Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reuven Snir: The Arab Jews: Language, Poetry, and Singularity / Qantara

Qantara is a German Internet publication.
The Arabic word "qantara" means "bridge". The Internet portal Qantara.de represents the concerted effort of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Center for Political Education), Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institut and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) to promote dialogue with the Islamic world. The project is funded by the German Foreign Office.
To find out more, go to http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_softlink.php/_c-360/_lkm-2881/i.html

Here is how Qantara introduces Reuven Snir's essay: The Arab Jews: Language, Poetry, and Singularity:
"A joint Arab-Jewish identity seems an impossibility given the current political situation in the Middle East. And yet it was a reality, exemplified by Arabic-speaking Jews and their writers. In his extensive essay Reuven Snir investigates the complex history of Arab Jews."

Racheli Gai.

Reuven Snir: The Arab Jews: Language, Poetry, and Singularity
December 18, 2009


My parents were born in Baghdad. They immigrated to Israel in 1951, without great enthusiasm. I was born two years later. As a sabra – a native-born Israeli Jew – in the Israeli-Zionist educational system, I had been taught that Arabness and Jewishness were mutually exclusive.

Trying to conform to the dominant Ashkenazi-Zionist norm as a child, like most if not all children of the same background, I felt ashamed of the Arabness of my parents. For them, I was an agent of repression sent by the Israeli-Zionist establishment, after excellent training, into the territory of the enemy – my family – and I completed the mission in a way that only children can do with their loving parents: I forbade them to speak Arabic in public or to listen to Arabic music in their own house.

And it was not only the problem of Arabness – my father was also a Communist activist at a time when to be a Communist in Israel was like belonging to a terrorist organisation.

What I remember very clearly about my father is that he was a great lover of poetry, Arabic poetry, and always quoted verses for my benefit. I'm not sure that I remember any of them now – I only know that he insisted on reciting them, even though, thanks to my Zionist education, I didn't want to listen.

But probably because I was so dumb that he had to recite them again and again I think I have managed, many years later, to reconstruct one verse: because I remembered that it had something to do with camels and water, and because I had some sense of the music, which is the melody of the kāmil Arabic meter. It is a verse that has been attributed to the blind ascetic medieval poet Abū al-'Alā' al-Ma'arrī (973-1058 CE), who, it has been argued, influenced Dante Alighieri (1265-1321 CE) in his Divine Comedy. Mine proved later to be a tragedy, not at all divine.

Like camels in the desert, suffering from thirst, while the water is on their back

A deep feeling of regret

To read the article in its entirety, go to

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