I finally took the Palestinian embroidered tablecloth to the drycleaners today. I was going to give it to my mother-in-law for Christmas. Every year I grudgingly drop a couple hundred dollars to buy presents for a holiday I don’t even celebrate. Last year I decided to order my gifts from the Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund instead of squandering my money at Pottery Barn. I got a great shawl for my sister-in-law and a beautiful mother-of-pearl Bethlehem souvenir jewelry box featuring the Nativity Scene. I also got a pile of stuff I never even ordered, like a bottle of organic Palestinian olive oil, a handful of little wooden peace-dove pins, and a keychain reading “Bethlehem 2000,” which I recall they were hoping would be a big tourist event but the Israeli troops canceled Christmas that year. Hence, the leftover keychains, I suppose. There was also a stack of about 30 flyers about the Wall.
I was rather astonished when I received the package because the stamps were stuck all over the box in such a disorganized fashion that the post office was not able to stamp them. Later, I soaked the cardboard in water to get the stamps off so I could reuse them. They were the pretty blue and gold Eid Mubarak 41 cent stamps.
Furthermore, there was a strangely long handwritten message written on the packing slip signed “Riad Hamad.” I looked for it after I learned of his untimely demise but unfortunately I could not find it and I have no clear memory of what it said. I remember feeling strangely disturbed because of the tone of urgency with which the note asked me to let the world know what was happening to Bethlehem. A certain part of my brain asked, “What is wrong with him?” because most Islamic or Arabic relief agencies stick to glossy professional mailings free of personality. This charity worker seemed to really want me to know that it was Riad Hamad sending me these gifts from Palestine. I appreciated the gift items but was not sure why he seemed so urgently to feel that I should know his name.
I was even more astonished when I looked at the embroidered table cloth and saw that it had a faint round stain on it, as from a mug of tea.
The JCRC of Boston has hosted a website for years, entitled “MARRIAGE,” which ponders the question of what my husband and I discuss over dinner. So for all you silly Zionists out there here is your answer! I asked my husband if he knew Riad Hamad and he told me, “Sure, you met him too, at the Al-Awda conference.” It was one of our first dates when we were newly married. It was the day that Shaykh Yassin, Mufti of Jerusalem was murdered in his wheelchair by Israeli assassins in a helicopter. I heard him speak once, outdoors in downtown Cleveland during a rally for the release of our beloved brother Imam Jamil Al-Amin. I couldn’t understand anything he was saying since it was in Arabic but his voice kept cracking. He reminded me of an old Native American Indian chief begging us to save his people, who were being massacred.
I told Joachim, my husband, “Your friend at PCWF sent us a stained tablecloth. I paid $100 for that tablecloth.” He started laughing. “He sent you a used tablecloth?” We both cracked up. We decided not to ask for a refund since it was for charity but Joachim told me he’d email Riad to tease him about it. He never got around to emailing him though. (Men!)
Strangely, I was in such a rush to pack the family into the car to go to New Jersey for Christmas, that I actually forgot all the Christmas presents. It was totally embarrassing. But I remember thinking, there must be some reason that God didn’t want me to let go of those things, although I did send my sister-in-law the gorgeous black shawl with red embroidery.
When I saw the news report that Riad Hamad was brutally murdered, I immediately remembered his name. He was the weird guy who sent me the box of Christmas presents from Palestine. I saw his photo on the obituary and he did look familiar. He was someone with a strong and uninhibited personality. No wonder you could feel it just from the paper that he had touched. He was one of the few Muslims who could associate with secularists and leftist Jews and not compromise himself socially.
Last night, I engaged in an act of superstition. A dear friend of mine, aged 38, seems to be convinced that he will die at age 40 since his father died suddenly of heart failure at 40. He has spent most of his life praying and getting ready to pass on to the next world, in my opinion diminishing his joy in life. At one time I was committed to cheering him up. At this point I realized he is enjoying his symptoms.
I held the near empty bottle of Riad’s organic Palestinian olive oil upside down and said to God, “Tell me how many years he will live.” By the end of the 30s, I admit, it really did seem like time was running out. But it kept on slowly dripping until it reached 78. The last drop didn’t fall, it just hovered there until I got bored of standing there with my arm raised. I used my finger to wipe out the last bit. 78 years. It’s not forever, but it’s more than 40 years. Or, however old Riad Hamad was when he died.
This little event reminded me of when Ribhi Ramlawi, the owner of Jerusalem Garden in Ann Arbor, died. I used to work there. Upon hearing of his sudden death, one of the other waitresses, Amy, burst into the kitchen and brought out the vat of hommos that had been prepared for the coming day. She told us to eat, because this was the last hommos Mr. R. had ever made. His hommos was truly the best hommos I ever had in my life.
I was so relieved to hear Riad Hamad had an Islamic burial. Nothing feels quite as empty as a leftist funeral without prayers. The brother who washed his body said part of Riad’s brain was missing, as from a blow or a gunshot wound. I don’t know why someone would have wanted to do this to him. I do know that embroidery is a powerful force. I remember wearing my embroidered Palestinian shawl and playing “This Land is Your Land” on my fiddle in Highland Park, New Jersey. The older Zionists went sort of white and crossed to the other side of the street when they saw me, as if they had seen a ghost. The younger psychotic Zionists tried to interrupt me as I played my violin, and when that failed, they formed a circle discussing me. One of them asked me where I got my shawl. He demanded to know how I got into the Occupied Territories. I refused to tell him but in truth I got my shawl from the Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund. As I continued to play old American and Klezmer songs on my violin on the street during that festival, even though they were too timid to approach me, some orthodox Jews sent their children to tell me how much they liked my violin playing. There was something so powerful, almost magical, about that Palestinian embroidery.
Now I know why God made me forget to bring the gifts from Bethlehem. He wanted me to have them. In the years to come, I may need them to remind me of why I am alive. What am I doing here. I am here to struggle for Allah. The owner of the drycleaners seemed to believe there was no doubt the tea stain could be removed. Maybe there is some hope for the life to come.
One thing I thought was so interesting about the JCRC commentary on my marriage was that Jonathon Haber compared me to Cleopatra. Many years ago an ex-fiance published a book of poetry in Italian, which includes a number of poems about me, one of which speaks of me swimming in the Mediterranean Sea at night, “naked as a Cleopatra.” And here I am, middle aged, and some Jew pens an apparently permanent online commentary about me, again referring to me as Cleopatra.
So I just wanted to mention something that I hope might mean something to Riad, if he can hear me out there, and all the Palestinians scattered in the world out there and beyond. I grew up in America, never feeling like I quite belonged here. My mother came here in search of feminism and my father came here in search of my mother. I always wanted to return to Europe. For most of my teenage years, that was what I planned to do. By the age of 20 I managed to charm a Swiss man into offering me his gold confirmation ring with his initial on it. His family owned land in Italy and I went to see it. Olive trees in a sandy orchard as far as the eye could see, and on the horizon, the speckled lights of the ancient city of Florence. The house was over 100 years old. He had been born there, as had his mother. It was beautiful. There was an oil painting of the Virgin Mary on the wall, and a terra cotta roof. Wine in barrels and olive oil and chickens running around in the yard. An ancient stone oven in the garden, where one could bake bread without overheating the house. The neighbors were old folks, drinking their grappa beneath the grapevines. Not too far away was his actual home in Switzerland, in the mountains, near crisp cold sparkling clean waterfalls and rivers that rushed through the dark green forests of the most beautiful region in the western world. His parents started fixing up the old house when they learned he had fallen in love with me, hoping for grandchildren, I suppose.
I just couldn’t go through with it though. America was my home, and I had already fallen in love with Islam. Europe, as beautiful as it was, seemed to me to be a place whose time had come and gone. Now it was just old folks enjoying the scenery, waiting to die, essentially. The churches all empty, the women’s wombs all barren. I invited him to join Islam, but he said he was just a simple village boy. He didn’t think he could be something as exotic as a Muslim. So I left him. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I left him behind for the sake of Allah (not that I’m that great of a Muslim or anything). I accepted to live in this ridiculous country, the ugly and cheap United States of America.
Now I know why because Riad Hamad reminded me. He wanted me to have those gifts to remind me of why I am alive and why I am going to die. What am I doing here. I am here to struggle for the sake of Allah. I am here to remind you that there are more important things than olive trees as far as the eye can see. There is more to life than rings of gold and even fresh eggs from the chickens in the yard. That thing that makes life go forward is purpose. God wants every person to have a purpose, yours to unfold the true potential of your soul’s longing. I would have been bored to death there. I need struggle.
And so do you. Because struggle is the essence of the seed which grows, simply to affirm its own self worth, and pushes its way through the darkness of the soil until it explodes, so to say, above the soil and becomes a flower, and then a fruit. That is what life is. You don’t get the flower and the fruit unless you go through that struggle of sheer hope that what what you are doing is the right thing, pushing your way through the darkness, searching for the Light, knowing it must be there.
All plants are Muslims so we have to learn the lesson from the plants. The Land is not the goal, it is a means. We struggle through the land, through our lives, through our every effort, because we are reaching for the Light. And the Eternal Light is the Nur of Allah.
I would rather be a Muslim in America than to own every olive tree in the Mediterranean. Because on the day that I die, that is the only thing that is going to matter.
I am so happy Riad has found that Light and he is so lucky to have died as a Shaheed. I envy him.
Please make me worthy of a death as honorable as that of Riad Hamad and give me Paradise as well.
To Allah belongs the Kingdom, and the Glory, forever.
SULLA SPIAGA DI VIAREGGIO
by Cosimo Pieracci
Vita: Madre di Parole
Ma ora il tuo sguardo brilla di vino e fatica, sorridi.
Sei solo un’ombra nell’aria densa
di questa discarica di sabbia.
Esercizi di yoga accanto alla striscia d’argento
generosa carezza che luna
stende qui come su altri mari.
Io scrivo con gli occhi pieni
di zanzare e di sonno.
farlo possibilmente senza doverti baciare;
Tu non chiedi nulla e nemmeno saetti
all’improvviso la tua lingua attraverso le mie labbra
cosi mentre parlo o sbadiglio:
il sorprendente bacio del camaleonte!
Ti stendi leggera, aspetti il sonno, lo ottieni.
Dovro ancora lottare a lungo contro posto o poco distante da li.
La mattina e un paradiso:
sono venute le rondini, il sonno ha spento i motorini
e la giostra, un cono di silenzionsi gabbiani attraverssa
il latte dell’alba dove ti bagni
nuda come una Cleopatra.
Vedo la tua nuca andare verso l’acqua,
entrare nel rumore della risacca, sparire.
Il tuo pube torna al nostro giaciglio proprio
prima che l’oro cominci a colare sui passi lunghi
si muti magicamente in azzurro.
Le lingue del mare si srotolano sulla spiaggia,
tra le zampe di quattro bastardi ubbidienti e felici,
facendo una piccola schiuma nell’orgasmo di leccare il mondo.
Comprendo le’estasi di cui parlavi ieri alla mi mente
stanca nel momento in cui tornavi a sdraiarti sul ventre.
…Cosi le nere ombre della notte si sdraiano caute
sulla sabbia, copiando per non essere scorte, le forme del mondo…
Quanto poco possono sul tuo corpo le mie mani ora che sai
la dolcezza con cui ti carezza il tuo immenso amante di zaffiro.