I spent the morning with my father-in-law in a cafe in Kfar Tavor.
He was generous enough to be an interview subject for me in regards to a creative writing project I’m preparing for a class called “Art, Atrocity, and Truth.”
My father-in-law is a child of the Holocaust. He is, in a way, art born of atrocity. His story is fascinating, as are the stories of so many whose parents survived the Holocaust, either in camps or in hiding or in brave revolt in the woods of Poland.
But his story is not my story today. My story is brief and bubbled up for me this morning on the drive home from the cafe.
My story is in response to the despair I often feel in this world; and the despair I feel specifically right now in this region.
I woke up this morning with a headache, and with a swelling I get in the hollow of my neck where sadness lurks. The news, the last thing I read before falling asleep last night, still lingered there.
But two hours later, after a spinach quiche and cafe hafooch at Cafederaztia, after taking 8 pages of notes, after probing my father-in-law for details about the small Polish village, about the time in Lublin, and the after time in Germany, and the time after that in Lod and in Petach Tikva, and eventually Newark, NJ …
I felt alive again.
The headache is still there a bit, but the hollow less congested. And if I had to say why, I’d say it was the listening. It was the act of being a vessel — even temporarily — of someone else’s story. Someone else’s past; someone else’s meaning. I bet if you asked my father-in-law immediately after our conversation, he would probably say he felt lifted up too. For having been actively and intentionally listened to.
It’s not the first time I’ve listened. It’s something I enjoy. It’s something of myself I want to give to others, if that makes sense.
I sense they need it. And I sense I do, too.
I know this is a luxury — drinking coffee, listening. I know it’s a luxury of living here in the Lower Galilee where, for the time being, war is more a headline than a reality. I know this is not a luxury for those in shelters in Southern Israel or others whose life stories are characterized more by war than by living.
I am not naive, though this is an accusation sometimes leveled on people who still suggest conflict may be resolved by talking and listening.
But I repeat, I am not naive.
I am just open. A vessel.
And there are more like me. A lot more.
We could band together. Form our own little revolution of listening. Create art not out of, but instead of atrocity.