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08.03.11

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Singing Klezmer and Gaza

Balancing Jewish heritage with justice

By Lois Pearlman


Earlier this year, I was sitting in the offices of the Sonoma County Jewish Community Center, wondering what a nice Jewish supporter of Palestine, like me, was doing in a place like that.

I was at the JCC that day to help with a KlezCalifornia event that was part of the annual Simcha Sunday. I love to sing Yiddish music, but helping with the event was a stretch for me that month; I was also directing My Name Is Rachel Corrie for my Palestine support group. How could I be Jewish, sing Yiddish and support Palestine, you may wonder. I say, "How can I be a good Jew and not question the unethical actions of a country that was allegedly created on my behalf?"

Fortunately, I am not alone. I have many Jewish sisters and brothers who share my desire to bring peace and justice to everybody in Palestine and Israel. Which brings me to the Gaza flotilla. Did you know that there were Jews on those boats? I was able to speak with some of them after they returned to the United States.

Hedy Epstein, the oldest passenger on the flotilla, is a German Jew who escaped on the Kindertransport to England in 1939. She was 14 years old. Her parents and the rest of her family perished in Auschwitz, but not before they were able to instill young Hedy with their passionate openness toward all of humankind.

After the war, Hedy moved to America, married, raised a family and worked as an advocate for people facing housing and employment discrimination. For her, advocating for the rights of Palestinians was a natural next step.

Many Jews, like Hedy, are beginning to take a closer look at the Israeli occupation of Palestine—the land and resource grabs, the illegal settlements, the wall, the checkpoints, the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children, the military invasions—and proclaim, "Dayenu—enough!"

Israeli peace activists have been saying for years that if you love Israel you have to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people. It's a no-brainer, and it's the Jewish thing to do.

Lois Perlman is an actor, journalist, and peace and justice activist who lives in Guerneville.


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