August 31 2014

I am an Australian Jew.

At a Nazi rally in Berlin around 1935 my great aunt remembers hearing her father say to her mother, 'We must get out of here'. She still doesn't know whether he meant the rally or the country.

But they did leave and came to this great land by way of Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

They were lucky Europeans, doctors, businessmen, radio presenters, smugglers of wet wads of banknotes sewn into buttons of fur coasts, friends of Marlene Dietrich, owners of pearls, POWs of both the Germans and the Japanese, soldiers for the Allies, translators at the Nuremberg trials, Mossad language experts, displaced persons, refugees, Ashkenazi BRCA 2 gene carriers and, in the end, Australian. As Australian as it gets.

It was my partner that first coined the phrase Jew-ty. He thinks it's naff. I think it perfectly describes a very personal obligation that is based on a shared cultural history of tzedakah (equity), chessed (kindness) and rachamim (compassion). Without these things neither my family, my community nor I would be here to tell you our story.

I think it was this sense of Jew-ty that first drew me to the Middle East. When I was growing up nothing could start as big an argument at the family dinner table than the mention of Israel/Palestine. I found it amusing to start the conversation (at 7 or 8 years old) and watch my mother (a pro-Palestinian liberal Jew) and my father (an indoctrinated Zionist from a religious family) fly off the handle.

Since then, I've made it my mission, my Jew-ty, to educate people more about the region so that these sort of blind arguments happen less.

That's why I work as an international development consultant focussing on the Middle East, taught Middle East politics at university, hosted a radio show about the region and launched an online project called Gaddafi's Pyjamas bringing together people's stories to try to build up a more nuanced understanding of this complex and beautiful region.

Most recently, together with my friend Saba Bebawi, we are hosting a series of seminars beginning with Syria in the Spring (September/October 2014) all aimed at beginning a new form of dialogue and communication about a region that is often misunderstood and misrepresented but nevertheless, raises such passion and politics in people. An Arab and a Jew, each month, listening to each other, discussing and engaging.

I am convinced that listening at a human level is how people change, how they evolve. Perhaps it's the only way an individual can make change in the world. I see it as my own Jew-ty, and perhaps everyone's duty, to listen to others; to really listen and hopefully learn.

I'm not saying it's easy. In fact, it is very difficult, but it's the only way I know to make our relationships with others and the world more meaningful.

I like to think of my father and mother as my first students. It's taken almost thirty years of conversations, stories and personal interest but my staunchly ZIonist father can no longer stomach policies of occupation and oppression and my liberal, peace-nick mother would now even contemplate a trip to Jerusalem.

L'shana habaah b'yerushalayim. Next year in Jerusalem, for everyone.

Miki Sosnowski
[email protected]
Melbourne, Australia

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