Remembering/2

by Mark Chmiel

Henry invited Tanya and me to join him
And his new friend Laura Bronstein

For a mid-May commemorative event
At the very liberal Reform synagogue

Henry and Laura had met
At an anti-neo-liberalism conference in Boston

They had several mutual friends it turns out
Including in Guatemala

Henry said to me on the phone in his wry way
“Laura’s the opposite of me

Hold on to your seat
It’s going to be a bumpy ride”

But when I met her I was totally charmed
She was a very attractive fifty-eight-year-old woman

There were two speakers that night
Two perspectives on the events of May 1948:

The establishment of the State of Israel
The Palestinian Nakba

One member of the congregation read from and commented upon
The letters of a young American Jewish man who was in Palestine, later Israel, at that time

In addition, a guest of the congregation, a Palestinian-American,
Told of the dispossession her family experienced in those months

After the two speakers, the rabbi gave us instructions
How to process what we heard as we sat in a big circle:

“Just tell us one word of what you are feeling now…
One word… and make sure it is a feeling”

There were sixty people gathered
I was sitting between Laura and Henry who was next to Tanya

We were to go around the circle
One person following the person sitting next to her

And people did as the rabbi told them to do
Keeping their remarks to one word

“Sad”
“Angry”

“Irritated”
“Confused”

I turned to Laura and whispered with a smile
“One word now…”

And so it was Laura’s turn
(Fasten your seat belts)

“Good evening…”
That’s two words, I thought

“I’m Laura Bronstein …”
Three more

“I was born in South Africa…”
OK, here we go

“I immigrated to the State of Israel at age 19…”
I saw the rabbi shift uneasily

“I must tell you what you don’t want to hear…”
Henry looked at me so as to say, “I told you so”

“What Israel has done, is doing to the Palestinians is criminal!”
I gently touched her arm, beginning to remind her of the “process,” saying, “Laura…”

She shook her arm loose from my hand
Looked at me with lips pursed in a scowl and quickly turned back to address her audience

“I am also an attorney, and I represented Palestinians in Israel’s courts, and…”
No one interrupted her

No one was telling her to shut up so she kept going
(And she would have gone on anyway)

She had not one word
But a thousand words

All charged with feeling, indignation, outrage, wrath
(Maybe this is how the prophet Jeremiah sounded)

“If I don’t tell you this, who will?
You have to know what’s really happening, and do something about it”

At last
She was finished

I don’t remember much else about that night
What the other people said

Though most were still mono-syllabic
Dutifully following the rabbi’s directive

Walking out in the parking lot afterward, I said to Laura
“You know, you may have antagonized a lot of people in there”

She stopped, turned to face me directly
“Not at all, Perry! Nine people came up afterward to thank me, to say that they agreed with me!”

Having lived in Louisville
An image popped up from my memory bank

Laura was fiercely aglow
Like the young Cassius Clay after he took down Sonny Liston

A crime of historic significance is occurring
And Laura refuses to silent, moderate, nuanced

That night
Laura Bronstein was a steamroller for justice

–from the novel,  Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

 

Sonny Liston Dear Layla

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