Birthday or deathday?

Yom Ha'atzmaut alternative party for democracy, Kaplan Street, Tel Aviv. Photo by Shoshana Lavan

My grandfather was a difficult man. It pains me to write this, but it’s the truth and something I need to accept as part of my heritage. He was excessively stubborn, verbally abusive to my grandma, and did something to my aunty affecting her whole life and causing her great pain. He only really wanted a family of boys, and punished my mum and my aunty for being girls, for the rest of his life. I helped to look after him when he became so sick he couldn’t walk up to his bedroom and had to sleep in the lounge. I helped my mum clean his bed when he soiled it, and often went to visit on my own.

He had a love of books and adored the violin, which I play. He was an artist, and loved classical music. We had a lot in common. I tried to forgive him; after all, he was my grandpa.

On the morning of my thirtieth birthday, the third of March 2009, my grandpa passed away. I couldn’t help feeling he’d done it on purpose, so I couldn’t enjoy my party nearly as much as I’d hoped. And so that every year, on my birthday, I would remember him.

For me, my birthday, a day I’ve always loved like a little kid since I was a little kid, became tinged with sadness and sometimes even overshadowed by death.

On Wednesday, we went to a friends’ barbecue, to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. They’d even put little Israeli flags in the pieces of melon and our hostess led a lovely conversation about who in the last 75 years in Israel has inspired us the most.

But for some of the meal I couldn’t even bring myself to sit at the table. I was aware I was allowing one side to dominate – the Palestinian narrative, the Nakba, and all the sorrow it brings –  but somehow the other side of me, the side who knows the Palestinians could have had their own state in 1948 if they’d accepted what was offered to them and not preferred to try to wipe out the entire Jewish nation, couldn’t get the better of me.

I sat, on my own table in the sunshine, away from my family and friends, and I cried.

I cried for all the lives lost and all the struggles there have been for this beautiful country. I cried because I can’t understand how, after 75 years, we have a government trying to pass fascist, anti- democratic and bigoted laws so we can never honor the Declaration of independence. I cried for myself, how life is full of joy and sorrow and sometimes it’s hard to know which to feel.

I am not comparing Palestine to my grandpa. Nor am I suggesting my birthday is like the birthday of Israel. But what I am trying to say is we will always have to face our history, and both narratives, together. The Jewish and the Palestinian narrative. And it’s important that we do. It’s important that we all sit down and claim our responsibility for the things we’ve done wrong, and the things we’ve tried to do right.

But it’s also vital we look at the here and now, and with one swift and deft decision, get rid of a government that is not going to do any of us any good. We must search hard for a stop to all the violence, a future with two states living side-by-side in peace and friendship, and perhaps even a shared one, one day in the not too distant, future.

My husband always says life is a shit although it is beautiful. He means, however careful one is, life throws up uncontrollable calamities. It’s up to us to choose which side to see, and to create the possibilities for peace and equality that we can control.

About the Author
Shoshana Lavan is a published author, high school teacher of English Literature and Language, teacher of English as a foreign language and most importantly, a very proud mother of her gorgeous toddler. She is an aspiring peace activist and a committed vegan. A keen runner, she adores the mountains and glorious sunshine in this wonderful country.
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