By Elan Gerzon
People know. People don’t know. Do I – surely something but not enough, never enough. There has been an abundance of question, since becoming a Jew apart from the Jew I used to think I was, in between Israel, a country that after living through the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies (AIES) I cannot even call by its name – Israel – with out guilt assuming a place among the crevices of those questions, comes the word Palestine now, in between that place and the United States. Perhaps guilt was part of the beginning, a seeming socially constructed fallacy of our seemingly innate human inadequacies, or is it more?
I find some version of my self in Santa Fe, New Mexico, appetizing my life with a break from academics to taste the rest of the world, to seek focus. Lucky as I am, if luck exists, a dear friend from AIES, here in Santa Fe, has given me shelter and love and laughs (oh so many laughs) and a vital inspiration unknowingly to question question question – each the other’s child pieced together in a long string expanding simultaneously towards the sustainability and deconstruction of contemplation, of compassion into action. It is undoubtedly here where here is happening, where the formulation of new awareness pursues itself into a me that I am now becoming, possible it seems only when detached from the very experiences that brought me here, inevitably, after Israel/Palestine, or why don’t we call it Palerael or Israstine? My Santa Fe friend brings me back there with our nostalgia and frustrations, to inadvertently re-evaluate the moments of abandoned understanding from AIES that had taken refuge in the places of the mind which house forgetfulness. In the College of Santa Fe library computer lab, sheltered from the air of cold sunsets and moon rising across the space of our infinite page we are all floating upon – the blue space we call sky around every thing in some essence, attached, here I ask, almost clichéd – do I know my self – and if it even matters?
Here I listen – attempting at the least – to the part of me that defends Israel as a word, separated from its land’s land, people, history, shouts of perpetuated anger internalized externalized mis-analyzed and therefore unlived by the dominance of conflict. Amman recently blew up. The apocalypse came, as it is born and dies every day, to a wedding where 56 people stopped wearing life. Distant friends from Jordan remarked that we mustn’t have compassion for those terrorists who seek to destroy innocent lives, that our country (Jordan) will be safe. Here I am in a sense, while immersed by nature itself in absolutely every part of existence, as relationships between two or more forms govern all that breaths or simply is, disconnected from anything but the war inside myself, the mind and its many fields, my heart, my mouth as the temple of misrepresentation. I search inside the caves of my confusions for a well, a deeper context. Here in the United States I defend Israel as a word, not the meaning it implies, in attempt to wholly connect those otherwise troubling misunderstandings of people, history, and so on, that by fact of the world being too big while news can still travel too far, many non-Israelis have difficulty seeing it another way, as we all do, as many Israelis do, the ones I hadn’t been fortunate enough to study with in the Arava Institute. I look under rocks in these caves. Beneath one is the part of me that defends only certain Jews but identifies with them all, perhaps merely out of empathy for a minority that birthed me, whose stereotypes are found every now and then in my speech, my perceptions, and my nose. But out there, deeper but not enough still, where darkness assumes its greatest metaphor, lies another rock. Underneath it reflects the other parts that defended Palestine when I was in Israel, and Israel when in the states. Arguing with Americans, some who say they don’t know but think the opposite, others who don’t know and say they want to know, some non-Jews who genuinely care, I try to reveal to them a distinction between a people – divided by practice and circumstance but bonded by fear – and a government, to those who see no separation and forget their own place in these United States. It is too easy to forget that people speak of the United States along the same narrow confines of judgment, of referring to a country without distinction between its people and its government. And so I go back to defending my rocks, my Israel, my unknown Palestine, as a word.
Amidst the forefront of my wakeful condition’s meeting with a more imaginative state from which it is inspired, I came across a person by the name of Arn Chorn-pond at the College of Santa Fe, whom by no fault of my own and yet by complete fault of my self and the circumstance that has raised me: parents, society, racists, books, sexists, governments, schools, playgrounds, culture, people who’ve retreated to lacking creativity of thought, people who haven’t but have been too sparse, friends, non-friends, and the big wide world, I immediately idolized Arn. Arn Chorn-pond survived the killing fields of Cambodia by playing communist propaganda flute music for the Khmer Rouge as a 10 year old boy. It was play flute like we tell you or get shot in the head. When he was forced to pick up an AK 47 rifle and shoot anyone who wasn’t of peasant/farmer class, he retreated into the Cambodian wilderness for 3 months and followed monkeys for food. Arn’s life began anew when a prosperous British fellow found him in a Thai refugee camp, weighing 35 pounds at age 13. He was the first Cambodian to be adopted into the United States. The remainder of his life has been lived with a fear of an unresolved past but a means to the future, to love, to appreciate, to hug the thought of war out of people, as he claims war is manifested from the fear of self-expression, seducing the world with his compassionate flute, his eyes the epitome of empathy, while he claims to have never known compassion. My caves filled with rocks, and my Palestine I do not know and my Israel and my self-absorbed confusions and now Santa Fe brings me Arn Chorn to reveal war as fear of self expression. Now I idolize him and again confine myself.
What purpose does the self-construction of an idolized person form? There were questions, or more honestly a belief in certain answers, we fought over on Kibbutz Ketura at AIES, and danced off when Thursday came around later… but not really. Now in Santa Fe they confront me by new complexities, where gender implies itself into most of the day, leaving me to again evaluate the separation of humanity by uncharted perspectives. At the computer beside me, sits a girl reading about Ann Frank. Ann Frank died a long time ago, and by that I mean to insinuate that we should let times pass, forget without forgetting; an act, almost cosmic, that there is no method or prescription for, that each person must discover through question fused with letting question go, and yes genocide still remains a dominant part of our animal regardless. Now she’s reading about Kurt Cobain, a rock star and pop icon whose suicide has been conspiratorial. The cons of piracy. Perhaps we can let go of the belief in idolizing people. We idolize Gandhi and we idolize Buddha, while others idolize Saddam Hussein. Anne Frank. Jesus. Alla. Shiva. Hercules. Is there a difference? Do we force ourselves unwittingly to be enslaved by what we think is right or better? Then how do two people who know they are right communicate with each other? Perhaps when we idolize people we idolize a self-manifested image of that very idol only to get caught in it and inevitably kill when the idol changes or is changed by us, suck out the creativity which otherwise may bring us closer to honing in, personally, that essence we idolize in another. Malcolm X upon returning from a spiritual awakening in Mecca discovered a new methodology of non-violence intended for reaching civil rights in the Unites States, a methodology contradictory to that which he previously preached. It was then that he was assassinated by his own followers.
Why don’t we try idolizing the part inside of us that comments on love, on suffering, on searching for the relevance of questions? Of course many have already done that and published their understandings or painted them on walls, but that’s not me, that’s them. Call it philosophy, poetry, math, science, reading, painting, expression abstractly or not. Can we simply appreciate and move on, take it all as just a pebble stepped on one’s own way, without killing self-expression, without locking our ability to think for our selves? Take a person as an inspiration, or as an instrument for deconstructing the barriers of our confusions, without confining them by idolization.
Have you ever thought to understand the inevitability of war when lying naked with a lover, each time a first time, each time a new creation the world has not seen? Does the beauty of virgin confusion seem at all along the stream of possibility, set beside reason for killing, for war? My once closest friend – a brother really – is a soldier for the Israeli Defense Force; thinks he has a duty, so do I. We stopped being the brothers we used to be when due to our opposite circumstance he went that way and I, privileged by an American mother who gave me American citizenship, I went to study environmental peace with Jews and Muslims (and in the second semester of AIES there was a Hebrew-speaking German Christian named Jan whom I will try not to idolize). Nir, my soldiered brother friend showed me what I am afraid of, without conscious mention, when I told him what he was afraid of, what our whole country is afraid of, as we yelled at each other like enemies who once loved one another. My roommate at AIES, who’d become like a brother too had detested all those who decide to demoralize their existence by agreeing to prescribe to Israel’s mandatory draft. He is a pacifist with war surrounding his heart. I was afraid of those who are too afraid to look past war, past a prescribed end of life due to an idolization of what we think is right, fixed. People say war is not the answer, but are we too afraid to come up with a better alternative? Competition is natural – they say, but all animate and inanimate relationship in the web of the world, time, space, energy, everything, is governed by mutualism, by two beings in one form or another, be it whale or bacteria or atoms, whose existence rests on the necessity of connection with the other. Survival of the fittest – they say too. That got us into a puddle too thick to clean our feet of its stains. So we are animals in conflict, but don’t want to live like dogs. Paradox into paradox into paradox makes life more confusing than necessary. We strive for better, and in doing so usually go too far.
Sometimes the most complex problems seem in a way, to be diminished by remarkably simple methods. We are too many and too confused to rid our species of conflict – as such a word embraces multitudes of meaning – but if we are only, and this is a substantial only, to befriend an otherwise unrecognized fear, commonly expressed through a person we do not agree with, it is my belief that problems will embark upon new forms, ones that hold a more profound shape assumed anew throughout our minds, our hearts. I re-befriended my brother-friend in the IDF. While we do not connect as the little boys we once were and never will again, both our eyes have been subjected to different experience, and it seems we must shut them together to build a bridge in between.
Last night, before the lover and the bed, we watched the beginning of an awful movie which nevertheless found its place of meaning, remarkably, typically. A question was posed of great relevance to the dissemination of conflict. Are we so used to our patterns of living that we have conditioned ourselves, walled from the infinite possibility of interaction that exists in the animate world of inter-relationships, of life, that we cannot strive for new modes of being, creative expressions of ourselves in the midst of other creative expressions of other selves? That we instead maintain the relatively similar patterns of our lives, falling into the same relationships, the same conflicts, and the same wars from fear of self-expression, growing tired until an eventual state of laziness (and other like shortcomings of life’s potential) governs our preceding condition and relationships with human and non-human entities. Oh life give me something new and let me take without taking and give without giving and relinquish the blur of destructive mentality. But yes, this takes great will, simply difficult, difficultly simple.
Who is to read this, our choir; those already interested in a sacrifice for the pursuit of peace, or are not willing to sacrifice enough? I have written here only a few words, and they are of no more relevance than an opportunity to share merely a few footsteps towards discovering a more potent love of life’s offering. I am privileged, and I am white, and I am American, and I am Israeli, and I am Jewish, and I write, and I photograph, and I talk, and I sing (badly but enjoy it), and I probably love, and I probably hate, and I fear, and I smile, and I write down the way certain smiles feel, and I sleep, and I bleed, and I ask, and I look, and I get stuck, and I try to listen to more than our human voice, and I have not seen war, and I have not seen peace, and I have been born with gifts upon gifts that I have not yet learned to fully embody, but oppression comes in many forms, and this is – although most likely over-simplified – me asking for more and enough.