Home is a bit of a tough word for me–even more now than usual. It’s the first time I’ve been home in almost two years and it’s the first time for me to return home without my family house to go to. Last time I came home I attended my grandmother’s funeral and then buried her along with my grandfather, mother, and uncle. Although my mom died twenty years ago, her ashes were not interned anywhere public. And my grandmother kept the ashes of my uncle and grandfather so that they could all be buried together. I visited the cemetery the other day thinking it might be comforting, but it isn’t really. It’s the first time I have had a chance to visit my family in a cemetery–which I longed for after my mother’s death–but two decades of learning how to deal with the death of a loved one where ever you are in the world made me feel a bit detached from the experience.
It is also challenging to be back in an environment that feels increasingly like little Tel Aviv. There was always a large Jewish community in Los Angeles, but the Israeli population seems to have increased exponentially. Two summers ago I found it impossible to escape youth clad in “Israeli Defense Forces” t-shirts–something I know I never saw as a girl even in the Zionist circles I was involved in. That summer was also the first time I saw the street sign in Beverly Hills commemorating the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl (see above).
This summer I was greeted at the airport by my usual transportation and to my surprise saw the Veolia logo painted on it. Having already paid the fees, I did not have a choice at the time to ride it, so I did. But it gets worse: the public transportation system in Los Angeles seems to have been hijacked by Veolia. What’s wrong with Veolia? In a nutshell, according to the folks at Mondoweiss:
Veolia operates bus lines that connect Jewish-only settlements to Israel. These buses do not stop in Palestinian towns and use Israeli-only roads, built on land confiscated from the Palestinians for the exclusive use of Israelis and settlers. West Bank Palestinians are denied access in a throwback arrangement reminiscent of the Jim Crow South.
Then there is the Jerusalem Light Rail Project Veolia is constructing which will link illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem to Israel. That tramway not only helps make the illegal settlements permanent but also serves as a critical component of the Israeli settlements infrastructure, “undermining any chances of a just peace for the Palestinian people,” according to the international human rights group Global Exchange.
Not having a car in Los Angeles puts me at the mercy of this system making it difficult to boycott one of the companies that most deserves it. Additionally, Cirque du Soleil is playing in Hollywood now, another target of the BDS campaign because they performed in Israel. At the Los Angeles County Museum of art there is currently an Israeli artist’s exhibition on display as well.
It’s not just these aspects of being home that make it difficult. It’s also the every day stuff. Walking around my friends’ neighborhood every day it is impossible not to feel like one is surrounded by Israelis. As soon as I turn the corner onto the main street by her house, I’m confronted with Israeli flags.
It’s interesting to think about all of the Jewish area businesses and the constant whining about people conflating Judaism and Zionism, but can people really be blamed when those lines are blurred by Jewish Zionists?
Another example of this is Simon Wiesenthal’s Museum of “Tolerance.” I went there in 2000 or 2001 not knowing who ran it or anything about it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but certainly not a Nazi holocaust museum masquerading as a museum that is inclusive of other historical and current oppressions. There was about 5 feet devoted to African Americans and then the rest was all about Nazi Germany. I’m not sure if it is still this way, but one look at their teacher resources and it is clear that they continue to expend most of their energy only on anti-Jewish oppression. It is not just this that I find deeply upsetting about the Museum of Tolerance. It would be ironic, if Wiesenthal were not a Zionist, that the Museum of Tolerance’s plans to build a branch of their museum in al-Quds (Jerusalem). Why is this a problem? Because they are going to build it on the grounds of an ancient, significant Muslim cemetery. In other words, illustrating the complete lack of tolerance for Muslims, Palestinians, and the dead. Saree Makdisi wrote about this two years ago in the Los Angeles Times:
In 2002, the Wiesenthal Center — which had been given part of the cemetery by the city of Jerusalem — announced that architect Frank Gehry would design a complex to be called the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Ground was broken in 2004. Palestinian and Muslim concerns were ignored until a lawsuit led to the suspension of excavation in 2006. In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court — dismissing the appeals not only of Palestinians with relatives buried there but also the protests of Jews appalled by desecration of any cemetery — cleared the way for the project.
The center claims to see nothing wrong with erecting what its leader, Rabbi Marvin Hier, calls “a great landmark promoting the principles of mutual respect and social responsibility” on top of what remains of another people’s cemetery. It has resorted to endless dodges to support its claim.
There is a campaign fighting this called the Mamilla Campaign, which explains the details of the crime being committed by the Wiesenthal/Museum of Tolerance people. There is also a petition to sign on the site. Also the always fabulous Never Before Campaign released a video explaining and supporting the Mamilla Campaign a couple of years ago that is worth a watch:
There are so many other forms of visual assault I feel as I walk down the streets where so many Jewish/Zionist shops have co-opted the names of the places in Palestine that Zionists stole. A sampling of what I see in this Los Angeles neighborhood is below.
First established in Encino in 2005, Aroma is more than a cafe — it’s like an unofficial branch of the Israeli Consulate. Walk in, and you might as well be in Israel. Cute Israeli waitresses serve customers like they’re still jet-lagged from their flight here. Tel Aviv-style Israeli posses dressed in nightclub gear spread their chairs and legs out like they own the place, cigarettes in tow, cell phones on tabletops. And like back home, the action takes place late into the night.
Finally, there is also one other landmark of note here. It is a school that I wrote about in my recent book, but I never saw it in person. I kept walking by, thinking it was familiar, but couldn’t place the name. Then I remembered.
Shalhevet is a Jewish day school that, for me, is famous because they fired a teacher, Alexander Maksik, for teaching Naomi Shihab Nye’s young adult novel Habibi. Since I already deal with this at length in the second chapter of my book, I’ll just lead people to the two links about this episode (here and here).
So this is my home, but not. Because it is hard to feel at home somewhere–especially when you grew up there–when your family and the people you shared the important memories with are no longer around. But also because this city has become Israelized in ways that seem implacable.