Sue Berman – About

I was born in Apartheid South Africa in the late 1960s into a middle-class family of Lithuanian and Polish Jews on my father’s side.  My mother, English born and raised, became Jewish by choice and found her way easily into a culture of things she innately loved – food, music, love of learning, community and family fun.

We were an actively Progressive Jewish family with my grandparents involved in the establishment of Progressive Jewish identity and organising through the Shule and sisterhood in South Africa. The family had a clear political opposition to Apartheid but by the late 1970s, my parents took up the privilege of mobility to migrate a world away to Aotearoa New Zealand.

I was Bat Mitzvahed at Beth Shalom in Auckland. We were frequent Shul goers and celebrated Jewish holidays and customs at home. Neither of my parents were activity engaged in Zionist organisations. My sisters and I however, were involved with Habonim Dror – a youth movement whose foundations were then based on the three pillars – Zionism, Socialism and Judaism. We grew up going to summer camps learning Israeli songs and dances, the poetry  and philosophies of socialist heroes, the importance of the collective, the history and conflict related to the establishment of the State of Israel, with the principle of making Aliyah [going to live in Israel] to a young Kibbutz as meeting the highest ideal of the group.

It was with this group that I first went to Israel on a year programme in January 1988. This was a transformative year for me. The first Intifada was weeks old and for the first time in that context I was exposed to Palestinian voices about the realities of occupation, the concept of Nakbah, and the meaning of having a key to a long held but currently denied family home.  From that time and over the years that have followed I learnt about power and militarism, about youth resistance and rubber bullets. I learnt from Palestinians, referred to as “Israeli Arabs’ living in the Galilee their reality as second class citizens. I observed the old stone buildings that were dotted on the grounds of the Kibbutz that belonged to a village before 1948 that nobody talked about.  I realised the mythology I had grown up with of a ‘land without people for a people without a land’ was part of a colonial nationalist narrative of denial of an other peoples’ aspirations and rights. It was so contrary to the Jewish ideals I had grown up believing and believe still today – including that our own freedom/liberation is measured by the freedom of others.

When I returned to New Zealand, I made an effort to connect with pro-Palestine groups in Wellington. This was considered ‘dangerous’, ‘naive’ and ‘provocative’ by the Jewish community and I quickly found myself sanctioned and marginalised by this perceived radical approach of dialogue. It is over thirty  years later and the local and international mainstream Jewish communities’ response has not changed;  to question the actions, international breaches of law, human rights violations, and militarism of the State of Israel is now additionally closeted and burdened by spiteful accusations of self-loathing and anti-Semitism.

My spiritual inspiration and learning comes from a core Jewish belief in monotheism – a sense of the oneness and connectedness  – each to each other and to all life – Shma – Listen – and my politics relate to those who inspire and call for justice and action, liberation and struggle who stand up against racism, the exploitation inherent in capitalism, colonialism, militarism, patriarchy, and heteronormative assumptions. 

I am pleased to find a home with other Jewish friends in Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices – When you think of the Jewish community, assume diversity.

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