Friday, April 13, 2007


Writing yesterday about adventures in English as a second language and the ensuing multicultural experiences put me in mind of my first night in Jerusalem. It was about this time last year that I went to Israel with Adi. His mother had been been visiting for six weeks so we had gotten to know each other fairly well. She speaks five languages including English although it's not exactly fluent.

The first night we arrived Adi took off to his brother's house to make a surprise video for her 70th birthday party leaving me with his parents. He went under the guise of going to visit his brother in the hospital after his motorcycle accident which had occurred that afternoon so what could I say without coming off like a clingy needy whinger?

His father who will not fly due due to claustrophobia, I think, was quite upset that his wife had stayed away for so long. She had arranged for people to take care him but the original visit went from 4 weeks to six weeks due to complications with Adi's back surgery. At week 5 his father went into the hospital with pneumonia. I'm making this sound like Pops is an invalid, but he's not. He's a completely self sufficient man who's been infantalized by his wife and who missed her terribly while she was gone.

Have you noticed that there is a theme here? And that the theme is DRAMA!!!!

So Adi abandons me within 30 minutes of landing in the Holy homeland and his parents immediately begin screaming at each other. I laid there on the bed listening to his father ranting away in Hebrew over the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque down in the valley off the backyard and curled into a little ball. I got that he was screaming "I love you and I missed you terribly." Her responses to him sounded like a mommy calming down a truculent two year old. It's amazing how much you can pick up without knowing a word of the language. It's all subtext and so much became clear to me about the family dynamics and why Adi has chosen to live half way around the world from his whole entire family.

I was exhausted and it wasn't just the jet lag.

They're not my parents so I could find humor in the exchange because it was kind of like the Hebrew version of Archie and Edith, but it got really weird when we were in the car heading over to one of the brother's house for dinner. I was forced to sit in the front in the passenger seat, or death seat as it seemed to me with all the late braking, bringing us to a pause centimeters off the bumper of the car in front at every light and stop sign. I closed my eyes and surrendered to the possibility that my life might end in Israel, not by a suicide bombing, but in a burning car crash. Adi's mom sat in the backseat and the loud conversation continued and under all the vitriole I could hear the joyous notes of banter.

Then his mom said, "Tell her about the girls you raped after the war!"

I opened my eyes. Um, wha.....?

And he launches into this story about how after he was injured in the war of Independence (1948) he was sent to Austria for surgery on his hand. Afterwards he was stationed there during his recovery and he and his fellow soldiers met some girls who were daughters of SS officers, now war criminals. Since he and his friends were young and good looking these girls flocked to them and from what I gathered were easily had in a sexual way.

They would teach these girls how to say things in Hebrew, telling them that the words for "I'm a dirty whore" meant "Hi, how are you?" He talked about how one night, at a big party filled with soldiers and politicians, one of the girls showed up and yelled this greeting across the room. Adi's mom laughed merrily about this from the back seat. He looked at me and said, "I'm not proud about what we did but you must understand, many of us had lost our whole families to the Nazi's. We were angry."

I could not think of anything to say. We did not share a language to discuss it and quite frankly I was amazed that to her this casual disregard for these women equated to the word rape. I cannot quite wrap my head around the intentional cruelty of a schoolyard prank as a response to genocide, but then knowing the basic goodness of this man, and the sweetness of his soul under all that ranting and yelling, I guess I can.

When I think about it, anytime that someone hurts another person with the intention of devaluing and disrespecting their humanity it is an expression of the same energy that fuels hatred.

And Adi's dad gets this, which is why to him perhaps, the way he treated those women was like rape.

It all comes down to your intention and then you have to hope you can live with what you said or did to another human being.

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