Archive for April, 2008

April 24, 2008

– Of Tuna-Free-Dolphins –

Looking through the paper this morning I came across a recommended dish at a Tel Aviv restaurant featuring veal. The header was “a healthy meal”. To produce this “healthy meal” a calf had to spend his short life in a small cage, in the darkness, without having enough space to even turn around so his precious meat will remain soft and white. Maybe I’ll start putting out ads for fake restaurants offering dishes with main ingredients such as baby seal’s cheeks, tuna-free-dolphins and roasted dog paws. In some countries these “dishes” wouldn’t cause much excitement. However in the western world, where the norm reigns, they can and probably will create quite a stir.

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April 17, 2008

– Of why we destroy X to produce Y –

My sister, who loves animals but eats them on a daily basis, has been wanting to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary. Without giving it much thought I have agreed to take part on this pilgrimage, mainly because it didn’t occur to me that she would actually follow through with this idea and be prepared to travel 30 hours by plane only to get up at 6am to feed animals. But when my beloved sister started sending me links to different websites, explaining about the everyday duties we will have at the sanctuaries, I realized that this adventure was close at hand and had to really invest some thought into it. While volunteering I would be feeding orphaned predators with cow flesh. Cows that have been raised on what were once lush jungles. It’s a known fact that the amazons are being ‘cleared off’ (another term that is used in our modern day euphemistic language: ” cleared off” instead of “cut off” or simply “destroyed“) to make space so cows can be raised for their meat, or that soy can be grown to feed ‘cattle’.

So let us consider the twisted facts for a moment: First we “clear off” land in order to raise animals for food, and by that, destroying the lives of it’s inhabitants. Then we build sanctuaries so we may protect those who were there first. Then we feed them with the same animals, which we produce, raise and kill in the place where these wild animals used to live and care for themselves. So basically:

We kill X to produce Y so we can kill Y and feed it to X.

It has already been written that many endangered species organizations have caused considerable damage to farm animals. Teaching people to care for wildlife has caused an immense gap between jungle cats and house cats, between wild boars and genetically engineered pigs. Over the last decades, we were taught that some animals, which were hunted for their exotic furs, tusks or skins are to be protected. The WWF, for instance, has educated us that some animal populations are diminishing and should be protected from the modern world, where hunting is done not with a bow or a sphere but with guns. There are many sanctuaries specializing in caring for wild animals and only some (depending on the country, of course) to protect those whom we do not only murder by the billions each year but manufacture them to become our products.

So why do we feel compassion for one and appetite for another?

One theory I managed to conjure up is simply historical: Over the years, since people have gathered berries and roots they also hunted animals. Since then they also “learned” to raise and produce animals so they will supply them of all their needs: milk, eggs, leather, fur, wool and meat. Some wild animals were in real danger of getting extinct (while others went ahead and became extinct), and people realized, eventually, that they simply must protect what is left of these species. And so, wildlife organizations sprouted, and people donated money to them and in return received personalized name and address stickers. Unfortunately, while killing white rhinos (couldn’t say that anymore for the South African elephants!) is not only illegal but considered “bad” by most, killing cows is a worldly routine.

Abandoning the Bolivian sanctuary craze I have decided to contribute my time at a place which is idealistically pure: a vegan farm sanctuary. A place where animals are given a chance to live out their lives in peace. Animals who were found dying on the way to the slaughterhouse, on the side of the road, or simply not “fit for sale” at auctions. The people at the sanctuary do not eat or use these animals in any way. Heaven. I will be volunteering at the British ‘Friend’ during the month of June.

Animal Rights organizations are relentlessly trying to show just how “cute” or “clever” farm animals are, how much they resemble “house pets”. Maybe the reason for this effort is to produce compassion. Meanwhile, wildlife organizations prefer to show us how beautiful wild animals are, how exotic and basically: sexy. With wildlife it’s not really about compassion. It’s more about respect.

Maybe, what farm animals need is respect. Respect for being live creatures who share this amazing planet with us and would rather not be born and raised only to become one’s lunch. Without the need to be “sweet” or “lovable”, but simply because they are creatures who feel pain, fear and love.

Being vegan is not about what one has to “give up”, nor is it about our own pleasures or the compassion we possess. It is about the most basic idea that no one is ours to use in any way.

My sister decided not to join me at the sanctuary, for in her own words: caring for horses and pigs is not so attractive as caring for tigers and monkeys. Many people think in this way. My cousin who journeyed with me a couple of years ago to the Gaza Strip, in order to save dogs and cats who were left by the settlers, enjoys burgers at McDonalds at any given chance. Mostly she likes the ‘Happy Meal’, which is far from being happy. Yes, it is great that she came to help, but it is complete hypocrisy to adore kittens and murder lambs. To send a check out to save lions and go out for a steak dinner. These two things simply contradict one another. If you want to save wildlife, stop taking their space: stop consuming animals who are raised on their land. It’s really that simple.

April 5, 2008

– Of Shooting Heroin and Eating Animals –

People have no right to use animals: no right to take those who are not physically or mentally capable of defending themselves and turn them into products. No right to abuse, exploit, artificially impregnate, genetically modify, chop off body parts, skin alive, starve, force feed, experiment on, use for entertainment, pump-up with antibiotics and hormones; separate entire families, imprison, put in solitary confinement, refuse basic rights for food, water, sunlight, community lives, and of living a full life. All these things that we take for granted.

Some people claim that animals are “ours to use”, being less intelligent than we are. But the question is not whether animals are intelligent. For if so, all the above cruelty can also be inflicted on babies or children, adults with autism and just any men and women who are considered ‘weak’ by society.

The right question to ask is whether they can feel pain, love, fear, gratitude or loneliness. Whether they have awareness.

Animals know when Death is coming. They know when It has arrived for those around them, and that their time will soon come.

People try to get what they can. But the fact that we can doesn’t mean that we should. From a young age we were taught to differentiate between “wrong” (murder, rape, war, slavery) from “right” (love, peace, friendship). We learned to maintain two separate “boxes”: The “right” one, and the “wrong” one. Throughout life we place things into these boxes: things that we hear on the news or read in the paper, what friends or family tell us, that which we see on the street or while traveling and what we experience at home. Most of us know very well what “wrong” is. Some of us choose to ignore it.

The lives of animals in factory farms are most definitely placed in the “wrong” box. There is nothing comforting about their agony-filled everyday life. Only death at the end. And so, choosing to ignore that eating animals and their products is wrong, taking money out your pocket and purchasing these dead animals is in fact, a wrong act.

Just in the same way that I will not shoot heroin, for instance, as much pleasure as it may give me, for it is a dangerous and an addictive drug but also morally wrong (by purchasing heroin I would be contributing to a violent industry, often run by terrorists), I will not eat or purchase animals and their products.

Most people would define themselves as being “good”. At best they are neutral (although if a person witnesses a crime and does nothing, is she/he still neutral?). If one walks this life with open eyes, if one is aware of the gruesome lives animals must endure, and still decides to not only do nothing, but to contribute to this industry, then the “good” can not remain “good”, it is the opposite.

April 5, 2008

– Humans are not Humane.

A  beautiful person I know encouraged me to write. When I asked what about, the answer was: ‘You know, humanity and things like that. You should just write.’ I sat down to write, and realized that the term “humanity” is too positive of a term. It brings out associations from the word “humane”. Sadly enough, there’s not much “humane” about humans.

A better word to describe this human race of ours is simply: “people”. And in any case, it’s not humanity that concerns me so, but what it does to others.

There are number of questions, which are constantly on my mind: Why do people distinguish between wild animals they observe and photograph to those they hunt? Why do people use their religious beliefs to reaffirm themselves that using animals (whether it’s for food, sacrifice or any other form of murder) is indeed the word of god? And the question of the day is: why do people differentiate between “pets” to farm animals?

I would like to believe that the love for domesticated animals, as well as compassion for the farmed ones go hand in hand. Maybe it’s a good start: first learning that cats and dogs can feel pain, fear and love, and then relating these ‘attributes’ to other animals. Because isn’t this what it’s all about: people learning to empathize with animals, come to realize that they can also feel the same feelings that people can, and by that show some compassion?

The past week I have spent in Tel Aviv, which is where I was born, partially raised in, escaped from, returned to, left again, and now longing to come back to. Tel-Avivians are very helpful when it comes to cats and dogs. It is also true that vegetarianism and veganism is much more common in Israel than many other western countries (are we a “western” country? there’s another debate), definitely more than Berlin, which is where these words are being written in. However, Israel had and still has an acute strays situation and although there are barely any stray dogs to be seen roaming around Tel Aviv, there are many stray cats, feeding from trash bins, kittens dying from eye infections and very sadly: abuse. Still, I honestly can’t think of a single person or a family that does not have a dog, a cat or both living in their apartment.

My aunt is a perfect example. Living on a ground floor in a very nice area of Jerusalem she has been feeding, caring for and giving shelter to an endless amount of cats over the years. She has also started an organization for helping stray cats in Jerusalem; their main cause is to spay and neuter strays so they don’t reproduce. But meat she eats eagerly and wants nothing to do with my veganism talks.

A short stop by an animal shelter, somewhere in the middle of Scotland’s highlands, demonstrated to me, again, just how bizarre people are: The workers get dispatched and save animals that were neglected, lost or abused. They bring them in, take care of them and hopefully find them a good adoptive family. Only one girl from the team doesn’t eat animals. Sure, the job that these people are doing is not less than angelic, but again I lose connection to reality when faced with the question of why do people make that vicious distinction between different species? How can someone save animals 8 hours a day and then go home and have a steak dinner? Sadly, I know, that the question is how can one save humans all day, like a doctor and then go home and have a steak dinner. Why save one life and take another? But on the differentiation between humans and animals I will write later on. What is so illogical is still that ultimate question of saving one animal and killing another.

<First published on March 24th 2008>

 

 

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April 1, 2008

– Part I: From Dachau With Love: Tales of an Israeli girl in Berlin –

New Tradition:

G-

Ghetto, Gestapo, Gas, Goering, Goebbels, Galicia hmm… Germany?

One fine night, just before I was to fly to Munich and meet my German boyfriend, a selected group was sitting at a smoky bar: my trusted sister, some good friends and two Germans I met in Ramallah during a demonstration some two days earlier. According to the tradition we started playing our favorite game: The Holocaust-Alpha-Bet. The idea is to choose a letter and find as many Holocaust-related words starting with that letter. Urs and Hans, who were not yet familiar with the game, drank their Israeli beers politely and sent disturbed looks at one another. A few letters later, we found ourselves very disturbed when the two young Germans started to cooperate efficiently and even had an astounding array of associations which even we, so well trained, couldn’t come up with.

Admittedly, Holocaust-Alpha-Bet is a twisted invention. The intention of the game is not to mock the survivors or the Holocaust. The truth is that this darker than dark humor is a form of protection for us – the Third Generation. It’s a way for those of us who as children grew up immersed in tales we couldn’t ever really comprehend, to deal and cope with life, death and the Holocaust in particular.

And what makes one a ‘Third Generation’? My case is a simple one: My Mother was born in Poland, and immigrated to Israel in 56’. Her parents (who fled Poland just in time, but left family, friends and loved ones behind, later to come back and discover they were murdered) force-fed her mashed potatoes and gefilte fish in order to be strong so she’d be able to escape the Nazis. One time she managed to visit Bochum for a work related trip. She spent her time at an art exhibition in a Gasometer. That was quite enough for her and she decided never to return. My Grandmother on my Father’s side had survived many camps and was not shy about showing her numbered arm. I am not sure if my fixation is really because of my family’s personal past or my attraction to all things morbid. But maybe it will help explain why going to Germany in the first place was a difficult task to take on.

So there I was, after a wild night, in which we went through most letters (and didn’t neglect a single holocaust joke, as well as talk about the Israeli occupation, which, as usual, got nowhere), I finally felt myself able to separate between Nazi Germany and Germany of the third millennium and that I was truly prepared to visit the cold land of monuments, where rusty railways send shivers down my spine; that the protective wall in my heart was fully built. But arriving in Munich, I chose to sit silently in the basement (where my boyfriend and I stayed at his parents’ house), and to read ‘The Seventh Million – Jews after the Holocaust’ a book by the Israeli writer and journalist Tom Segev. As I read through adventures from Auschwitz, I realized just how I was trapped in feelings of hate for a whole nation: in their straight and punctual way, so successful, cold & harsh; Hate for that sexy language that attracts me so and yet makes me quiver. For that beautiful, clean countryside, and that tasty beer which felt sour in my Jewish mouth, which sought revenge.

Hiding in the cold basement, alone, I couldn’t even find comfort in my boyfriend: a German version of Nilse Olgerson, who didn’t imagine for a minute that our retreat would become a Holocaust debate-room, and most certainly did no find it amusing when I announced dramatically that I am on my way to the shower and look forward to making it out alive. We had long and exhausting holocaust conversations, especially together with his father (who speaks no English) who said he does feel somehow guilty, although he knows it’s really without a just cause. A few wine glasses later, while discussing the (then new) Berlin monument, he was outraged that the monument was making the Germans feel guilty, and said it was enough already with the holocaust memorabilia. Nilse argued that it is very important to remind people of their history, and the two of them quarreled until morning.

Behind enemy lines, listening to two Germans debating in, well, German, about this most tender of subjects, and what felt for some reason so personal, like it’s my own private pain and how could they discuss it so callously, my already fragile spirit broke completely and Munich seemed colder and meaner than any other European city I ever visited before. Nilse, miserably trying to salvage things took me around green Bavaria, where the flowers bloomed and painted the fields with color on that perfect spring day… But all that pastoral ambiance depressed me even more and reminded me of my small country back home, which we were driven off to so many years ago. I felt that it wasn’t fair for the Germans to have all this beauty. Later he took me to his former elementary school, with its well-groomed gardens, manicured grass, sparkling clean classrooms and Jesus firmly nailed into a wall. And as I stood and listened to that stillness, a stillness that could never be found back Home, I knew this was no place for a Tel-Aviv girl like myself. Even when my sweet gentleman dragged me to the magical Neuschwanstein, my sarcastic tongue lashed out at him mercilessly.

Entangled In Denial:

When we met, two years ago, Nilse and I would walk around Berlin and have long conversations about the world. He then asked me if I had already visited the Jewish museum or gone to see one monument or another. I simply answered, in simulated nonchalance, that these things don’t interest me at all. He just stared at me with his blue eyes and kept his polite silence. He did not (and could not) realize that my way of dealing with things was to deny them. That I was feeling especially uncomfortable discussing it with him. Only while visiting Israel he realized how entangled I am with the Holocaust, which is a part of me, of the family, of the Israeli world.

When I first came to Germany I wished to ignore “that part” of the country’s history, to rise above it and certainly not to discuss it with the locals. To try not to make them feel as if I am reminding them of their history which they would rather forget, not to make them think that I am judging them, or even worse: blaming. But denial can’t work in Berlin. Everything pressed the Jewish-Past-Button: Taking the train-line, final destination: Wansee or Oraniunburger, or even getting on a train. Some of those old stations, with the old German font, someone yelling ‘Raus’, or of course – ‘Achtung’.

And even while indulging myself on a visit to the KADEWE: leaving the place cheery and delighted, holding on to my recent purchases, almost forgetting to remember. As I was making my way to the U-Bahn in the wicked cold of May, I lifted my eyes off the sidewalk just like some foolish tourist. And there it was: a monstrous sign reminding me – a betrayer to my grandparents, and the whole Jewish nation, walking in the street of the Diaspora, purchasing from these Goys, and worst of all, enjoying myself (!) – never to forget those who were taken to the concentration camps. Indeed, Berlin is a strict teacher who will not allow me to simply ignore my history lesson.


Nilse in Palestine:

Nilse is 30. He told me how he always wanted to visit Israel.The first time he actually visited Israel was March 2006.

‘But why did you want to visit Israel,’ I tested him, ‘because of the German history?’

‘Because of the connection between Germany’s past and the situation in the Middle East today.’ he answered bluntly.

On his first day in the divided city of Jerusalem he insisted on going to Yad-Vashem (the Israeli holocaust museum), while I decided to take advantage of the time to walk around the beautiful German colony.

I remember being mad with him. I wanted him to feel guilty, to take some of the pain which I have. He came back and didn’t say much for a while. Finally he concluded that the Yad-Vashem experience was so overwhelming it has left him stunned.

The cynical jokes and the perverse associations, which simple words bring up, surprised and shocked him. On his last day of his first visit, while standing on the bus line, we overheard a young guy saying something like: ‘Oh man, it’s just like Treblinka here’. Nilse did not understand the Hebrew, but after two intensive weeks with me and after long conversations with my mother (who feels much more anger and has better Holocaust anecdotes), understood perfectly well the connection of the packed line of people along with the word ‘Treblinka’, and sighed wearily.

During the two years we’ve known each other, my German man has withstood much Jewish sarcasm and plain mean observations. A couple of months ago I was truly determined to try and put an end to my bad manners, seeing as I was really creating an unpleasant atmosphere. But sometimes I just find myself in the most irresistible situations, like the time he asked me what to bring for my mother from Germany and I instantly replied: ‘Her family back’. He ignored this fine comment and I had turned from a victim to a victimizer.

So though there is such an immense gap between the past and the present and us Third Generation Germans and Jews (and especially Israelis), could a relationship between us work? A different German would probably not endure or put up with my behavior.

The truth is that our characters and genetic codes do play a primary role: Those who live in the shadow of the past and those who don’t. Although the DNA argument is not particularly a healthy one in a place where people were murdered over it, I can’t help but to examine my own gene pool: My mother, who will not visit me in Berlin and my sister, who does not carry this Judenschmerz on her shoulders: ‘When I was in Japan,’ she conveys to me in hope to put a stop to my suffering, ‘I met this hot German guy, who immediately began to apologize once I told him I’m Israeli. He asked if I could ever forgive him… I just stared at his lips – moving in such sexy perfection – and at his strong, tattooed arms; but he continued! Just Holocaust talks until I finally said “it’s not really a turn-on for me, so you better stop it!” your German man,’ she continued, ‘is interested politically and historically while you just like to torture yourself.’

Is that the genuine reason I chose to conspire with him? Or is it the other way around: even though he is German I still chose to be with him? And how can a future be build with someone who’s not quite sure where his grandfather was in 39’? Why do I have such a strong attraction to this culture and language, this stubbornness to study in order to read books and poetry, to understand films and music? And Berlin, am I in love with this incredible city because of its past or is it its promising future?

As I walk down the broad streets of Berlin, in an attempt to feel a bit at home maybe, I am haunted by Fania Oz-Zelzberger’s lines from her book ‘Israelis, Berlin’: ‘The riddle, in my mind,’ she writes, ‘is the ability to be an Israeli in Berlin without always hearing, at each and every moment, the joint cry of hundreds of mothers at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, who just realized the children transport is leaving for Auschwitz; Without hearing, past all the sounds of Berlin, the silence around the dead baby at the Majdanek station.

Zelzberger’s words do not only haunt me, they reproach me. And to me there is no riddle: I can’t. But maybe by studying others, as well as myself, and by trying to actually live here, I will find a way to juggle between the two worlds. Never to forget the past but perhaps to see a brighter future.

First written Spring 2006, partly in Hebrew and then translated and sewn together, piece by piece.

-Ikey Green

April 1, 2008

-Part III: Only fifteen minutes from Buchenwald –

Two summers ago, while visiting a gray place called Belfast I have managed to encounter an astounding array of antisemitic observations. As far as I could gather, the excuse for this maddening racism is Catholic Irish solidarity with the Palestinians as occupied people. Since those who chose to inflict their racism upon me were Catholic and not Protestant, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would the antisemitic stop if the government of Israel works to establish a free Palestinian state? The sad truth is that the answer is no. After all, throughout history Catholics were those who gave Jewish people trouble everywhere in Europe (and, in fact, also to Gypsies in Prussia, Muslims in medieval Spain and witches in Victorian Massachusetts). Solving the issues between Israel and Palestine will not have a great affect on the fundamental beliefs of religious extremists. It will not change the basic hate some have for those who do not follow the same messiah.

Taking the ferry back to Liverpool I have to admit feeling relieved to go back to ‘safety’. Maybe other Israeli tourists just come around, enjoy the greenery and the beer and disregard the insane amount of anti-Israeli graffiti. As a visitor to the West Bank and an appreciator of anti-occupation graffiti, it was quite moving to see how some are active for others on such a far corner of the world.
But there was one in particular, which read: “Palestine – the largest concentration camp in the world”. Since it is a direct comparison to the Nazi Concentration Camps I must protest: in Palestine there are no gas chambers and there are no medical experiences conducted on the inhabitants. I am willing to accept the ‘Ghetto’ comparison, taking into account that Ghettos existed long before WW2, even during the Middle Ages. I am also aware that it wasn’t the Germans who invented the term “concentration camps”, it was actually invented by the Brits. In any case, I am in awe when people use this term to describe Palestine and even more so, when these people are using Palestine as an excuse for antisemitism.

In Berlin, a city that at some dark time in history, allowed Jewish people entry only through the garbage gates, how could it be that in these dark times of today, it served as a safe place for them?
It does indeed seem that Germany has become Israel’s best friend (after the US, that is). Secretly selling us weapons and openly apologizing for Germany’s gruesome history: Only a week ago did Angela Merkel give a speech in the Knesset saying that Germans feel ashamed of their past.
But Germany’s past cannot protect me from the present. Back at the language school in Schöneberg, I sat in class with some Irish teenagers who were eagerly checking me out. But when my turn came to introduce myself and say where I was from, they all turned away and never spoke to me again.

During this last year in Berlin, the past haunts me as well, and when my dear man wants to take me around Germany, I am reluctant. I want to see Germany, for her mountains, cultured cities, rivers, lakes and beer gardens, but these names on the map bring up harsh associations. Weimar is where I wanted to go, the home of Goethe (even though he did send Heine away when the last came to visit his hero). Making trip plans I checked out http://www.weimar.de and was instantly given recommendations to come and visit Buchenwald. This reminded me of a good friend of my Mother’s, who was invited by a German man to participate in a theater festival he was managing. “Only fifteen minutes from Buchenwald!”, he promised repeatedly.

The town of Weimar we never got around to visit.