This month’s letter from the editor is written from a place of grief, somewhere words tend to fail. Grief is a country whose language is wailed, not spoken.
If grief is a place, it is also a time. For as far back as human memory goes, every culture around the world has separated the period of mourning from everyday life. Built into the political structure of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, for instance, was a detailed system for caring for the grieving based on the understanding that when someone dies, the entire network of loved ones they leave behind is incapacitated. It became the full-time responsibility of the next clan over to feed them all, hold them steady, and slowly lead the way back to life from the borderlands of death.
Similarly, the Jewish mourners’ kaddish is a prayer that cannot be sung without a minimum of 10 people. The community must gather around the grief-stricken as they sit shiva in order to properly honor the dead. Mourning is understood as a time to resist the urge to withdraw, and draw strength from interconnection.
It is time now for Jews to grieve for others as much as we have grieved for ourselves.
We did not come all this way, surviving ghetto after pogrom after death camps and gas ovens and Nazi scientific torture experiments, only to emerge drenched in other people’s blood. Certainly, our ancestors never wanted this. Never before did they choose it—Jews of the diaspora had no armies. They sought to trade and prosper, to walk the path of righteous living, to eat well on holy days and to pray facing Jerusalem, no matter where they were. When annihilation came, as often as a Mississippi flood, they picked from the rubble what was left and started all over again.
Our past may have made us insular, but it is a state of mind we can no longer afford.
When people are killed by Jewish hands, it is our duty to grieve doubly, triply, or however long it takes to fully face it. Amidst the mass deaths of Palestinians living on land we have the audacity to call holy as we desecrate it with human suffering, such a path is the only way forward. If we sit shiva for our mothers for a week, let us sit shiva for Palestinian mothers for a month. If we grieve our children until we reach the grave, let us grieve Palestinian children until our grandchildren reach their grave.
As war threatens to engulf the world, offering the mourner’s kaddish for those whose homes are unguarded by mezuzot is the last good choice Jews have left. Otherwise, the consequences will not only be dire for others. One by one, all our holy texts will lose meaning. The words so lovingly copied onto the scrolls we protected from the flames of our oppressors’ rage will ring hollow. The great rabbis of Poland, the theologians of Al-Andalus, the mystics of the Kabbalah, all these people of the light will have persevered in vain. We will finally do to ourselves what the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Empire, and every other army looking for an official state scapegoat never could succeed in doing. We will fail to pass down the religion of our forebears to our children, no matter if a shell endures to hold our now empty ancestral words.
Are we Jews? Or are we Romans?
For all that current headlines seem to blot out the past, grieving for others as a way towards social change has been a Jewish practice for far longer than the existence of the state of Israel. From anarchists in the slums of New York to Freedom Riders before the police batons of Jim Crow Mississippi, there have been, and remain, many Jews who grieve injustice wherever it is found.
Without question, this sentiment is a driving force for the Jews among the ANTIGRAVITY editorial board. For us, it is not possible to seek the good life in New Orleans while so many people in this city are suffering. We want to find out what’s wrong in order to find out how to fix it. We do not accept the state or any other administrator of violence as an arbiter of what’s moral or acceptable. And when we lose a member of the ANTIGRAVITY reading community, we do our best to dedicate space for their loved ones to tell their stories, give full pages to their pictures, and speak their names to the eternal archive where every issue is eventually laid to rest.
Duly we grieve for Palestine, and we sorrow over the bloody actions of members of our lineage.
Tikkum Olam (תיקון עולם) is a Hebrew expression which means to repair the world, and it is considered to be a sacred obligation of our people. Let us attend to that work now, at all costs. —Holly Devon, with Dan Fox
November 2023 cover by Laura Frizzell