Mimi Schwartz is an author of two books with the University of Nebraska Press. Good Neighbors, Bad Times is the story of Schwartz’s twelve-year, three-continent quest to uncover her Jewish past. In Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed, Schwartz writes with a keen and amused eye about growing up in an immigrant Jewish family, coming of age in New York in the 1950s, marrying her high school beau, and arriving at feminist consciousness in the 1970s.
Tikkun, a magazine that promotes peace, healing, and transformation throughout the world, recently published an essay by Schwartz. The piece is a compilation of Schwartz’s experiences during a 2010 visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. Here is a snippet of what you’ll find in this eye-opening article:
“This restaurant is Hebron’s best,” says the assistant mayor, who greets us in a room full of lattices strung with grapevines, the sun’s rays streaming in. Each table has two Palestinians who will tell their story, says Ilana, as we sit down to mounds of hummus, pita, and black olives, all the good stuff. Beside me is a young Palestinian teacher, slim and earnest, who speaks excellent English and says, shyly, that he spent a few months in the United States.” I’m about to ask where, when the mayor stands to welcome us. An urbane man in Western dress, he tells us how important it is for us to be here together. “Even the Jews among us should feel welcome.” I wince.
Then Herzl stands up — it’s his turn to introduce our group and say how pleased we are to be here. People keep dipping into hummus, familiar with the routine until we hear, “This day is special for me because my family comes from Hebron.” The restaurant quiets. The mayor’s contingent looks up. We all do, as Herzl tells with great pride how his grandmother was one of the four hundred Jews who were hidden by twenty-eight Arab families during the massacre of 1929.
His great grandparents came to Hebron from Eastern Europe in the 1800s, very religious people. They multiplied and prospered, he says, until 1929 when those who survived had to leave. He pauses, his voice shaky with emotion: “I am the first of the family to come back here, to break bread with descendants of those who may have saved my grandmother and others in my family. To you,” he looks at the mayor, “I want to say thanks.” Everyone is silent, unsure about how to respond. Stories like this, of “the Other” being decent, are not spoken around here; they get whispered or lost, fitting no one’s political agenda. And yet, as the history teachers said, how else are we to change how “one side’s hero is the other side’s monster?”
To read the full essay, click here.