Three Cultural Hugs.
First a bit of background.
Every faction of the world is jostling for the right of judgement through the might of reason and self-defined forms of logic. Logic however in the real world is multi-faceted. I have written before that ‘my mob’ is “Fellow Left-Wing Labour/Greens liberal-minded live-and-let-live arty-farts. I also have friends who are much more conservative which the Left seems increasingly obliged to label as right-wing though being conservative does not mean one is right-winged at all. In fact the reactionary Left-wing communicates more and more in a fanatic right-winged violent jargon.
I can belong to several other ‘mobs’ and notions of nations. I have three passports thus three citizenships and could have had at least two more. I am a member of various ‘tribes’ and have a mixed ethnic background.
The Sydney taxi drivers taught me that I am Jewish beyond any parallel and real and honoured nationalisms or sub-culture identification. One year I had to take several hundred taxis back in the day when most taxi drivers were Ethnic usually Greek or Lebanese or Italian. That was the 1980s. With no exceptions as soon as I said where I wanted to go the driver would then ask me “Where ya from”?. I would go through my steady deflection chronologically thus: I live here. In Sydney. Clovelly. Born in USA. In Pittsburgh. Yes parents born in USA. Grandparents one side from Romania. Grandparents other side Czech. Then there 10th questions pinpointed via “You don’t look American”. Fine. Finally. “I’m Jewish”. Aha!! Nice to meet you. I’m – Italian or Greek or Lebanese or whatever. To them, even though we were both New Australians – immigrants to this wonderful country, but, to them above all only when I finally said “I’m Jewish” did they rest and befriend me.
That happened hundreds of times. The same way. Through those same 10 incremental and chronological questions.
Of course if you ask me without any interrogation I will simply say “I’m Jewish”.
Sometimes when I tell people I’m Jewish they then step back (yes, sometimes they step back physically) and ask “But are you really Jewish”. Seemingly in total disbelief that they are talking to such a mythological creature. Or because they imagine all kinds of religious fervent madness or mandates. Then I always answer “Yes”. As in yes I am really Jewish. What does that mean? Well clearly it can mean a thousand different things. How do you say what an Australian is or an Indigenous person or an Aborigine or an American or an African or any cultural label. Within each there are ALWAYS squabbling minions trying to hold the fence around the self-definition about what an Aussie is or a real Aussie or whatever nation.
Being Jewish I’ve seen Jews who are: agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Gay, anti-Jewish, and hundreds of undefined versions of being Jewish. One of the most interesting phenomenon to me is anti-Jewish Jews or jews is that they wish who argue in the most Jewish ways about how anti non or un-Jewish they are. Yeah right. Very funny phenomenon.
If you are Australian does that mean you eat meat pies every week, or shoot kangaroos, or that you are Indigenous – First Nation person, or that you may be a First Fleeter or that you hate the All-Blacks, or you think only Australian theatre is the best, or that you follow the cricket, or that you have an eskie and a surfboard tattooed on each cheek of your backside. Really if you are Australian – admit it – that can mean a 1000 different things. So too being really Jewish can mean 1000 different things.
I think “1000” in traditional Jewish culture means “many” just as a double word in the Indigenous Wiradjuri language means “many” as in Wagga Wagga which means ‘place of many crows’. One Wagga is one crow.
So, hugs. What’s all this got to do with hugs? Specifically three hugs?
To be brief:
Hug #1. 1985. My first trip to Russia. To Moscow. To the USSR/CCCP. While there through a strange coincidence right out of “The Master and Margarita” novel so to speak – I befriended a young writer who had begun to write clown sketches for professional clowns in Moscow. His Father, whom I met a few days before, was the editor of the Soviet circus magazine. The son and his friend and I were crossing a wide street to go to a bakery. The son’s friend was going to cook us dinner but we needed bread for the meal. We waited at the light. I happened to have an old man standing on one side of me. As we all crossed with the green light the old man started to talk to me in Russian. I could see that he was asking where I was from. I said simply “Americansky”. His eyes lit up. He stopped walking in the middle of the street with cars waiting for the light to change. He yells to me “Ah!! Americansky!!” And right there smack in the middle of the street he gives me a solid hug. Then he takes my hand and walks me across the street. He was very happy to meet an American. This is only weeks after Gorbachov was voted in. This is still – really – Soviet Russia. No Perestroika. In my ten days I was literally followed at times by the KGB. I know. I saw them. Several times. Yet to this man I was a metaphoric American (which includes people from 200 nations and First Peoples and people of every social persuasion. But he didn’t care because to him I was simply an American and a living conglomeration of all that can mean. Mean especially to someone who lived their whole life under glorious thumb of various forms of socialism.
Hug #2. Jerusalem. I was invited to come to visit Jerusalem the last week of 1993. One of my Mentors – Antoine Seleh whom I knew in Sydney was on a brief visit to Israel and based in Jerusalem. He had been born in Nazareth into a Christian ‘Arab’ family. He had always insisted that I would love Israel. So I was in Europe and he called and invited me on Christmas Eve. I flew the next day and left New Years Day. On my first day I went for a walk by myself. I was waking up a small street and in a distance I could see a person in bright reddish clothes. We were walking on the same side of the street with no one between. Walking towards each other I could see he was some type of Christian priest. As we neared each other we looked straight to each other and were both smiling so when we met we stopped and said hello. We each asked if the other was living in Israel. Neither. He was a Black African Catholic Priest. Of course I had a choice to say I’m any one of my citizenships but I chose to say I’m Jewish. There was no ‘really’ required for that man. It was each of our first day in Israel. We were both walking in this ancient land which could have been anywhere on Planet Earth. But it was there and then and we were who we ‘really’ are: two men. We laughed and we’re so happy to be there and to see another pilgrim. We gave each other a grand hug and waved goodbye.
I soon saw a small poster near what seemed a university perhaps. It said there was a lecture/demo that night only with the famous actor Bruce Myers from Peter Brook’s ensemble. His once only lecture-demo was on “The Dybbuk”. So that evening I went to that. For those reading this who may not know – “The Dybbuk” is one of the most iconic and important Jewish plays. It deals with many levels of the Jewish culture. It was a landmark production which changed the history of modern acting as its director Vahktangov discovered that Jews have an indigenous way of acting based on their cultural expression.
Mel Gordon is the noted scholar who has written about that production. Bruce Myers is a Jewish actor (not necessarily “really”) and Peter Brook is a Jewish director (not necessarily “really”). Neither of them like to discuss their Jewishness but I’d still give them a hug.
The next time I ran into Myers was in Prague about a year or two later on Rosh Hashana eve at the famous Altneuschul Synagogue where ‘the golem’ is said to have been created by Rabbi Loew. Bruce came and sat next to me. He said he would only stay briefly as he was to meet his wife at another synagogue but wanted to see part of the service in Altneuschul which was built in the 1200s.
Hug #3. London. 2014. I was staying at my regular hostess’s home in Stoke-Newington . This particular day, a Friday, I needed to scoot back home and to also fly. This particular day I took a different route home to check out the way I would have to leave with my suitcase. It is because I was flying in to and out from Stanstead. So I wanted to check the travel path without my suitcase. This short trip from Holland was only to see my hostess act at The Old Vic in The Crucible. Stoke-Newington is said to be the most diverse cultural neighbourhood in the UK. The particular section where my hostess lives seems about 90% Orthodox Jews and Muslims. They don’t necessarily intermingle but they they certainly Criss-cross each other every single day. Friday is a holy day for both. As I was walking to my host’s home there was a flow of white robbed men en route to one of the local mosques. Very near home there was only me and a single man about my age in white walking towards me and we both looked at each other from a distance and as we neared we smiled and nearer we nodded and quite near we said hello and have a nice evening. A little while later after a cup of tea and a farewell chat I left with my bag. Then in the reverse directions I saw the same man and this time we chatted very briefly and as per usual he asked where I was going and where I was from and I said “I’m Jewish and I live in Australia”. There was no need for “really”. 🙂 We had a brief chat as I was en route to bus, to train, to plane, to train. We gave each other a grand hug.
So there is a little tale of the hidden realities in this crazy mixed up world. Some things are still really good. And there are plenty of people to prove that. Really.
Really is in the mind of the questioner and not necessarily in the experience of the real whatever one is.
We’re all the same on Planet Earth, but, we are each very different as well even within any real or surreal labelled category. Categorically “Judge not lest Ye be judged” as the Little Jewish revolutionary is said to have said. Th