Friday, August 14, 2009

I went Waltzing with Bashir.

I'm writing this post on Saturday, August 9, 2009. It's 12:30 in the evening, or morning rather, and I find it difficult to go to bed without writing this. Of course, the language pledge still has about four or five days to go, and this is technically outside the bounds of what I should (read: should) be doing, but I don't think that I can really give it my all in Hebrew. I've discovered that speaking in Hebrew and even writing in Hebrew is like poetry with every word. Of course, my poetry isn't graceful or punctuated properly, but the sound of Hebrew is like honey on the tongue. It's the language of my neshama, the language of my family.

Tonight we watched, as a group, as part of the Middlebury Film Festival, "Waltz With Bashir." The showing was open to the public and a lot of people from the other Language Schools came. There were English subtitles (as I write this I'm thinking in Hebrew, it's bizarre), which made the movie breathable. I don't know how many of you have seen the movie, but it's been acclaimed since it's release last year (I think, and am too tired to look it up on the internet right now), even being nominated for an Oscar. For the longest time I didn't know what the movie was about, and I didn't take the time to look it up. I assumed it was about one of the many battles Israel has waged in the fight for life. By life, I mean the right to exist, the right to live in a land where, so far, we've paid a heavy price to live. I didn't know, precisely, that the movie was about a conflict with Lebanon, a conflict that left a generation of Israelis locked inside the cage of their own bodies, minds, and hearts.

It's interesting, because my roommate here is from Lebanon. I'm a convert to Judaism with a deep and unshakable connection to Israel because I know, in my heart of hearts, that I stood at Sinai all those years ago for the b'rit. There have been many conversations here, some peppered with English because the Hebrew was too hard to muster in a flurry about Gaza, the West Bank, Palestinians, the right for everyone to live, in one way or another, somewhere. It's been hard, and it's been complicated, and I think tonight made things all the more complicated and frustrated. M'tuskelet.

The film (true) told about the soldiers of the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon war. It told of the soldiers who, 20 years after the fact, had mostly crawled inside themselves, memories being something locked in the chambers of the mind. Some experienced this more than others, and the story's main character had all but repressed every memory of the conflict except one. By the end of the film, he's pieced together everything and the images that come pouring out are earth-shattering, horrid, traumatizing. And the film ends with not the caricatures and animation of the rest of the film, but with real moving pictures post-massacre in Sabra and Shatila. The gist of the situation was that Israeli soldiers sat idly by as Christian Philangists massacred anywhere between 300 and 3,500 Palestinian and Lebanese people ... including women and children and the elderly. Some men had crosses hatched into their bodies by the Lebanese Forces Christian group. The IDF sat on the outskirts as a stronghold, thinking that the LFC was inside clearing out civilians before they took down terrorists or something of that sort. The soldiers saw what was really happening, informed someone who informed someone else and after two days of this, the IDF sent off the Christians.

The film, important in that it depicts an event that is horrifying to consider even today, is also important in another, different way, because it depicts what so many people are unwilling to talk about after incidents of severe trauma: memory. I think about Poland after World War II and the absolute neglect to reflect on the war and its casualties at the hands of peasants. I think about how even today some countries are unwilling to have a conversation about the Shoah. The church itself took some time to consider the events of the Shoah. I think about the soldiers that return from war in Afghanistan and Iraq and how shell-shocked they are, how they crawl inside themselves like soldiers did in post-Vietnam America. Are we servicing them correctly? Repression is the way out after traumatic events, but where does it get us? If we can't learn from our mistakes immediately, then we are bound to repeat them immediately. If we take 20 or 30 years to reflect on our misdeeds, missteps and the horrors that we've experienced, that's 20 or 30 years in which we can repeat or allow events to be repeated. The cycle is one that will inevitably repeat itself time and time again without question. It's an unhealthy and dangerous cycle. If we refuse to discuss, we refuse to resolve, we refuse to promise "never again" about all things heinous and wrong.

On the other hand (from perhaps a completely incomparable side), I think about my father. His parents died separately when he was just a kid. His mom when he was 8 and his dad when he was 10 or so. To this day my father claims to have no memories of them. Small things, like a scent or something. But no concrete memories. I'll admit that I don't remember a lot from when I was 8 or 10, but I remember enough to know that my father could remember more than he does. But the trauma of losing your parents (his mom to cancer and his father to a sudden heart attack) at such a young age is shell-shocking. The body and the brain don't know what to do with the memories and the emotions, so they get shoved into the corners and forgotten about. How can I help him remember? Should he remember? I think it's important. I think it's necessary. An entire life he's lived with those memories somewhere, affecting everything he's done and said and felt. I just think that he doesn't know it or accept it.

But I'm no psychologist.

My feelings about the movie are so mixed. On the one hand I'm devastated that Israel stood idly by and let the Christian Philangists commit such horrible acts of slaughtery. On the other hand I'm just confused. I can't blame the soldiers because in Israel they are merely soldiers -- men and women off the street. It's not voluntary and they're not all heros and body builders. The movie proved one thing: The Isreali soldier is weak, afraid, and imperfect. In essence, they're human.

And as history has proved, humans do some pretty flippin' stupid things sometimes. All the time. If we're not at war with ourselves we're at war with each other. Wars of words that turn into wars with bombs and guns.

The dynamic here is interesting. There are four students here with strong ties to the Palestinians. There are a lot of Jews. And there are a handful of Christians. What a film to show such a group, eh?

I've run out of words for this post, though. I'm not sure what the point was or if there was one, or if I just needed to write something to someone in the ether. My jaw aches from being clinched all night, and I don't know if I'll be able to sleep. The amount of work that needs to be done in the next four or five days is infinitesimal and I need to be focused. Right now my brain is a mess of thoughts and images. Mostly the images. There were a lot of comparisons made between what the people did in South Lebanon to what the Nazis did to the Jews in the film. I don't think that the IDF was comparable to the Nazis, but I also don't think we can pit numbers of dead against numbers of dead. The actions are what need to be weighed. I'm disappointed in Israel, so soon after the Shoah and with the generations in Lebanon then being the children of survivors. I can't say I always understand what Israel does in the fight to live, especially in this instance. And those images. So vivid for me 27 years after the fact. I can't imagine what those images must be like for the IDF soldiers who entered the area after the massacre. The smells. The sounds of wailing women. The death.

Every night when I go to sleep, I ask G-d to help me understand. Understand what? Just to understand. Specifics are unnecessary. I once had a vision that I would do amazing and earth-moving things. I felt that there was something important and blessed that I was to do. I didn't know what, and I still don't know what. So every night, still, I pray, and I ask to understand.  That's all. And every night, there's something new on my mind. Something I don't understand. I don't expect the answer, I suppose I don't even need the answer. After all, who am I?

Ani rotzah l'hevin, b'vakashah.