Year 5, Piece Sixteen: 27. Green Purple
Star of Jerusalem. Broken Bowls. The Right of Return and Teshuvah.
Strolling down the sidewalk, the kids and I noticed an unusual purple flower. This flower had thin green leaves underneath each petal, emanating from its head like a star. After stopping to admire it, we did what we often do: “Seek it!” Seek is the name of a phone app by iNaturalist where you can identify species in real time. You open the app, hold up your phone camera, and wait for Seek to cycle through the plant’s order or family or genus until it zeroes in on its species. Magic.
We learned that this particular flower happened to be tragopogon porrifolious, more commonly known as salsify. Other names include goatsbeard, oyster plant, Jerusalem star, or star of Jerusalem.
Star of Jerusalem.
I mean, here I was, just trying to identify a flower. I noted that it was a Green Purple flower, sure, but I really just sincerely wanted to know what it was called.
To be honest, I have been consumed with Palestine and Israel this week. I was probably going to write about it anyway, I was just waiting for the thinnest of pretenses. And then I saw the Jerusalem star. Thanks, Universe.
Like many people, I have often shied away from voicing my opinion about the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” I’ve said that it’s too complex, too nuanced, that there are too many players and too many intentions and too many facts and dates that I couldn’t possibly know enough to talk about what is really going on there. And in many ways that is true. There is certainly antisemitism wrapped up in some anti-Zionism, and even in some Christian Zionism as well. Best just not to go there, right?
And let me clear about something: no Jewish person owes anyone their opinion of Israel Palestine, and to demand it from them is also antisemitic. Zionism and Judaism are two interconnected but separate things.
But this time, this wave of war more than any other, I feel called to speak up. To speak to the experience of being an American Jew watching from afar, to try to peel back some of the many layers of rage, devastation, betrayal, fear, and longing, coming from a place of privileged comfort to be safe on this soil in this time. I wouldn’t call these words a complete account of that experience or even a prelude, but it’s a gesture. When silence is such a huge part of the problem, that gesture is important.
I grew up going to a Jewish school. In that school I learned to speak Hebrew, to pray in Hebrew, and to love, respect, and even yearn for the state of Israel. I learned that it was called Palestine before Israel, but I heard no mention of who actually lived there before 1948, except that those people didn’t want Jews there. I never heard the word “Palestinian,” and I certainly never heard the word “Nakba.”
See, the conflict may be complicated, but there are some things about it that are really quite simple: forcibly removing people from their homes so that you can have a home is wrong.
It is hard to put my thoughts to words not only because they are complex but because so many American Jews have done it already. In particular, this stunning essay from Peter Beinhart, editor-at-large at the decidedly leftist publication Jewish Currents: Teshuvah: A Jewish Case for Palestinian Refugee Return.
“Jewish leaders keep insisting that, to achieve peace, Palestinians must forget the Nakba, the catastrophe they endured in 1948. But it is more accurate to say that peace will come when Jews remember. The better we remember why Palestinians left, the better we will understand why they deserve the chance to return.”
I urge you to read the whole thing. If you are looking for something shorter than 6500 words that speaks more specifically to the American Jewish experience, here are a couple of Twitter threads: one about how Jews are taught that Israel is intrinsic to our identity, which reinforces that speaking out against Israel negates our identity, or this one about how being an American Jew is a mindfuck.
I suppose what I can uniquely offer is tying it back to the colors. Green Purple. Green, the color of Love, Family, Heart, Harmony. Purple, the color of Awareness, Wisdom, Spirituality, and Lovingkindness. Green Purple. Love of Wisdom. Wisdom in Love. Heart and Religion. Family and Religion. These all sound like nice things, but they do have a shadow side. We can do terrible things in the name of love, and certainly in the name of religion.
Two blocks after we found the Jerusalem Star, we encountered this broken serving bowl. It’s actually been sitting there for a few weeks now. I think it was initially put out on the street with a pile of other free items, but then it broke so no one took it. This bowl is also Green Purple. It has eggplants on it, a plant I associate with the Middle East. It is a large serving bowl, one used for hospitality, for welcoming guests: a value important in both Jewish and Muslim cultures. And this bowl is broken. Not the most complex of metaphors there.
But the longer this bowl sits there in a broken pile, the more it becomes a new object. Not a bowl at all anymore, but a trash sculpture. I wonder about who actually left it there and is continuing to leave it there. Did they move away, or do they see it everyday and just walk by? Do they hold out hope that someone else may still pick it up for another use, like a mosaic? Do I want to pick it up for a mosaic? What can be built of these broken pieces? Sometimes I think about throwing it away myself, but I’m always with the kids or some other excuse. So there it sits.
I’ll sign off with the last tweet from Marisa Kabas’s Twitter thread:
“i don’t have any answers. i don’t know how we fix it. all i know is that i exist solely because my grandfather was able to escape oppression while his family perished. and i’ll be damned if i’m told the death of palestinians is the price we must pay to survive.”