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Love, Davka – Jessica Sacks October 27, 2011

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in If you call this 'Normal'..., Society.
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When people meet me for the first time they always give me tips on how to drink my tea. One woman promised me that if I drink green tea with turmeric, I’ll get my  voice back just like that. They don’t understand that I’m always like this. That this is how I talk. That this is the only voice I have. And together with it I have become the person I am. Because in order to hear me you have to do more than hear. You have to listen.

When I was fifteen […] a car hit me at high speed and wounded me severely. My spine was injured, and I spent a turbulent adolescence in hospital. I can’t quite understand why it is that since the accident, I haven’t been in a relationship. Yes, I’ve had brief affairs with men, but the longest relationship I’ve managed to have so far is with Mina, my Korean caregiver.

I have never seen the Jerusalem Center for Independent Living so packed to overflowing as it was for the opening of the current season of Disability
Studies events. The occasion was a double film-screening, followed by a discussion with the directors of both movies. Sivan Ben-Ari and Lior Amichai
presented No Friend of Mine, and Rona Soffer, her award-winning Love Davka, quoted above. The subject of both films – enormously different as
they are from each other – is that unanswerable question-to-answer-all-questions – love. And wow, had the choice of movies struck a chord.

Why (oh why – was the question in the air) is it so hard for people with disabilities to find partners? It may be hard to walk, hard to talk, hard to
work, but why should it then also be so hard to give that simplest and most needed of things – love – when that capacity above all others is unimpaired, and so desperately eager to be expressed?

The two movies, as it happens, come at the question from opposite angles. In Love Davka, Rona Soffer sets out on a valiant, but poignantly unresolved quest
for that elusive missing element that could bring her the love she dreams of. In No Friend of Mine on the other hand, the able-bodied Sivan Ben-Ari reconnects with her high-school heroine Lior after Lior, like Rona, has become severely disabled. As Sivan falls again under Lior’s spell, bringing the audience with her, the question that forms itself is how – even now when each day-to-day activity is a feat of effort and perseverance – Lior is never without a man in
the background, while Sivan tramps home alone.

Lior’s magic works offscreen as well. The first audience question of the discussion was more of an appeal: “People don’t see me – they look straight through me – they treat me as if I weren’t a human being at all!” And Lior fielded it without hesitation – “It’s them who are screwed up; you’re great,
you’re cool, don’t let them get you down!” Lior herself is unquellable, her vivacity infectious. And yet the question with no question-mark remained.

And I wanted to go up to the questioner and say – “Yes, they are wrong; yes, you are cool – but understand them. They cannot read your body language; they cannot read your expression. They see your wheelchair before they see you; they hear the slur in your speech before they hear what you are saying, and they do not know – genuinely they do not know – where your experience of the world is the same as theirs and where it is different. They do not know how you see them. They do not know how much you understand or what they can understand of you. You have to tell them.” But of course I did not. Because I know it is not that easy. Someone really has to be listening.

One of Rona’s friends, responding to her question in the film, denies that it is a meaningful question at all. “Is there anyone in the world with or without
a relationship that you can explain? […] Why does [anyone] have a relationship?” And she is right – and yet… And I, able-bodied and healthy,
am as mystified as Rona. And yet once again – it is not the same thing.

A midrash comes to mind:

Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon opened: “God brings those who are lonely back home.”
Matrona, a Roman noblewoman, asked Rabbi Yossei bar Chalafta a question; she said, “How many days did it take the Holy One to create His world?” He answered, “Six!” […] “Well then,” she said, “What has he been doing from that day until now?”
Rabbi Yossei replied, “The Holy One is sitting and matching up pairs – each man with his child, each man with his wife, each man with his wealth. […] I tell
you, to you this seems like a trivial thing, but before the Holy One it is as hard as the splitting of the Sea.”
(Genesis Rabba 68:4)

The Rabbis like to bring in outsiders to ask their difficult questions for them; here a Roman woman asks an unsettling question about God. If the Creator made His world complete, including the laws and cycles of nature, all running their own sweet ways, what role is left to Him now? Some things are fixed in the
nature of our circumstances; others are in the hands of our free-will. But there are things which are neither fated nor chosen, Rabbi Yossei reminds her –
and that where God resides. Making matches. Each one with his love, his child, his fortune. And so God is in the meetings, impossible as they are, impossible
as the splitting of the Sea, which cannot be crossed until one is brave enough to walk right out into turbulent floods of it – and then, by some miracle,
perhaps it may.

The midrash continues –

There are some who go to their partners, and some whose partners come to them.

Isaac just looked up one evening and saw his bride coming over the horizon towards him; but others, like Jacob, must journey far out of their comfort zones, open many wells, labour many years and slay many dragons before reaching their partners. Until they can find the one who can learn to understand and be understood; who is able to listen and hear, to be listened to and heard. Why should he have to do all that when someone else is blissfully wed on a wave of naiveté at twenty? Nobody knows.

I don’t, at any rate. But I do recommend the films. If only to remind oneself that if at certain moments one feels alone – one is not alone.

For details of further events at the Center for Independent living, contact Tzlila: ciljr@012.net.il.
The film
Love Davka is available in full, with English subtitles, on Youtube.