שקט השתרר בקהל של 130 איש, כשהמשוררת ממוצא לובי-ישראלי, קראה למשורר הכורדי, מוסא עבדולקאדיר לקרוא את שירו "אפרין" המוקדש ליז'ידים בסוריה. להמשך המאמר.
Creating our own alternative Arab-Jewish history in Berlin
December 11, 2018
SOME 130 PEOPLE fall silent as the Israeli-Libyan writer, Zehava Khalfa, who lives in Berlin, calls the Kurdish poet Musa Abdulkadir to read his “Afrin” poem that deals with history of the ethnic minority of the Yazidim in Syria. “Our steps were green,” he began.
Whenever you see Jews and Arabs in a reading it is usually connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time, however, they are talking about their neighbourhood in the same region and traditions.
The irony of the location of our event, which I am co-hosting, cannot be ignored. We are gathered – Jews and Arabs, exiles and immigrants from Israel and Arab nations, in the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, a villa right opposite the Villa Wannsee, where the Nazis planned the Final Solution to exterminate the Jews.
There are also feminist voices within our cultural melting pot. My co-host, Dr Hila Amit Abas, reads a fragment from her short story Orange Groves, about the meeting between two girls, one Jewish and the other Arabic, in the city of Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv. The Egyptian poet Mariam Rasheed reads feminist poetry about being an Arab woman. In between, we listen to music of the Berlin Oriental Ensemble, a band with both Arab and Jewish musicians.
Although the music provides a happy backdrop to our event, there is also a sadness behind the silence that accompanied Musa’s reading. More than 100 years ago in the Middle-East, Jews, Arabs and other ethnic-religious groups lived in a fruitful dialogue and were culturally, spiritually and physically connected. After the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire, the two World Wars, and the rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism, the two peoples became disconnected. We lost our dialogue.
My mother was born in Baghdad and her family lived for a thousand years on the banks of the river Tigris. But unlike the European Jewish history in the Israeli education system, I learned nothing about the history of my Iraqi or Syrian or Iranian backgrounds. Likewise, I write in Hebrew but it is not necessarily my mother tongue.
Now, in Berlin there is a rare encounter between Jews and Arabs that could not take place in the Middle East. Here, refugees and exiles from Arab countries meet with Israelis immigrants.
This couldn’t happen in Israel. Even though Jews and Arabs live so close to each other in the Middle East, Jews are not allowed to travel in Arab countries and they hardly ever are given visas to our country. I had never met poets from Egypt or Kurdistan, as I do here almost every week.
It is this alternative Arab-Jewish history that makes the emigration of Mizrachi Jews to Berlin so interesting. From this unique standpoint, we can encounter a past we thought was gone. I can speak with Musa about Iraqi music and he can bring me food from his Kurdish family tradition.
I can ask him why there were Kurdish Jews, such as my grandfather, who were afraid to talk about their identity in Baghdad. Zehava can talk with Mariam about the traditions of North African women and compare family recollections of Libyan and Egyptian cultural history.
It is a new narrative that has not been heard in the past in Germany. We are dreaming of a literary and poetic reconstruction of the Middle East in Berlin.
After the silence, we raise a toast by serving Arak to everyone. Although I forget to explain it to the German audience, our guests are happy to go along, without asking much. Everyone is given Middle-Eastern delicacies like baklava from the Lebanese Berliner shop Al Harb and hummus from the Palestinian hummus shop of Azzam.
There is, of course, another underlying thread that weaves these connections: the Palestinian question and a desire to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. We talk about how the occupation has intensified discrimination against Jews in the Arab states and how Arabic Jews were sometimes involuntarily migrating to Israel. It is rewarding to finally talk about the subject with people whose families used to live beside Jewish families.
Jews and Arabs writing in Berlin aims to be the very first literary group to work, side by side, with authors and poets who come from the same countries. We intend to revive this lost dialogue through literature and art. Living together in exile in Europe, Jews and Arabs will hopefully rise above our national identities and create a new form of words to redefine our mutual existence.
Our event ends with t good news when a Berlin-based publisher expresses interest in printing our Jewish Arab open call. Our next events will focus on specific Arab diasporas, hopefully with the same spirit as this one.
The page: “Anu אנו نحن: Jews and Arabs Writing in Berlin”
Main photo: Berlin Oriental Ensemble
All photos: 25. Oktober 2018/ LCB Alle Fotos: Copyright Loris Rizzo