My daughter Beth lives in Sydney in a shared house with a large Muslim family – supposedly every Jewish mothers worst nightmare. But I’m not that kind of Jewish mother and they are not that kind of Muslim family – she is not yet donning a burka. She met the long-legged and lovely daughter of a Nigerian Muslim at a yoga class in Bondi where their seeming incongruent differences magnetised their friendship and within a few months, Beth had moved in to the large beach house Ali shares with her four brothers and a foul tempered boxer who responds only to directions from Beth.
Of course she is influenced by their political views as hopefully, they are by hers, but for now, in the friendly shared household the word ‘zionist’ is still synonymous with the word ‘nazi’. And while Beth defends Israel tooth and nail to them, to us she defends the vulnerable Palestinian children, representing the unrepresented, as if in a final plea to save our humanity. In defence of ‘zionism’ she tells them that her mum is a ‘zionist’. Never having attended Jewish youth groups nor having had much interest in Israel at all, it is a term with which I had never identified myself. But if supporting the idea of my indigenous claim to the two thousand year old homeland of my ancestors makes me a zionist, than I guess that’s what I am.
On a visit to Sydney I join the girls, sitting on rugs and pillows in the sun on their shared balcony telling stories of love and betrayal as Ali rolls her thick long curls into a loose bun which she plonks casually on top of her head like a coil pot, to keep it out of the way, as she effortlessly overextends her dark body in a dog-stretch yoga pose to wake herself from a late morning nap. She teaches hip-hop, she models swimwear and she holds down a job at a local store while she dreams of being a yoga teacher, which I have no doubt she will become – she has that kind of drive.
Comparing relationships, we are joined by my niece, as different from Beth and Ali as they are from each other, in her tiger print jumpsuit and toned, tanned legs; and yet the girls have formed a bond that allows for their immense differences as they dissect themselves, their patterns and their choices, in a delightfully amusing and impressive dance of self-enquiry.
This one wants to have babies, this one wants to create an epic masterpiece, this one wants to be a recognised lifestyle brand – all equally ambitious projects. I see myself in all of them as I watch the dreams of my youth pass before me in the vapours of the conversation; some of them fully realised – sitting in front of me in the form of my grown daughter, some still simmering in an old cast iron pot at the back of a dusty wood fire cooktop, and some tossed carelessly out with the mirky waters of faded ambition.
A few days before I left Israel I had bought Beth a piece of cloth from a small shop in the local town in which I live – a woven piece of fabric in blue and earthy tones that she could use as a summer wrap or a throw to cover the sprawl of her unkempt bed. Looking for washing instructions she drew my attention to the label that read ‘made in Palestine’ with instructions in Arabic. The irony was not lost on either of us.
A few weeks later, I return to Israel and to the shop which adjoins a small coffee shop supported by an organic vegetable garden and a clientele of yippies. Mothers dressed in earth-toned stretch cotton sit casually nursing infants in the sun, healers discuss the latest in bodywork techniques, musicians craft tunes in their head as they slip in and out of conversations. I pop my head in to tell the women how much my daughter loved the wrap, and mentioned the ‘made in Palestine’ label. Recognising the reality that were the item actually made in a modern day Muslim controlled ‘Palestine’, neither she with her wild uncovered Hebrew curls and her fiercely independent entrepreneurial spirit, nor the lesbian couple who run the eclectic coffee shop, nor the men who’s livelihoods come from the art of human touch, nor the bare breasted mothers feeding their infants in public, would have the luxury of being able to share this magnificent spring afternoon together out in the sun, nor sell a piece of cloth which read ‘made in Israel’.
She smiles, the awkward smile of internal discomfort that arises when conflict is reflected back to us in the mirror of a moment, and I reflect back to my afternoon with Ali in the sun, where not a word of politics was shared but rather a heartfelt connection that touched us both deeply. I wanted to tell her that were she made in Palestine, she would not be able to walk the streets in her scant faded shorts with her gold body tats catching the afternoon light, and for doing so her brothers would be shamed, ostracised and persecuted, possible even put to death, (God forbid), but for now it’s enough that she has come to know that Beth’s ‘zionist’ mum is not a nazi.