INTRODUCTION..........................................Moshe Benarroch The Immigrant's Lament.............................Moshe Benarroch POST SCRIPTUM Copyright information and author's Internet address.
The Immigrant's Lament
A Poem by
In the beginning of this century Mississippi was considered a "culturally-deprived" area by the Western-oriented intellects of the United States. Only 50 years later word spread that this was where the music of America would be defined and develop. This "culturally-deprived" area gave birth to the blues, and later to Jazz. In Israel today, half the population comes from Arab countries. They are considered an uncultured people, that is lacking culture. The story goes that in the early fifties before the big emigration from Morocco, now the first or second largest ethnic group in Israel, Golda Meir (prime minister of Israel in the 70's) said: "bring them here and we will educate them". The answer she received was: "Do you want to educate a man who knows all the writings of Maimonides by heart?". (Maimonides is one the most important thinkers and law makers of middle-age Spain Judaism). There are plenty of quotations from politicians as well as thinkers from those dark ages, from Ben Gurion to Bialik, truly embarrassing, not that different from ethnic racism in other countries. These Jews were quickly defined as Orientals, sent to the worst parts of the countries, depriving them from the right to decide for themselves, condemning them to a life where attaining food was their main goals. After fifty years they became culturally deprived. In literature we find a large group of writers from Iraq, many born in the twenties, however some in the thirties (for example: Shimon Balass, Sami Michael, Eli Amir), and then none born in the forties and fifties. The sixties don't seem to fare better, but it may be too early to decide. Those Iraqis born in the 20's received their education in a culturally-embroiled Baghdad, were already writing in Arabic before they came to Israel. Most of them switched to Hebrew in the fifties and sixties. This fact didn't change their situation. In a country where the Arab-Jewish population is around fifty per cent of the population this literature is considered an "ethnic" literature as if written by a people living on another planet. A parallel situation happened to the Jews coming from the other Arab countries. In spite of them being put in the same basket each Arab country has a different story, and the Jews within it have a different story to tell. At the other side of the rope are the Ashkenazi Jews, most of whom came from Eastern Europe, from one of the most culturally deprived countries, Poland. The level of illiteracy there was higher than in any Arab country. Here in Israel they became the Western culture, the others being the Eastern (while they were considered East-Europeans). They established and built all the institutions in Israel. Since then they have told their story. This is the story of Zionism, a movement that could see everything but what it was directly in front of his eyes. First they didn't see the Arabs ("we didn't know there were Arabs"), later they didn't see that those Arab were becoming a people. They didn't see the Sephardim (the Jews who came from Arab countries), and now they are not able to see that these Jews have a past, a culture, and a literature, mostly that these Jews and Arabs have a different story to tell, a different narrative, as to what happened in the past, specially in the last one hundred years. Israel is a democratic country so nobody can silence a writer, but they can shut their ears, not hear what we are saying. The major publishing houses have only Ashkenazi (Jews from Europe) as editors, even well-known Sephardic writers receive strange rejection letters stating that the reason for not accepting their books for publication is not literary but a different reason. I have received a few of these letters. You can enter this race if your book tells the story of the Ashkenazi over the Sephardi, or if it can be read that way, that is a book in which you criticize the primitivism of these Arab-Jews. If fifty years ago some of your readers agreed with the basis of your narrative, second and third generation Sephardim today are convinced that in Iraq, Morocco or Libya the Jews had no culture at all. I emigrated to Israel from northern Morocco in 1972. I was 13 years old then and I was already way into this situation. In the beginning I considered myself an European coming to the East, with all the arrogance of this attitude. I didn't quite understand the joke or compliment: "you don't look like a Moroccan", while I looked around and didn't see any tennis courts, saw that Tel Aviv was a smaller city than Tangier. My brother died a year later, one month after the beginning of the Yom Kippur war, and we went to live in a big house with my grandmother who was not an easy person. This is when I lost myself for years. Probably, in the process, I became a poet. I couldn't remember anything that happened to me before the age of 12. It was like being taken out from a movie after the first fifteen minutes, being transported to another hall, but not really knowing it. I couldn't make a sense of the first part and couldn't understand the second part. When I was 30, in 1990 I was having hearing problems, needed an operation. I didn't want to through this operation, so I decided on treatment through imagery. This is a series of exercises in which you are asked to visualize different events, real or imaginary. Like, for example, being in a calm sea and watching the algae move. The important thing is what you see. In this exercise it may be a dog trying to castrate you (I saw some of those), then the therapist will do more exercises to try and understand who this dog is and why. These treatments opened the door to my childhood, starting to revive memories. However, even today, I have only momentary flashes of my childhood. Even after making a trip back to my hometown in 1996, I cannot reconstruct a whole day in my life in Tetuan. In my previous long poem published in Ygdrasil (March 1998) "Self Portrait Of The Poet In A Family Mirror", written in 1990, I began to understand something was wrong with Western culture in Israel and with the Sephardim. It was only when I wrote "The Immigrant's Lament", in 1992, in tears during the entire writing, that I touched my soul. The movie started to make sense, my life started to make sense, I could embrace myself, I could tell myself that I may not be that successful but that I could love myself. I could also tell the story, I could be angry, I could love the world again, I could forgive. I think that after more than fifteen years of writing I received the real prize - that is writing something that can make sense of the puzzle of the writer's own life. The same prejudices still reign in cultural circles in Israel. I have not been able to make any changes here. It was only this year that a publishing house in Israel (Bimat Kedem) was established to publish the books of the Sephardim. They will publish my first novel next year. This, I think, is a tragedy within itself, although it is a necessity and I hope it works. This long poem has become the most well-known of my works, parts it published six or seven times, parts read many times on Israeli television. I even heard that it has been given to cancer patients who seem calmed by it. Russian immigrants have identified with my experience, and people from everywhere, even Israeli-born have been able to understand their parents better after reading it. The institutions have not shown interest, but this seems only logical. The word 'immigrant', itself, is a threat to Israeli culture. This word is only used for people immigrating from one country to another, not for Jews coming to Israel. There is a special word for immigrant in Hebrew: 'oleh', meaning a person who goes up, who ascends. Even if someone leaves Israel he is called a 'yored' - someone who goes down, descends. This is the first time "The Immigrant's Lament" is being presented to the English speaking reader (part has previously been published in Spanish). It is presented in almost entire form (a portion refuses translation). I want to than Klaus J. Gerken for giving me this opportunity. I would also like to thank Rochelle Mass for helping me with the translation. I can be contacted at email@example.com thank you all Moshe Benarroch
THE IMMIGRANT'S LAMENT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * In Morocco I was the center of all the parties a social phenomenon always surrounded by friends until I came to Israel and ended up in a corner the corner of all the parties I stopped going always on the outside the outsider When I came I became a poet. * I can see you Moshe I can see you my friend Moshe a twelve and a half year old boy sensitive and lazy I love you Moshe I see you after the Bar Mitzvah your mother announcing that tonight we are leaving I see you with the suitcases always looking for something secure suddenly nothing is secure I see you in Ceuta waiting for your father to sell the buildings for peanuts the Arab took out a knife before he finally paid in Spain I see you on the ship on the way to Algeciras I see you dreaming dreaming of the land of Israel dreaming a dream a wonderful dream with a temple a dream full of light I see you full of joy traveling through Spain in Valencia, in Barcelona see you full of happiness and full of hope that the land of Israel will heal your brother Ari who is dying see you in a rented taxi you are wonderful Moshe trying to be loved by everybody tired and lazy but always nice I see you arriving at Marseille entering the bus there your father is angry at the manager of the transit hotel the sewer is stuck shit is flowing everywhere everything is wonderful but there is shit everywhere you cannot know what is awaiting you I see you Moshe landing in the land of Israel half-drunk in the airport you don't understand what is happening but you don't kiss the land or more precisely the asphalt I see you a week in the boarding school of Aliyat Hanoar a week you cried without stopping I see the nice tutor coming from the boy scouts saying you you are too big to cry and you cry even more that it's going to pass and you cry even more I see you Moshe and my heart goes out to you I love you Moshe and suffer with you there in Zichron-Yaacov when will you forget Moshe when will forgive a week later you mother came to save you took you to the secondary school in Pardes-Hanna they didn't want you in 9th grade in spite of skipping a class because of your age and your mother "why should he lose a year?" insisting and insisting till you finished the final exams at sixteen and a half and then waited a year studying physics and mathematics at the Hebrew University she pushed you to this too always pushing you wanted to walk slowly It took you so long to learn to go slow my heart goes out to you Moshe Moshe the immigrant Moshe looking for redemption Moshe disappointed Moshe crying Moshe becoming religious Moshe a half-year atheist Moshe who doesn't get along with girls Moshe believing in reincarnation Moshe studying mathematics Moshe studying literature Moshe wanting to be a poet Moshe running after literary editors Moshe editing a literary review Moshe writing a novel in 3 weeks Moshe writing thousands of poems Moshe writing ten novels nobody publishes Moshe always trying to be loved by people Moshe after people who don't understand his sensitivity Moshe who wants to be loved for his poems Moshe my heart goes out to you truly Moshe I love you in all your searching in all your impossible searching Moshe who knows everything will have an explanation one day. Two things always writing and listening to music music especially after you visited your cousin in Madrid arrived religious and returned a heretic there you bought your first Van Morrison record since then you bought them all and thousands more always music and writing to save yourself from going insane in this crazy world my heart goes out to you Moshe the poet Moshe the true poet I love you at last with all your travels with all your suffering I would caress you in every step of your life caress and kiss you me who hated you so much who suffered so much from you now I love you all the you's you ever were. Twenty years twenty passed since those two weeks that changed your life the last week of august and the first week of September nineteen seventy two everyday changed your life making you a poet writing in Hebrew in your land and not a writer writing in a foreign language in a foreign land twenty years in which you tried so hard to escape not loving yourself not wanting to be like the others writing about suicide angry at God twenty with asthma and without asthma with allergies and skin sores angina and digestive pain crazy eating, women problems trying to escape reality trying to escape Israeli society traveling abroad as much as possible and coming back to Paris, specially to Paris dreaming about living there marrying a French woman emigrating to France, what else, but she, what else, just not to go back to France, each one his own escape always weak in front of women and difficult to make changes you are still here with all the oximorons and all the morons possible inside your head feeling the most here and most there that is possible so close to the land of Israel and so far away from the State of Israel I love you Moshe and I enjoy writing it at last I love you with all that you did and all that you failed and all that you fucked up and all that you are ridiculous and with all your running away from here and escaping again and again escaping and still, staying here I love you Moroccan, Spanish, Sephardi, European, looks Ashkenazi, Western, Eastern, Mediterranean, Middle-eastern, Palestinian, African, French with all the things you are and aren't I love you crazy and insane and most logical but then it is you it is all the you that made me and I love you. * I embrace you go to the world love it give it all you have to give even what it can't accept give the world all your love all you have learned and your experience in all your previous lives it won't accept but it needs you the world needs you it needs your love give it but don't expect any reward go to the world go to god go don't be afraid anymore I caress you goodbye go your way I kiss you goodbye go. * This land in which I was not born said the immigrant this land in which my children were born now I leave it like a man leaves his lover who cheated on him like a man leaves the mother of his children in pain in joy in suffocation in liberation that's the way I leave this land in which I did not plant a tree in which I did not seek revenge and if you say this is a descent I will tell you, said that same immigrant, it is a descent meant to go up and if this is your face I am an ass and if these are your legs I am a wheelchair everyday in my land is suffocation and everyday abroad is oxygen I travel twice a year abroad to have enough oxygen to breath here and not suffocate in this ghetto, in this mellah, this land in which I was not born my children were born here this land didn't rejoice toward me and didn't give me joy nor did I rejoice toward her in spite of not having another land beside her not having but, said the man angry with tears in his eyes, It is impossible for things to be done infinitely just for lack of alternatives. * My childhood, a black flower I did not pick Tetuan mountains around her Arab children shouting "awadel yahoud" and throwing stones at us on the way to school hugging the girls in class the old Arab who touched my chin the Arab beggar to whom I always gave a coin my mother always knowing what's good for me the smacks I got from her when I lit matches and almost burnt the house hugging the son of the Rabbi at ten Saturday night at grandma and grandpa's home and shouting and noise the whole family my cousin getting on my nerves I beat my cousins the vacation house in Restinga and tennis the motorcyclist who broke his hand the toy store my daddy had dad brings me a red Mercedes me and my brother breaking it with a screwdriver my sick brother who died at 8 the scissors I threw at my sister my brother Levi disappears and we're looking for him again the recurrent dream of the falling lamps private lessons in Arabic the giant house made of granite Levi and me climbing the walls Levi and me not going to the solfege class and going to play soccer the cakes we bought after the Shabbat prayer my uncle hitting me when I touched a moving car the beating stick of the teacher breaking the stick after class the three constant friends of the class the club I started with my cousin Levi mama and dad travel to the U.S. to take care of my brother I am left with grandma and grandpa in the vacation home playing and swimming the one handed French tourist suffocation asphyxiation suffocation my childhood a black flower I did not pick a black flower I did not smell I did not remember I did not forget I did not love I did not appreciate I did not hate I did not understand my childhood I don't miss you nor your smells nor your wealth everything was asphyxiating pressuring my childhood I don't miss the famous Alliance school maker of students in the universities of Strassbourg, Madrid, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv I don't miss the Jewish community nor the family always knowing what's best for the others nor the feeling of superiority for being true Sephardim nor the smell of Ladino nor the ballooning wealth nor the imagined honor of the family nor the synagogue I was always forced to go my childhood my lost childhood my insensitive childhood where are you, where did you go if you ever came. * Every Friday evening all the grandchildren gathered on the steps of Papa Levi's giant store and waited to be called one by one to receive money for Shabbat He used to call first the grandchildren bearing his name sons of his sons then the grandchildren bearing his name sons of his daughters who received less and then the others, me among them, and he called me Mosselito, who received even less, and we all went and compared how much we received and I always was jealous of the others who received more then me and the same day I wasted everything, they said I had holes in my hands. * On Shabbats my grandfather used to sit in the middle of the living room his thumb on his mouth every few hours going to the bathroom to smoke a cigarette they called it Shabbat diarrhea. * My grandfather was very rich every five years he traded his Plymouth but not the chauffeur who stayed with him his whole life Just before he emigrated to Israel he caught emphysema and died didn't do what I did died staked to machines physician's machines who keep the angel of death unemployed. * Out of four who came to Israel from Tetuan three left all the cousins now in Paris, Madrid and New York one by one they left married abroaders and left they understood this was not for them where everyone categorizes them as something they are not forced to defend something they couldn't identify with when they say you are a Moroccan or an oriental and you have to defend the Moroccans to whom you can't feel affiliated you have no choice but to become arrogant with the Ashkenazi especially for their arrogance and their cultural ignorance to the eastern Jews and their customs and they always repeat that same sentence half funny half sad but you don't look Moroccan! I once said to someone after this sentence "yeah, that's true, I had an operation I took of the tail and now I don't look Moroccan." * In front of my house with the granite walls there was a mountain full of trees in front of my house the police stood called consul Murphy street in front of my house my only home where I drown the years that made me till I arrived in Israel to the years that broke me since the third of September nineteen seventy two I collect the pieces I try to find some logic to the puzzle with my words I try to find warmth human warmth that always scares me I collect the pieces and stay an orphan in my words. * I had everything in Morocco I had everything my grandfather was the richest man in town but I was always anxious a sensitive boy in a pressure-cooker family I had everything in Morocco except what I needed air to breathe time to think time to create to be myself to be a child and dream. * What's going to happen with you Moroccan prince what's going to happen to you spoiled child who never made his bed what's going to happen with you in the land of Israel when you won't be able to shout Fatima bring me a glass of water Fatima I am hungry what's going to become out of you Moroccan prince here in the land of Israel where everyone has to work. * The father of my grandfather Maimon used to ask my father everyday when, when is it happening (the State of Israel) and he answered it is coming just coming he died in 1946 he had a grocery store before dawn he used to put bags of food near the houses of the poor so they wouldn't know and wouldn't be ashamed he never made any money like my grandfather Moshe but thanks to him and to his deeds I live today in Jerusalem. * My grandfather died of diabetes when I was four or five I remember his baldness covering his head like a dream he walks in the house he is ill in bed after his death my father grew a beard my grandfather made a lot of money and lost a lot of money alternately he willed me a building so I'd have the money to study because I was named after him. I was the grandson of my grandfather. They say I am like him. * My Grandfather Moshe stood with suitcases ready to travel to Argentina to head a milk company. He was going for six months then the family would follow. My grandmother and her mother stood in front of him and cried wo wo he is going and won't be back wo wo he is going forever. They stood and cried my grandfather dropped the suitcases and said I stay here and that's how I wasn't born in Argentina. * Where is my house now where are the walls where I grew up now who is in my house now the house my grandfather built built every stone in it the house in which I played with my brother and run in its corridors who lives in my house now Arabs live in my home now and I live in an Arab house the immigrant who lived here may be writing poems now. * Years Years you didn't remember your childhood and after you remembered years you didn't want to write about it you didn't want to write what everyone expects from a Moroccan poet you knew every poem about Tetuan and about the couscous will be published and that's why you didn't write the poems inside of you years you walk with a tree that has no roots years the roots are in the sky. * I went to three meetings of the Bnei Akiva boy scouts and heard many time hebraya hebraya hebraya and didn't understand all the aya aya aya I never understood the togetherness of the sabras not in the scouts nor in the school nor in the army a lone wolf in the company of snakes. * the name of my grandmother is Mercedes her son the doctor always buys Mercedes He was the gynecologists of some of the king's wives. In the early seventies a Zionist minister of Morocco told him it was time to leave He went to Madrid then to Nice, tried a few times to get a job in an Israeli hospital and failed. He didn't make his Aliyah didn't leave and wasn't disappointed. * My father never made it here he didn't want to come either he wanted Canada, Spain, Venezuela but my mother said that from Morocco she would only leave to the land of Israel he always said this won't suit him and he was right. I saw him failing from business to business until he got emphysema asphyxiated from the neglect of the Ashkenazi bureaucracy and died. * The head of the absorption center at the time of the government of the Yiddishe mama and this was in 1973 and not in the fifties said to my parents that we don't have a high enough cultural level to live in Jerusalem my parents went back enraged to the small apartment and decided to leave the country it happened every two months for four years the winds blew to the immigrating direction I think this caused a genetic change in me and it happens twice a day. I would like to meet the little principal the son of a bitch and spit on him. * For years I used to walk and discuss in my head I am religious I am not religious I am secular I am not secular discuss with imaginary Rabbis and with atheists in my head for years without concluding my head was a theological soccer camp. * Every Yom Kippur eve I redeemed all my sins when the Rabbi came to slaughter the chickens we raised a few days earlier me and my brothers and we cried trying to escape and the Rabbi says ze kaparateja this is your redemption and beats the chicken and says again ze kaparateja and blood is everywhere and sand on the floor to dry the blood and this way a chicken per person he slaughters and this way every Yom Kippur in every slaughter I redeem all my sins. * I shout my right to be different to be Sephardi to be traditional in the Israeli society not right and not left I demand my right to stop feeling strange and detached I the Israeli. Translated from the hebrew by Moshe Benarroch and Rochelle Mass.
Poem and translation copyright (c) 1998 Moshe Benarroch Moshe Benarroch can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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