This is a letter from me, Shira, from my home in Jaffa, as I am sitting in front of my computer, in my body.
How do you start to describe what has been happening, here, in my thoughts, in my heart, and in Israel/Palestine?
I would like to initially share that within my quarantine, I dove deeper and deeper into the Hebrew language, hence a lot of information in this letter is lost in translation.
Hebrew is full of inner wisdom. Every word has a root that connects it to other words and concepts, and if you listen to the language, to the letters, it reveals teachings about the reality that we live in. The slowdown was my heart’s wish, on a personal level, in between my humbled soul and body, staying at home and the being in the unknown, helped me open a sacred quiet space and it taught me a lot. It was something I truly longed for. Time to stop, to observe, to stay in. As a person who’s usually attentive and aware to what is happening around me, the quiet that the was created by the lockdown was a blessing, a time to withdraw into myself and my inner world.
Since 2014, I have been running, barely spending time at home, flying a lot, touring, performing, giving workshops, working endlessly… I didn’t have a day off for Shabbat or holidays, I was constantly in motion. I loved it and feel blessed and privileged to be doing what I love. My soul and my art united. Amen. I love you art, mother art, a beautiful, soft mother.
I had a wish to slow down at some point, to be at home more, not to know what would be my next creation. To be truly in between, between processes, so that I can enable a new and different dimension to open within me. Maybe, to be Shira for a moment (Shira in Hebrew also means poetry), and not Shira who serves the art faithfully.
The COVID-19 period started for me with quarantine with my husband. After returning from Ethiopia we spent one and a half months quarantined together, in complete isolation. No one comes in, no one comes out. Miracles happened. We decided to throw a quarantine party, every day at 7:00 pm, so we won’t go crazy, to keep our sanity. The quarantine parties are also part of my art, As someone who’s researching celebration dances, watching traditions of “owning” and finding interest in all kinds of cultural bodies of knowledge of celebration.
In my practice, I practice joy and traditional dances as a form of resistance. This practice started as part of my research into my own Moroccan heritage, researching my traditional body of knowledge. This is our way to object, to dance ourselves fully, to be joyfull! No one can take the movements of our soul from us, our freedom to move as we wish. Every day we uploaded long filmed sections from our daily quarantine party and it became a living space full of love, laughter, nonsense, and also of pain, togetherness and self-humor.
People would see us every day, and write to us how much it touched them and that it feels so vital in this time, how it lifts them up. After receiving this feedback from people I started to send my energy, dances and gaze directly to people through the screen, sending my spirit to their hearts.
I realize now that this letter will go on forever if I will elaborate on what happened.
So what now? I will elaborate a bit more…
After one and a half blissful months, the government decided to take violent acts against the citizens. The lockdown along with the way the Israeli government treated the Covid-19 crisis were revealing to be a coup, it was used to tighten the State’s control on the citizens, to frighten us, and what seems like the establishment of a dictatorship. There were a lot of scary moments, violence against elderly people who didn’t wear masks on the streets, and police officers who harmed citizens without any legal measurements. The government enabled Israel’s secret service to start keeping an eye on everyone, tracking movements and activities of the population without the approval of elected officials. There was never real democracy, we live in occupation, occupying the Palestinian people, who don’t have full rights here. Now the power of the state, the police and the military is turned against us, the Jewish population.
There is a saying in Hebrew that says “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you”. Do you get it now Israelis? Some were amazed that it happened, but unfortunately, I wasn’t. “What did you think was happening?” I thought to myself in response to the reaction of some of my friends. When there are people amongst us, who are not seen as equals, dehumanization is the norm.
Slowly, more people are awakening, realizing that the government has become a one man regime- Bibi’s.
In Hebrew, “Bibi” can be translated literally to “in me- in me”. It describes him very well. The Media started lying as well… but what made me stop breathing was what had happened Eyad al-Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man who was shot and killed by Israeli Police. He was shot by the Israeli border police for supposedly not stopping when ordered to do so. As a person with special needs, he didn’t understand what they were asking him, when the policemen ordered him to stop he was afraid and kept going his way. In response, the policemen shot him dead. He had no bad intentions. All he was “guilty” of was not understanding what they wanted from him. The story is even more cruel and difficult, but I will save you from the details. It was painful and revealed the essence of the reality in which we live, clear for all to see. A human being was murdered because he was Palestinian, by the Israeli border police, without any real cause or suspicion. The incident was well documented and filmed, but the Israeli government refuses to release the video. My heart is still aching. There is no justice for Eyad and no comfort to be found.
In response, Yaniv Segal and I created an event in the public space. we created silence, a stop for an hour and a half, because we just couldn’t go on with our life as usual. It was a moment that we had to stop and rethink, to reflect, and not to let it just go through us as if life can just continue. We did this action several times. We stopped and stood, inviting people to imagine another reality, a different future, to imagine that it can be different here. After years of despair, thinking “there’s nothing to be done, that is just the way it is”, we felt that we must imagine that things can be different here, or else nothing could change. There’s a saying in Hebrew that means “reality surpasses all imagination”. We found how important it is to open our minds and broaden the limits of our imagination. It is our responsibility.
We did we this action for two weeks as the political situation kept on deteriorating. Lockdowns, violence against citizens, Bibi taking for himself even more power, creating greater divides between right and left, feeling that we are heading towards a civil war, casting fear, placing our democracy at stake. The demonstrations outside the prime minister’s house started gaining momentum. Weekly, demonstrations were taking place, people sleeping on the street outside his house. The media kept underestimating the amount of people taking part in these demonstrations and lying about their intentions, portraying a bad image of the protestors, stigmatizing them, calling them “anarchists”, who came there to wreak havoc, portraying them as angry and hateful lawbreakers.
However, the demonstrations outside the prime minister’s house created a space of creation, meditation was taking place in the open, a place for prayers, circles of discourse, public song, and a mass cry. People came there to say they’ve had enough of the corruption. Bibi is standing trial for taking bribes and breach of public trust. His action have been maneuvers to prevent the trail from happening disguised as motives for the public wellbeing. Every evening he would give a speech to the media and talk about himself, refuse to take questions and rather to assail anyone who is against him. People were arrested for no reason, sometimes because of a post on Facebook, or due to police provocation to initiate violence by protestors. The government versus The protesters.
The demonstrations continue, with more and more people joining every week, outside the prime minister’s house and across the country on every major bridge there are protestors standing, children, elderly and adults.
Meanwhile, the lockdown continues in many cities, people are still lonely. Too many suicides due to the political and personal situation, there is no financial relief for those who lost their jobs. People are depressed, anxious and unnerved.
The old systems are breaking down, more and more into the unknown. The world of art and performance has been completely shut down. Live shows and performances not allowed, no theater and no music concerts. A dictatorship does not want people to gather, to criticize it, or to encourage free and open minds.
Throughout this time, I created an additional space. In general, I felt that there is a need to be in new spaces, and that we need to create new spaces where we can be together. How do we spend time together now? I decided to open my home for a week, as part of a project that I called “Reflecting Happiness”, which is the opposite of sitting in mourning. In Judiasim, an important custom following some’s death is to sit in morning for 7 days (sitting Shiva). During this period of time, a person in mourning is confined to their home and all of the person’s family and friends come to visit them in mourning. Visitors try to console them, to show support and to cheer them up by telling stories about the passing person, listening to their stories and to their pain, to laugh and to celebrate life and to support to just be, the people and just being are together.
In my “Reflecting Happiness” project, I created a space to celebrate life and our togetherness, a place to just be. As more people were forced to enter self- quarantine I invited people to join my quarantine space. We missed being together. To see each other with our eyes, to truly see each other, to meet, to listen, to share new knowledge we discovered.
I invited people to ask me for whatever they need from me. They were given the option to choose from a “menu” of the projects, or to arrive and to be together without knowing what they want in advance. Of course they received coffee, tea and homemade sweets that I made..
A lot has happened between the walls of my home: we danced, we practiced rituals and prayers of giving thanks, we held ceremonies for asking for a new apartment, we discussed art, politics and where we find ourselves within it all. We ate dinner together and talked about our the pains withing our heart, about Judaism and spiritual journeys. We shared insights on how to cope with everyday life. Guests included Palestinians, old and young women, a boy and his mother, a transgender, a disabled woman, people with different occupations and diverse life stories… The space was very inviting and open for everyone, enriched with the finest of human creation. I experienced so many moments of grace. Amen and thank you. Amazing encounters, of new possibilities, possibilities of being together.
Speaking of Thank you, I created a space for giving thanks, a ceremony of praise, where people practice thanking as a space of healing, recognizing all of the blessing in our lives, nothing should be taken for granted, and everything can change, and there is so much that we have to be thankful for. To celebrate what we have, as long as we have it, and not wait till it’s gone, to be able to appreciate it. Life is too short for that. There is a demand to find spaces of healing, to cope with the new situation that we live in. In addition I have started to bless people via Instagram and to share my presence with them, to look at the person who is looking at me, to be with them, breathing. Reminding myself and others to breath, returning the light of the moon and the sun, creating a space of reflection.
During this time an additional horrifying rape story was published in the newspapers: A sixteen year old girl was raped by thirty men in a hotel in Eilat. A flood of pain filed my facebook page, and people, my heart and body ache with the pain present in the public space. Resulting in thousands of stories of women telling their story for the first time. It has helped to uncover the inner sickness within the Hebrew speakers. Men have also started dialogue about male stigmas and machoistic belief systems. We are thousands of light years away from the light of the world, still captured in a machismo way of thinking, making women smaller, still within a space where a man owns a woman, of male violence against women, a very limited ways of thinking. The rape is appalling, the heart agonizes. We still have a lot of work to do. People are meeting and creating discourses on how we behave, on sexuality, on power relations. Every moment there is more news, changes are happening.
We are approaching the Jewish high holidays, the beginning of the new year, Rosh Hashana. I started learning Kabala and to deepen my understanding of Jewish wisdom, it fascinates me and helps me grow. I have experienced deep spirituality of expansion. Amen, that a deep change will come to Israel. Amen. Amen. Amen. It feels like there is a vast divide between people here, as if there are multiple Israels on this land. People are so different from one another, of different cultures, and much disagreements. We don’t even have a stable government with no one party or fraction successfully winning an election for the past two years.I can keep writing this letter forever, telling more and more stories, getting into more details…
We continue. Thank you for reading, for listening, thank you.
We will keep on fighting for life, for everyone that lives on this soil, Amen, for equality for every soul and soul that was born in a body on this Earth.
Amen. Amen. Amen.