Wednesday, August 8, 2007


It would be unjust and silly, in this blog dedicated largly to the experience of travel, to ignore the experience of exile. Fortunately, my teacher on Exile is now in town. She is from Finland, she's a doctor of history and her name is Susanna

There are no two people more different in their political opinions than Susanna and I, and no better friends. While I host pro-Palestinian volunteers at my home, she works in Brussels for a lobby promoting Israeli interests. While I squat outside houses in Hebron to prevent their takeover by settlers, she fondly remembers days in which she helped those settlers as a liaison to the foreign press.

Susanna's political activity is driven by her Christian religious faith and an intense love for Israel, in which she lived for eight years. Interestingly, this is what helps me feel comfortable with it. Nietzche wrote that "things that are done out of love are beyond good and evil". Susanna is not in any way racist or bigoted, she's in love, and is protective of her beloved's interests as she comprehends them.

How hard is it to be away from a beloved, even when all you do is work for that beloved? Migrant workers who build houses in San Diego suburbs and send the money to spouses and children in Oaxaca - they know. Susanna knows. She arrives in Israel both delighted and frustrated, throws a birthday party for herself at Cafe London, on the Tel-Aviv promenade, sits surrounded by friends she made during the years she had spent here, by the sea that she came to know so well, in the warm breeze... the warm breeze of irony.

Had Israeli immigration laws been more accomedating towards the non-Jewish, Susanna might not have had to go abroad. She was wronged by the very establishment for which she is fighting. I would liken her to a rejected lover who does not cease to love, but Susanna was only rejected by the cold laws, not by Israeli people. She is loved here. Everybody knows it, the birthday bunch came to show it and the cheesy singer doing Frank Sinatra tunes amidst the tables gives her special birthday attention.

As a few of us step away from the table to dance, the singer's playback carries a reggae rhythm. It's the start of a familiar song by Boney M.

"Oh my," I tell her, "This really is the song to which to dance with you."

And so we dance:

When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Requiering of us a song
Now how shall we sing the lord's song
in a strange land?

Let the words of our mouth
And the meditations of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight
Here tonight.

By the river of Babylon (dark tears of Babylon)
Where we sat down (you gotta sing a song)
Yay we wept (sing a song of love)
When we remembered Zion (Yeah yeah yeah yeah).

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