April 6-8, 1903 (Julian calendar), Kishinev, Bessarabia: A mob, led partly by Orthodox Russian priests, descends upon the town, killing 49 Jews, wounding scores more, raping many Jewish women, burning down Jewish homes. The local police stand by, watching, making no attempt to stop the massacre. Some of the Jewish men fight back with the meager tools in their possession. Children see their parents murdered before their eyes. Shock waves engulf the Jewish communities of eastern Europe and beyond. In response, many Jewish young men join the anti-Czarist revolutionaries; others leave for Palestine to build a new life for the Jews. Bialik, the national Hebrew poet, writes an epic poem on the massacre.
Remember Sa’id and his many children who accompany him every week to the fields? I hadn’t seen them for nearly three years, but I could recognize them at a distance from Jibrin’s pastures (if you can call a rocky patch with a few scrubby thorns a “pasture”) as they arrived for their weekly visit on the ridge far above us. Then they descended into the next wadi and disappeared.
The laundry gets to me, its bright colors neatly arranged by size. French theorist Roland Barthes might have called it a “punctum.” That’s the heart-stopping detail in a photograph whose personal connection pierces you and holds you. And who doesn’t relate to laundry? But the “punctum” is not limited to photographs. To walk through these ruined households is to feel the same combination of dismay and recognition over and over again.
I spent part of today wondering which I hated more: sheer stupidity or pure human malevolence. I guess it’s what might be called an academic question. As our friend Guy said, the real killer is when the two come together.
It can feel like you’ve been hired as an extra chaperone at a children’s party. On most Saturdays in Um Safa, Sa‘id ‘Awad packs his wife Rima and six, seven, or eight of his fourteen children into his lively SUV, all of them bumping and bouncing on the uneven roads. After a short hike to the family’s fields in Wadi Al-‘Ara’is, the soccer games begin.