23 June 2010

Complicated Rivers

After another hot day I walked home from Shul tonight and decided to stop in for a beer at Ace Supermarket, a Park Slope institution for more than 40 years.  Ace, for those who may not have noticed, is undergoing a minor facelift, exposing, for the first time that I can remember in twenty years living here, the interior of the store through its windows.  Usually those windows are covered with beer ads--they certainly have been since 1990--and it was really refreshing to see inside the store.  On my way back to the beer cooler, I passed the display of Sabra's Hummus collection--offering a great variety of choice ( I remain partial to Hummus Abu Ghosh. ) I took notice, chose my beer ( Brooklyn Summer Ale--tasty) and then headed to the cash register to pay.

The guy behind the register rang me up and then we started talking about the windows, the sign in front of the store (painted in 1969 and currently the source of debate over whether or not it should be preserved or replaced) and from there we had a brief but meaningful conversation about varieties of troubling trends with preservation in general in New York.  I shared some of my insights about spending a day in Philadelphia last week and the great appreciation for Revolutionary War history that one encounters in certain sectors of the city, an experience of history that is hard to come by in such a clearly laid out and educational way here in New York.  ( I sometimes wonder if part of the virulently powerful sports rivalries between New York on one hand and Boston and Philadelphia on the other has its source, in part, in this rivalry over who *owns* the Founding History. )  In addition, I shared briefly my experience today walking around the Canarsie Cemetery and how that journey had me talking with friends about the burial plots at Mt. Carmel and New Mt. Carmel and how history in some places is preserved quite well but so few people actually take notice.  If death and history are so complicated, how much more so life?

Walking around Canarsie with my friend Nick, who runs Green-Wood Cemetery, I learned that during the Second World War, a lot of the cemeteries around New York donated to the War effort some of the metal used to surround private family plots.  Many of the carved cement posts--works of art in their own right bearing family names and designs--were then buried or discarded, losing to history the stories and representative legacies of past generations.  "Regrettable," Nick said.

I remember the first time I walked into Ace Supermarket wearing an Israeli t-shirt.  It was 1990, we had just moved to Brooklyn from Jerusalem, and it felt very much at home to walk into a Palestinian grocer in Brooklyn to buy my Shabbat candles, Yahrzeit candles, cold beer and hummus.  It's been that way for twenty years now.

A couple weeks ago I got a call on a Saturday afternoon from another friend who lives in the Village and she was walking past Aroma Espresso Bar and saw a "Boycott Israel" demonstration outside on the sidewalk at the Houston Street Aroma.  "This is just nuts!" she shouted into the phone.  "Regrettable," I said.

As the world mildly retreats to its benign and moderately veiled anti-Semitism (as opposed to its blatant form just after the Gaza Flotilla debacle) it makes me realize, in this brief moment of calm, how ridiculously unrealistic so much of the current discourse on Israel really truly is.  How little room for nuance there is for those who truly care; how the deep and complicated rivers of history get ignored; and,  how demonstrations of grandiose solutions get privileged.  Words in our digital age get cut and pasted all over the place.  From blogs to posters, from pamphlets to emails:  massacre; fascism; colonialism; illegitimacy; state terror.

Most people actually don't know what they're talking about.

But the Palestinian who sells hummus and yahrzeit candles gets it.  He advocates for a sign from 1969 because it tells a story.  And sells beer and memorial candles to a Jew.  And together, they commiserate over the destruction of history that so few have the time or patience to really understand.

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