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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Some other perspectives on Umm el Fahem

The city of Umm el Fahem, as I’ve mentioned before, is known as a hotbed of Muslim anti-government political activity. There have been demonstrations here in the past, and riots at least once. I was hesitant, before I came here, to mention where I was going, to some people I know of (through the Czernowitz network*, I know them online, not personally) I would love to meet some of them, but wondered if they would be uncomfortable knowing I was coming here. I asked some folks I do know personally if they could suggest any of the Israeli Czernowitzers who might be ok with what I was doing. Someone mentioned Hedvig, the 93 year old “grande dame” of the group, as someone who would be welcoming. I did contact her, and she has invited me to come visit her in Haifa, and stay overnight. What hospitality, toward someone she doesn’t even know.

On the other hand, I have tried to contact cousins who live here, who lived in the US many years ago, and whom I knew as a child. Granted, I had not been in touch with them for 40 years, until recently, when we spoke on the phone, before I knew I was coming here. They have not answered several emails, nor has their daughter, who lives in the U.S. Perhaps it should have been a clue, when during our first conversation in 40 years, she asked right away if my husband was Jewish. To be fair, when I said he was not, she said the important thing was that he was a good man.

I am assuming that they are very uncomfortable with the fact that I am here. I can’t judge them, as someone who has never lived in Israel and could not possibly have the perspective that they do. But I am saddened, especially that they seem uncomfortable even being in touch with me.

Suzi has relatives here, and many friends. She has lived and gone to school here, years ago, and has maintained her relationships with several people. One is now the mayor of Haifa, who sounds to be very liberal in his politics. He has mandated studying Arabic for all students, as one example. Her friends’ politics are quite leftist. Some are involved with organizations that work toward establishing bonds between the Jewish and Arab populations.

Her cousins, though, with whom she visited yesterday, were afraid of the idea of coming here, even briefly. They wanted her to meet the cousin who picked her up at the junction, a fifteen or twenty minute walk from the gallery. The cousin did wind up driving her back to the door when they drove back here, at night. Hopefully the fact that there weren’t any marauding bands in the street eased his worries a bit, and maybe even will make some small inroads in his family’s thinking.

*Czernowitz is the city in Ukraine my grandmother is from, where I worked on the neglected cemetery where mygreat grandparents are buried. Another incredible experience. If interested, you can track back in the blog to 2008.

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