat crockery. The second time was with a bunch of queer Jews with whom I was coincidentally staying. We ate latkes and lit candles and compared Jewish experiences. Some of us had had religious upbringings and some only had vague knowledge of Jewish traditions. It was a relief to be surrounded by other Jews and not have to hide parts of myself.

In Tevet I went to a party—It happens maybe once a year. Someone had hired a stripper to serve drinks topless, as a present for the man whose party it was. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I don’t have a problem with nudity (anyone who’s known me for any length of time has probably seen me naked by now). I support strippers’ and other sex workers’ right to work. As far as I know she was being paid well for the job—I didn’t talk to her about it because I can’t imagine anything more annoying than having to make other people feel better about your work, while you’re at work. But I didn’t think hiring a woman to walk around topless at a party was very cool. I couldn’t really articulate why until I talked to Maia about it, and she said, ‘it’s like the way topless women are deployed on Games of Thrones—in a way that says “this is a space for men.”’

That month, in France, two religious fundamentalists forced their way inside the offices of a (racist and not very funny) magazine called Charlie Hebdo, murdered twelve people and injured eleven others. It was a vile act of violence. I was particularly horrified that people were attacked in their workplace, as if employees are responsible for their employers’ editorial policy (not that I’m surprised that religious fundamentalists have no class analysis). Nevertheless, in the spirit of making lemons into lemonade, political leaders around the world managed to exploit this terrible event to further their own agendas. Champions of liberty including David Cameron, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas and Viktor Orban marched in Paris to show their support for freedom of speech, as long as that speech isn’t threatening their political power. The horrific acts of violence perpetrated by these men went more or less ignored.

Shvat is supposed to mean spring, the time when almond trees bloom, but in Sydney the days were getting shorter. One Shabbat we marched through Redfern to commemorate the death of TJ Hickey. It was eleven years since the day TJ was fatally impaled while being chased by police. He was seventeen years old. Since then the Hickey family hasn’t received so much as an apology, and local government refuses to allow a plaque commemorating TJ on the fence on which he died.

I’d been to plenty of protests in Sydney before, most of them much bigger and in the city centre. So I was genuinely surprised by the disproportionate aggression of the police. Before the march even started they’d already gotten into a fight while confiscating a banner from some socialists. That march taught me a lot about the level of violence Aboriginal people face from police. Australia reminds me so much of Israel—both regimes share a visceral fear of Indigenous people.

Later in Shvat I started studying Arabic again. I first realised I needed to learn Arabic when I was in Palestine seven years ago. Trying to work with people and support their resistance is hard when you can’t speak with them in their own language. Hebrew and Arabic are similar enough that I picked up reading and writing fairly quickly, but grammar and vocabulary are a bit more challenging. Part of the problem is that classes aimed at English speakers move so slowly. Anglophones are so used to the rest of the world speaking their language that they’re really at a disadvantage when it comes to learning anyone else’s. When our teacher explained that in different regions people speak different dialects of Arabic, a White Australian student complained ‘what’s the point of that?’ It was amusing that she thought human migration and subsequent linguistic diversity should have some kind of point, but it was also bloody exasperating.

After Shvat comes Adar. I enrolled in a drawing class. It was nice giving myself permission to spend money and learn a new skill purely because it’s fun. I think that letting myself do stuff purely because it’s fun is in itself a new skill that I’m still working on honing. It was great to have a teacher watching over my shoulder and pointing out things that need improvement, because normally I’m too ADHD and impatient to spend a long amount of time on a drawing. I get bored quickly and decide it’s fine the way it is even if the proportions aren’t quite right and the foreshortening’s a bit out of whack. It was a therapeutic exercise. I kinda wish that the myriad counselors and psychiatrists I’ve seen over the years had sent me to drawing classes instead of CBT or whatever.

In Adar comes Purim, and on Purim it is a mitzvah to drink until you no longer know the difference between good and evil. Some people don’t know the difference even without wine, which is why Auckland Pride included uniformed police and corrections officers in their march. A small number of young queers decided to take a stand against this blatant pinkwashing of state violence. They unfurled a banner that read ‘No Pride in Prisons’. The reaction from Pride security and organisers was disgusting. They violently grabbed the protesters, broke one woman’s arm, and smashed the cellphone someone tried to film it on. Unsurprisingly the woman whose arm was broken is trans and Māori, which nicely illustrates the reason that she was protesting in the first place. The cops, for their part, didn’t step in to protect this young woman, but arrested her and kept her from accessing medical care for 45 minutes.

Onwards to Nissan. A variety of racists congregated in Martin Place to ‘reclaim’ Australia from migrants, multi-culturalism and Islam. I dutifully attended the counter-protest in spite of my ongoing scepticism about antifa organising. Getting into fights with fascists is all very glamorous, but aside from fueling their persecution complex, I’m not convinced it has much impact. Effective opposition to fascism would require a lot of boring tedious groundwork: reaching out to communities who are threatened by White nationalism, finding common ground, building trust, and coordinating resistance. It would also require us to move beyond sappy liberal slogans and address the systemic racism on which Australia is founded. We can’t declare that ‘real Australians say welcome’ without asking who the hell constitutes a real Australian, and why White people get to welcome migrants to a land they colonised through genocide.

That Nissan was my first Pesach in Sydney. I kinda expected my bourgeois Zionist relatives to invite me to their seder, and I was already fabricating polite excuses, but as it turned out I never heard from them. I was both relieved and offended. As usual I planned to organise an anarchist seder for all my friends, and as usual I didn’t get around to it. I spent Pesach eve alone, eating chametz, which has become somewhat of a tradition. I read through various leftist hagaddot that I found online. There are many Pesach traditions that I love: story-telling as a way of passing on history and ethics from one generation to the next, the various rituals and symbols involving food, the commandment to open your door to anyone who might join you on this night. So much of my relationship with Judaism is negative—after all, I grew up in a Jewish theocracy—so it’s important to me to focus on the parts that do resonate.

Then it was Iyar, and getting far too cold for my liking. I broke my no-parties rule once again and attended a house show—it was a fundraiser for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy and my lover’s band was playing. On the wall near the doorway of the venue someone had painted ‘no posers’ in big letters. It generated an interesting discussion about what exactly makes someone a poser, and it also reminded me why I distanced myself from the punk scene. There are so many people who should be excluded from shows: racists, transphobes, abusers. Instead punks obsess about the authenticity of other people’s punkness. Are they wearing enough patches? Do they have enough piercings? Can they quote enough Amebix lyrics? I honestly can’t think of anything less punk than worrying about not being a poser. As an alternative, try worrying about not being a shitty person.

Iyar was also the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, which necessitated some bile-inducing celebrations of a pointless, horrific war. I’m glad I wasn’t in Wellington to witness what a comrade described as ‘poppy-geddon’ on Taranaki St. That Peter Jackson was put in charge of the ANZAC Day parade makes it clear that commemoration of the war didn’t become a spectacle by accident. This is militarism as entertainment: a romantic and glamorous adventure for honour and glory, Lord of the Rings reimagined with dapper uniforms and vintage cars. Though the slogan ‘lest we forget’ is ubiquitous, the real purpose of all these shenanigans is to ensure that no one remembers the brutality of war, the pointlessness of nationalism, or the corruption of empire. As if what soldiers went through in life wasn’t enough, the state continues to exploit them in death, spinning their stories into fairy tales that will convince another generation that invading other people’s land is a cool thing to do with your time.

In Sivan New Zealand’s media, which loves to froth about the madness of political correctness, gleefully announced that at the Labour Party conference young activists proposed a new policy of public funding for gender reassignment surgery. Labour party leadership were quick to proclaim that of course they have no intention of doing anything that sensible and humane. Andrew Little assured the public that he is very happy with his gender (so is every trans person I know, Andrew. It’s your cissexism they have a problem with). At the same time, the government was spending $26 million on choosing a new flag. That amount of money would easily cover GRS for everyone on the current waiting list, with some left over to fund trans-specific mental health services, refuges and rape crisis centres; training for medical professionals on how to provide appropriate healthcare for trans people; scholarships for trans students; trans advocates at high schools and tertiary education institutions; public education campaigns to combat transmisogyny and transphobia; resources for trans asylum seekers; and free donuts for every trans person.

Six months of work finally bore fruit in Sivan: it was the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair. When I moved to Sydney I promised myself I’d take a break from activism and concentrate on paid work. I wasn’t planning to take on any organising responsibilities for the bookfair, but apparently I’m too much of a control freak to manage that. Here’s some things I learned: (a) consensus-based horizontal organising with people who don’t have much experience can be a pain in the ass, but these are skills you only learn by doing, and it’s worth the extra work and extra fuckups if it means more people have the skills to organise in the future; (b) everything is more time and money and work than you expect, so don’t over-extend yourself; (c) it’s often easier to just do shit yourself, but if you want folks to give a shit about your project, you need to involve them; (d) make space for Indigenous voices. Make space for disabled voices. Make space for trans voices. Make space for migrant voices. Make space for new perspectives, no one needs to sit through another lecture about what the IWW were up to 100 years ago.

In the month of Tammuz, the USA (a country that prides itself on its commitment to individual liberties) finally recognised marriage between two people of the same gender. This was declared a victory for love, but if we’re being honest, marriage has little to do with love. Love doesn’t need permission from the government. Marriage is about more material things, like healthcare, borders, and money. I recognise that in the USA legalising same-sex marriage has very practical implications for people’s lives (unlike New Zealand where it was mostly a symbolic victory). I would rather abolish marriage altogether, because I don’t think the state has any business policing people’s relationships. I don’t see why one kind of relationship that some people choose to have should be singled out for special treatment. I don’t see why access to healthcare, or freedom to cross borders, should be linked to a person’s relationship status. I’m happy for everyone whose life is improved because of the ruling, but I’m also mindful that this isn’t the climax of queer liberation that some folk are making it out to be.

That same month I crossed something off my bucket list. I began learning Yiddish, at the Centrum Kultury Jidysz in Warsaw. It was harder than I expected—my first day of class I took one look at the textbook and shouted, ‘this is nothing like Hebrew!’ Yiddish did not play a big role in my childhood. None of my grandparents spoke it at home (although it was their first language). In Israeli society Yiddish is taboo. When I told a childhood friend I was planning on studying Yiddish he was genuinely offended. Yiddish, he told me, belongs to a time when Jews were weak and had to hide who we are. It is a dead language, and it should stay dead. Because of this antagonism to Yiddish, I had thought the decline of the language was self-inflicted. That might be the case in Palestine, but in the USSR Yiddish was banned outright, and other countries had more subtle ways of forcing linguistic assimilation. The nice thing is that Yiddish is slowly being revived, and so are European Jewish communities.

After my Yiddish program finished I stayed in Poland and spent Av researching family history in Warsaw and Lublin. I’m the first person to return since my grandfather escaped during the Second World War and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I imagined Poland as a heavily nationalistic and anti-Semitic country. I was pleasantly surprised (I think it helped that I spent my time in a Jewish bubble). What I learned is that the Polish narrative about the holocaust is very different from the Zionist narrative I grew up with. Poles I talked to insisted that Jews have always been a part of Polish society. To them the holocaust is an atrocity carried out by foreign invaders against Polish Jews. In spite of that, I couldn’t help noticing that people talked of ‘Poles’ and ‘Jews’ rather than ‘Jewish Poles’ and ‘Christian Poles’. Even after a thousand years Jews are outsiders in Poland. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I prefer it to either assimilation or to having a ‘Jewish’ state.

There was one day in Av that really brought home the violence of the Jewish state. A Jewish fundamentalist named Yishai Schlissel stabbed six people at the Jerusalem pride parade. He killed one of them, a 16-year-old girl named Shira Banki. Schlissel is from a West Bank settlement called Modi’in Illit and had recently been released from prison, after serving a ten-year sentence for stabbing three people during Jerusalem Pride 2005. He had made it very clear that he intended to continue violently enforcing his homophobic interpretation of Jewish theology. That night a group of Jewish supremacists firebombed a Palestinian family’s home in Duma. A toddler named Ali Dawabshe burned to death. Eight days later his father, Saad, died of his injuries. His mother, Reham, died a month later. The only survivor is 4-year-old Ahmad Dawabshe, who’s still recovering in Sheba hospital. Neither of these crimes are isolated—they’re a product of settler-colonialism, patriarchy and religious chauvinism.

When Elul rolled around the world finally started paying attention to the millions of Syrians fleeing both IS and Assad’s violence. Even in New Zealand there’s a growing movement demanding an increase to the refugee quota. After my time in Poland, the photos and stories of Syrian refugees hit me hard. I know that there’s a direct connection between my grandparents’ escape from genocide in Europe to Palestine, the ensuing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to Syria (among other places), and the current crisis. I’ve been oscillating between feeling grateful that so many Westerners empathise with refugees, and feeling frustrated that the focus remains on charity, rather than solidarity, and on the exceptional desperation of these particular refugees, rather than the inherent violence of borders. We cannot pretend that the violence in the Levant is nothing to do with us—no country is an island (metaphorically speaking).

By then I was in London, wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. I got myself a work visa—I thought I’d find myself a boring fulltime job in publishing or comms and save money for a few months. The problem is, I was so exhausted I was barely managing the freelance work I was getting. It happens every year or two, this all-consuming fatigue that swallows my life. I’m never sure what it is: depression? A side effect of my meds? Hypermobility? B12 deficiency? Is it all in my head? Am I just lazy? In my experience it’s hard to get doctors to take you seriously, especially when you have a history of mental illness. Trying to navigate the NHS was like being in an episode of Broad City—every clinic I went to sent me someplace else. When my energy levels are low, I’m using all my reserves just to make sure I eat enough. It’s unfortunate that the symptoms that forced me to seek medical help also made it near-impossible to access it. The healthcare system really isn’t designed with sick people in mind.

By Rosh Hashana I’d already made plans to go to Berlin so I could rest and recover on my own terms. That’s where I am now, sitting with my laptop (or schleptop as we say in Yiddish) at a café in Neukölln, eating vegan cake and thinking that actually an awful lot went on in the last year. I’ve gotten used to the way the Jewish year is inverted in the southern hemisphere – Pesach in autumn, Hannukah in summer—but in my mind I still associate the month of Tishrei with migrating birds, flowering squill and the Palestinian autumn. Tishrei in Northern Europe is different again. The days are sunny, still, and biting—what my Francophone flatmate calls ‘raw cold’. I’m trying to work out what my aspirations are for this year. I feel restless and impatient. I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of small victories. I want the world to be alright now. I want peace in Syria, in Palestine, and in the rest of the Levant. I want an end to violence against women, especially trans women. I want to be part of a Jewish community that embraces diaspora, not settler colonialism. I want the work that I do, and that I’m passionate about, to be enough to meet my material needs. I want to keep learning stuff. I want plenty of time to lie in the sun, make out with my love and pet cute dogs. I want to look back in Tishrei 5777 and feel like I made the world, and my life, slightly less shit in 5776.

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