“Aussie, don’t you dare shit over there. Get up get up get up!”
“Why? Why? Why? Why?”
“Because the grass belongs to the people who live in this house.”
“So? My shit is good for grass.”
“It’s their private property, Auss. They own it.”
“They own the grass?”
“They have title to the property, Aussie.”
“What does that mean?”
“There’s a piece of paper that says that this land belongs to me. It’s how humans define what land belongs to whom.”
“A piece of paper can do that?”
“Hard to believe, I know.”
“But I gotta take a shit!”
Aussie wasn’t with us when my brother and I took this selfie in front of a local reservoir. Mordechai, coming from Israel, wanted to take a photo of frozen New England and this was a good day for it.
He’s come for a quick overnight visit after flying into Boston from Tel Aviv. Before that he was in Dubai, and before that in Abu Dhabi, in United Arab Emirates, convening a group of Muslim and Jewish religious leaders to explore what the two religions have in common. Both are descended from Abraham, brothers. Do they really have to be at each other’s throats?
Some brothers are; some sisters are. Karma is complicated. We usually attribute things to events and relationships we can identify and remember (we think): our parents, our upbringing, our culture, immediate past. But these things are way more complicated than the formulas that take us to therapists’ offices.
Mordechai continues to be a religious Jew in the spirit of our parents (as well as his children and grandchildren), a paradigm I left when I was 14 and he was 3. When my parents took him to Israel, he faced lots of painful social challenges even as he became a passionate Zionist.
I visited Jerusalem in 1976, when he was 16. He was studying in a religious school and hardly came home, but the evening I was set to fly out he gave me a paper bag and told me not to look inside till I returned to New York, saying it was the most precious thing in the world for him. In New York I opened up the paper bag and found it was full of earth and soil of the Holy Land.
It was clear to him, and to many other Israelis, that the West Bank belonged to people like him; there could be no other alternative.
Aussie would happily pee and shit in the Hebron Hills outside Jerusalem. It has nice, soft earth, though the human blood that has seeped into the ground over millennia doesn’t seem to have encouraged much vegetation.
“What do you need?” we often ask members of the Zen Peacemaker Order. If I was to ask that question of both sides to the conflict, I’d get many answers: stability, safety, a place to raise a family, sacredness, peace, a strong sense of identity. I wish we’d ask the earth what it needs.
If someone had told me that the religious and fiercely Zionist young man with the brown paper bag filled with earth would one day coordinate and lead delegations of Muslim and Jewish leaders to explore together what they have in common, I’d have said this might happen in a Star Trek episode. If someone had told me that this same man, who’ll get up by 5 tomorrow morning to hit the road from New Hampshire to a Boston synagogue for morning prayers so that he could say Kaddish for our mother, will one day be studying the Koran and pointing to parallels between the holy texts of both religions, I’d have said not in my lifetime.
My brother and I have different languages, but more and more similar values. I am no longer the Jewish woman who betrayed family and 6 million Holocaust victims by turning to Buddhism. If anything, he rejects the language of victimhood. “When you live in a survival mode,” he says, “even the smallest things feel like life and death.”
That kind of consciousness has no space for moderation, compromise, discernment, creativity, or just deep listening. Catastrophe is around the corner all the time; you’re hooked by trauma. Even the small ups and downs of life become reasons to draw up the bridge and huddle in some deep corner, convinced someone—or just life—is out to get you.
How do we get out of that kind of consciousness? How do we flower and flourish instead?
We talk about this when the two of us come together over the mushroom soup and broccoli casserole I prepare to honor his kosher food needs: What’s going on in Israel? What about the Palestinians? Do you know this person, or that? How does he get in touch with the Sufis in Turkey?
We also talk about where we came from, what we took in, what we let go of. What we’re doing now after so many years.
Neither of us knows what the future will bring, but we’re sure of one thing: Words and letters will no longer keep us apart. Religion and spirituality, after so many years of fragmenting our family, now bring us together in a journey towards peace, God, becoming a mensch.
There’s a Jewish blessing which thanks God for giving me life, keeping me going, and finally bringing me to this day, to now. That’s how I felt when my brother drove away late this afternoon.
Let me use this opportunity to ask you to please support this blog, which also supports my life and its endeavors. I make these requests quarterly. The blog is free to anyone; if anything, I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to share this life with readers regardless of payment. I don’t just mean events in Bahia, Brazil, but the small exchanges I have with the odds and ends of daily life, be they feelings, experiences, or humble dialogues with Aussie (“Me, humble?”).
But the blog costs; I need an IT person to help me. Bahia cost, too, a trip I paid for to help develop a bearing witness retreat. Telling stories of immigrant families costs. Stories are important—and they cost.
If you can help me, please donate using the button below (Donate to my blog). Thank you very much.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.