Shoshana Lavan

Cry, My Beloved Country

This morning I swam in my friends’ freshwater pool; the singing frogs, the sunrise as it catches the water with its rays, the vivid red flowers nearby – these all help me to begin my day with gratitude.  As the pool has no chlorine, algae accompany me on my strokes, and sometimes, here and there, a sting of a tiny insect wakes me up from my daydreams.

A few months ago the pool was thoroughly cleaned, and I saw it how it was when it was new: without algae, with its sides clean and shining, the fresh water pure and glistening.

This summer I finished James Mitchener’s ‘The Source’. I read it over the course of a year, because it is so brilliant, I didn’t want it to finish. It shows, with all its algae and stings, the dirt on the state of Israel since it was formed. The book reminds us how Jewish people escaped to Israel because they were hunted down and killed in every other country. The book reminds us how those people we now call Charedi and look upon as strangers in our own land, began their life in Safed and believed in its holiness. Now their enormous communities, with their control over much of the country’s life, pollute the water’s purity. The book reminds us how so many people died for the freedom to choose, to lead, to develop a country with a Jewish identity free from the thousands of stringent rules the rabbis have produced over the nearly two thousand years since we last were in charge of our own destiny.

This summer we visited Italy, a place I love because of its magnificent countryside and its warm people. Yet I struggled the first week. The people sat outside their houses in their villages smoking, eating, drinking and talking about nothing. The largest events were the local band, the beer festival and the ravioli cooking competition. I ran a half marathon each day just to keep my mind busy. When I returned, I looked at my WhatsApp messages from Israel with a mixture of guilt and homesickness, knowing we were missing demonstration after demonstration, and unable to help in any way.  In week two, after our six-year-old had been sick for three days and reminded me how much I have truly to be grateful for, I took a deep breath and relaxed into the world of fiction and history. I read about Mussolini and Italy less than one hundred years ago, the persecution of the Jews, the Italians’ uncertainty about who to support, their changing sides, and the millions of people slaughtered in the process. Suffice it to say, the villages were not always such quiet places.

Yet, whilst Israel, Palestine and the world are cursing the Jews, the Arabs, or both, up in the north of Israel my husband and I have been going to a joint creative writing workshop. It started last February. Our journey? Arabs and Jews together, workshopping creative writing, led by the renowned author, Iyad Barghouti. It was initiated and organised by an inspirational woman, our friend, Sokina Taoon, in her role as community organiser at our son’s dual-language Jewish/Arab junior school, part of the Hand in Hand charity. Our goal? To create a shared collection of stories, written and translated into both Hebrew and Arabic, for our readers. There were times when some of us thought it might never happen. Three hours every other week is a huge investment for people busy with their jobs and trying to bring peace to this land. But by hook or by crook we managed it – not all of us came to every meeting, and not all of us completed our stories – but in the end we have produced a beautiful collection. We have eight absorbing and evocative stories. And how proud we all are of ourselves. Why? It’s just a book, right? No, it isn’t. It’s written evidence Arabs and Jews can enjoy the journey together, can become firm friends and can produce art together, creating something which will last forever.

Because, no matter what you think, this war between us will not last forever.

This summer I was reminded of something I know but often forget. Each created force comes from one tiny breath. These Charedim whom we fear, these right-wing extremists whom we wish would disappear, all came from just one person, one idea, perhaps even one soul who was trying to do the right thing but did not know how.

All of us who wish for a democratic country, with equality for all its citizens, also came from one or two people who fought for us to have this vision.

Israel needs to be cleansed, like the pool, the dirt and filth removed, the bullies sent away, the racists arrested and the source, THE SOURCE of the country to be thoroughly investigated. What do we want from this country? Why do we love her so much? Why have people fought over her for hundreds of years? How can we ensure we can all live together without fighting?

At the school where I teach, this year, my class, class ten, is scheduled to perform their first high school play. We’ve discussed all sorts of musicals and stories, but it was only this week my fellow form teacher suggested Alan Paton’s novel, ‘Cry, my beloved country.’ In the current climate that’s not a great surprise. During the pre-year week’s preparations, the teachers had a serious debate on the question: what do we tell our students about the current political crisis?

My answer was this: our students need to know, they need to learn, and we must be the ones to tell them. Then they can cry for their country. And then they need to get up and do something about it. If our pure water has gotten dirty, then we need to clear it up.

I wish us all a new year with only purity: of truth, equality, and democracy.

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 little boy. She is a peace activist and a committed vegan. A keen runner, she adores the mountains and glorious sunshine in this wonderful country.
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