The Work Goes on

Recollection

In October 2003
We were in Nablus
Awarta, Ramallah

Being alert in the olive groves
Dashing across the settler-only roads
Learning a thing or two about sumud

In Louisville the minister and civil rights activist had exhorted the crowd-—
“If you see a good fight, get in it”
And so we did

What Gets Her through the Night

Dianne Lee’s typical work day
90 emails to respond to
7-8 meetings to move through
3 fires to put out
5 staff people in crisis to support
7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
It’s go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go

At 2 a.m. still awake
Her mind approximates the last few miles of the Indy 500
But she knows what she needs
She reaches for her I-Pod
And listens to another Chomsky lecture
As he demystifies U.S. power and ideology
She says he soothes her

Remembering the Dead
by Hedy Epstein

I first met Vic [Vittorio Arrigoni] in the summer of 2008 in Cyprus just before the first two boats of the Free Gaza Movement were leaving. He was leaving on one of those boats.

He did phenomenal work in Gaza. He was very much beloved by many people there. He reminded me of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, because wherever he went, there was a trail of children following him.

The last time I met him was 2009-2010 in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March. There was a demonstration outside the Israeli consulate. His last words to me there were, “If there’s no other way to get you into Gaza, we will have to catapult you.”

I responded, “I don’t think I’m ready for that.”

And then he said to me, “Stay human.”

We had email contact thereafter. In 2010 he was murdered by Palestinian extremists. It must have been a horrible death. I saw a photograph of him blindfolded, you could see someone grabbing his hair, I couldn’t tell if it was a bruise or blood on his face. He was buried in Italy, and there was a wonderful ceremony and his mother spoke eloquently about him.

Hedy and Heine

In 1997
I read a lot of literature–
Poetry, novels, plays

One volume I took refuge in
Was a bi-lingual edition of
Heine’s Songs of Love & Grief

I have a favorite poem therein
And have shared it with friends
Posted it on Facebook

One mid-summer day
I carried the book with me
As I went to visit Hedy

We chatted, gossiped and laughed
An hour flew by
Then I remembered Heine

“Hedy, would you be willing to read
my favorite Heinrich Heine poem
For me in German?

See, I brought my digital tape recorder”
I handed her the book to the page of the poem
She looked up, startled:

“This is your favorite poem?” she asked
“Yep, has been for years”
“This is the very poem my father quoted from memory

In the last letter he sent me
From the concentration camp in France
Before he was sent to Poland”

And this is what Hedy read for me:
Lines lodged in Mr. Wachenheimer’s memory
A kind of prayer to his beloved daughter…

Du bist wie eine Blume,
So hold und schön und rein;
Ich schau dich an, und Wehmut
Schleicht mir ins Herz hinein.

Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände
Aufs Haupt dir liegen sollt,
Betend, daß Gott dich erhalte
So rein und schön und hold.

You blossom like a flower,
So fair and pure and whole;
I gaze at you, and sadness
Steals into my soul.

I feel I should be laying
My hands upon your hair,
Praying that God may preserve you
So whole and pure and fair.
–translated by Walter W. Arndt

Bravery

Dianne and I drove Hedy to the Missouri Scholars Academy in Columbia at Mizzou on Sunday, where she once again spoke to 300+ gifted students from across the state.

She shared her experiences about growing up in Nazi Germany, and then in Britain, where she went as a result of the Kindertransport before the beginning of World War II.

She read from her mother’s last two communications to her, a long letter, and a postcard indicating that she was “heading to the East.”

The next day Hedy was to leave for Athens, Greece to begin the preparations for boarding the U.S. Boat to Gaza, as part of the Second International Freedom Flotilla.

During a period of silence in the car, late at night as I drove us back to St. Louis, I recalled the following journal entry from Mev shortly before the beginning of the Gulf War in January 1991.

Yesterday, I printed out Mev’s reflection, and walked it over to Hedy at her condo on Waterman. I wrote on it, “You and Mev are two of the bravest people I’ve known.”

“… and I think that our world, primarily at the instigation of “my” country, is on the brink of war – nuclear potential, no less – and I am in the process of conversion. This is a significant moment. The convergence of hearing daily the words, stories, laughter, challenges of people who have made an option and are paying the cost, are reaping the grace — I am called. I am called forth to say no to injustice, war, the preparation for war. I am called forth to yes to life, yes to diversity, yes to the stepped-on ones standing up and claiming what is theirs.  This is a turning point in my life. I was an activist in college, engaged in various ways. But the Middle East situation has told me that my life as usual can’t continue when such massive bloodshed is being planned, discussed, prepared for! It makes me sick. There is not a moral indignation, but a moral revulsion, nearly physical, that impels me to move, to do, to deepen my reflection, to put my body out there on the line. Enough. Stop the bloodshed.”

–last chapter, The Book of Mev

Numbers

45 phone calls on 8.15
82 guests at birthday party
1948 arrival in USA
5 attempts to reach people in Gaza
2 grand-daughters
20+ years working for fair housing
1982 wake-up call
2 parents with tenderest love
1 conscientious speech on a rickety chair in Cairo
1 massage received on a boat in the Athens harbor
Countless planetary comrades
90 years remembering, struggling, raising voice, extending hand

Ferguson
by Hedy Epstein

My parents taught me to stand on the side of the oppressed. That is why I demand justice for Michael Brown and an end of the occupation of Ferguson. My work for freedom in Palestine has shown me that violence is the language of the weak and that the true heroes of our society are those who stand up to systems of racism and oppression every day. It is my hope that my arrest brings attention to the people most directly impacted by the brutality of the police in Ferguson and around the country.

What There Is To Do/2

One day in fall 2015 Dianne told me on the phone
“I think Hedy is dying of pancreatic cancer”
I didn’t believe it

But in any case
All there was to do that day
Was to sip the Steak and Shake vanilla milk shake with her

Massage her feet
Argue with her over whether or not
To get involved in the South African free speech case

And notice her beaming at me
With such love
Like I’m a treasured son

This page is part of a book-in-progress, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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