by Lila Hanft. Cleveland Jewish News, 11/09/07
In 1969, 23-year-old Judy Labensohn published her first article, an eyewitness account of the arson at the Al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, here in the pages of the Cleveland Jewish News.
A Cleveland native who had moved to Israel two years earlier, Labensohn was on her way to work as a translator for the mayor of Jerusalem’s office when she saw smoke coming from Al-Aksa Mosque and went to investigate.
It was the style at the time to refer to young, unmarried women as “girls,” and above Labensohn’s article, the CJN ran a banner identifying the author as a “Cleveland girl” and the “daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Neal Stonehill.” The accompanying photo shows a fresh-faced, winsome girl, a gamine with cropped hair and a lace collar.
From the first sentence, however, it’s clear that Labensohn is no dilettante. “Because I had not listened to the eight o’clock news the morning of Thursday, Aug. 21, I had no idea another ‘incident’ had occurred as I drove to work,” she begins.
Labensohn has a good eye for telling details as well as the political savvy to understand the implications of the parts of the “incident” she does witness. Noting the absence of onlookers, Labensohn wonders if Israelis “had become so used to incidents that they could hardly break their daily routine to watch reality in the making.”
“Israel is my home, but clean English
sentences are the landscapes in which
I feel most comfortable.”
As she watches, a mob of young Muslim men emerge from the burning mosque, voices raised in protest. She sees on their faces “fierce emotions (of) confusion, distrust and hatred” and predicts that “the repercussions of the event will remain with us a long while.”
“One year turned into 40 years, and I never came back” to the U.S., she adds. Although much has changed in four decades, Labensohn “still loves Israel. I feel privileged and lucky to live there, despite all the horrible things,” she told the CJN during a recent visit to Cleveland. “American Jews who don’t have some emotional investment in Israel are missing a huge part of their heritage.”
Labensohn thinks of her writing as “my way of coping with life, trying to make sense of being an immigrant in Israel.”
Read the complete story at the CJN website.