G’night Grampa


Friday, July 14, 2006 G’night Grampa

It’s been a little over a month since my grandfather died and it’s very hard to write that. I went to New York in June and watched his simple pine casket get lowered into the ground. I held my father’s arm, both of us crying while the Rabbi spoke of my grandfather’s love for my grandmother, also dead, his love for his family, his love for Israel. I realized that soon we’d be sitting Shiva in his house which is itself a shrine to good taste, his family and Israel. Surely enough, when we walked into the house it was the same as it was the last time I’d been there, before my trip to Israel and the West Bank. The night before my flight he handed me an old Hertz map and told me to wear sun glasses as the sun in Israel is brighter than anywhere else in the world. I think he added that for poetry, but I bought some glasses at the airport anyway and wore them throughout my trip. Once we arrived at the house, my mom, sister in law and I prepared the table with food so that my dad and uncle could rest a while. My brother stood stoicly in the hallway, seemingly afraid to disturb the quiet and peace in the house. As the day progressed, relatives and friends came to the house to sit Shiva and share stories and eat. People I had never met before introduced themselves to me, and others whom I tend to see only at weddings or Bat Mitzvahs hugged us, apologized for our loss and commenced to talk long and thoughtfully about my grandfather, the last remaining patriarch of my father’s family. Over and again came the phrase, “How he loved Israel”, and all I could do was nod. I knew that my grandfather loved Israel as much as he loved all of us. He and my grandmother were both survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. They’d lost their families and friends to maniacal genocide and I believe as they did, that it was their faith that saved them and guided them to one another. They formed a solid and loving union, had two eccentric and awesome sons and grandchildren. They did well for themselves in America, however they were not naive enough to believe that America was going to be the safest place for them and their remaining families. They prayed and hoped and lobbied and acted for a land called Israel, where Jews were first class citizens who could not be oppressed or tortured and murdered. And how could anyone begrudge them that? Once, years ago, my grandmother sent me an email begging me to do something about the anti-Semitism that, to her, was running rampant on college campuses. I was a student at San Francisco State and inclined toward activism, so she knew I could help stem the tide of racist rhetoric. We engaged in a long correspondence whereby I always stated that I empathized with her position but could not condone the displacement and killing of other people so that another people could achieve their goal. I take heart in the fact that she understood that. Sitting in their house surrounded by their friends and cousins, I fell silent and tried to have a private dialogue with both of them because I knew that if they were watching this scene of grieving, they knew that I was uncomfortable with all of the lauding of Israel. I tried to explain again that I’m an idealist who believes that peace can be achieved through dialogue. I tried to articulate in my mind’s mouth that Leila Khaled was fighting for her life much like Malcolm X was fighting for his. The words seemed cheap and unnecessary somehow, so eventually I left them. Today is the weekend. In San Francisco we’re cracking beers and celebrating a break from work and our very gifted and privileged lives, where we do only what we want. Where we work for rent and food and beer and smokes and rock shows and other items we won’t save if there’s a sudden fire. In Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq, today is another day of fighting, of surviving, of hoping that one day all this shit will stop. I’m thinking heavily today of my grandparents and their love of Israel and I hope that their love can encompass those folks who are, as Amir’s father in Lebanon put it, “watching the fireworks”.


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