Jeremy’s AJV blog
At the Wellington primary school I attended in the 1970s it was common to go on scavenging trips to the local rubbish dump. Typically we’d come back with a couple of ancient 28 inch wheel bicycles or a piece of oak furniture. But the find that remains etched in my memory is a 16 mm film canister with an unreadable label and a reel of film inside. I remember drawing the blackout curtains at Matauranga School in Aro St – the building in a previous life it had been the Holy Family School and the curtains dated back World War Two. I threaded up the projector – something all us pupils knew how to do – and was confronted by footage – but no sound – of the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp.
My memory – but as we know memories can’t always be trusted – is that I watched the film alone. I knew of the camps and knew that many of my mum’s extended family – including her grandmother and aunts and uncles had been murdered in them but that if anything made the footage of the almost lifeless skeletal survivors even more shocking.
Matauranga – an alternative child-centred school – never had more than 40 pupils but in my time there there were five parents – including my mum – who had come to New Zealand as refugees from the Nazis. Four of them were Jewish, none were religious and none to my knowledge were Zionists.
My grandparents were proudly Jewish, staunchly atheist and made a point of saying they weren’t Zionists. But they donated money to various causes in Israel, sent money to a niece and nephew there, and were proud of the young country’s achievements. Their bookshelves included biographies of the likes of Ben Gurion. I suspect they said they weren’t Zionist to explain why they came to New Zealand and not Palestine and why they chose to stay here.
So for me Jewishness has always been inextricably tied up with the horrors of antisemitism and racism in general. When my grandmother, Olga Frankl, said “never again” – which she said often – I assumed she meant never again to anyone.
Inevitably growing up in the shadow of the Shoah you ask yourself: Why and why wasn’t more done to stop it? As a 12 or 13 year old I read Golda Meir’s autobiography: My Life. It spoke to me. (I feel very differently about her legacy now.) I was particularly inspired by her description of the kibbutzim. (One of my teachers at Matauranga, Mike Regan – later the editor of the Jewish Chronicle – had spent time on a kibbutz so I knew something of them already.)
At some point during my secondary school years I discovered the anti-Zionist socialist Jewish Bund. I know for certain I was interested in the Bund because I wrote about it in my University Entrance exam in the nationalism section (Our teacher had created a Russian Revolution game which ended up taking up most of the year – thoroughly confusing all of us – and leaving those of us sitting the exam woefully unprepared for the nationalism question. I doubt the examiner had ever heard of the Bund – but I passed.)
In 1984, year after finishing secondary school, I made my way to Israel to work on a kibbutz. I didn’t identify as a Zionist but I definitely wasn’t anti-Zionist and seriously considered making Aliyah (emigrating to Israel.)
Spending Land Day (an annual day of protest) with a Palestinian family in Jericho opened my eyes to the brutal realities of the occupation and start to see Israel through prism of settler colonialism. The parallels with New Zealand Aotearoa were obvious and disturbing.
One thing that sets Israel apart from the other settler colonies is it claims to be the nation state of the Jewish people. Not the nation state of its citizens (let alone those living under its control) but the nation states of Jews everywhere.
When Israel commits crimes against Palestinians it does it the name of the Jewish people. I’ve joined this group to add my voice to Jews around the world who are saying: “Not in my name.”