Stone sacs

8/81: Stone Carrying/Stone sacs 
Arab and Jewish Women in Israel gathered stones, 1981; 
Artist Space, NYC, 1994 

Stone Carrying
From Heresies Magazine #23: Coming of Age Issue, 1988

"... On the ground there would be a border of muslin squares laid out. A border. The Semitic women would pair up, each picking up two corners of a cloth, only five feet of muslin between them, between each Arabic and Jewish woman. They would lay the cloth on the ground in one gesture, that cloth that would receive the stones pulled out from under, out from under. 

I imagined how they would place the stones upon their shared cloth. With gentle respect? No, they would probably drop them in frustration; an eternal Yiddish sigh might be heard: Oy, veyus meer. Ven velt zayn de yeshua Oh, woe is to me. When will be the salvation? 

And so it came to pass that two by two, one Arabic and one Jewish woman did struggle to pull out stones from the dry crust of the Earth at Vadi Salib, Haifa, on July 9, 1981. They did pull until their hands became moist from the Earth beneath the crust.  

"These stones were here before the Jew, before the Arab," Ha'Yam noted. 

Then their hands would meet as they tied the corners of the cloth together in double knots. And when they lifted the sac to bring it to the center of the archway, the stones did make a sound from within, clacking against each other in the weighty haul to the center of the archway. 

A ten-year-old Jewish daughter and a twelve-year-old Arab daughter giggled at the solemnity of their mothers. "Do one yourselves!" Neely suggested to her daughter. And so it came to pass that the daughters of Sarah and the daughters of Hagar followed their mothers and their little brothers joined them gleefully, handing them stones.  

At the end of the Gathering, the deserted village had two sacs of stones in every archway. 

"Let us leave these sacs for the police to find," Chedva suggested. "They will think these are bombs, and when they pull apart the knots and look inside, they will discover women's unity." 

For six weeks I had looked for the women and for four weeks we had gathered for talks. I found them at the Feminist Conference — the Kenes conference. I found them in the Women's Centers in Haifa and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Kol Ha-eesha the Voice of the Woman had branches in all three cities—just a room for coffee and talk and women's books. I spoke at Wizo University in Haifa and met Arab students there. I had an Arab neighbor. Those who were interested informed others. Ha'Yam, Ha'Yas, Chedva, Rena, Dena, Neely, Serena, Ofnan, Rivka. . . Can there be pacifism if the enemy lurks at the door? Can there be Shalom/Salaam if the big enemies have set up the little enemies for the big enemies? Can the women stop it, STOP IT, STOP IT, once and for all, for goodness sake? On the second meeting I passed around the photographs of the Sand Gatherings in California, the Sand Carrying at the Women's Building. "ze Kadosh," This is holy, Ha'Yam said, her dark eyes glistening with her own holy light. I told her that the Hebrew word Adama Earth and the word Adahm human being have the same root. "We are of the Earth, and to Earth we return," she added. Chedva, Rena, Neely, Ha'Yam, Serena, Ha'Yas, Layla, Denee. . . I will bring my sister. She will take her daughter. (And you, you who would not sit on the ground— you found a big rock, and sat taller than the rest. Your cigarette never left your hand and you turned your head when we found a baby's shoe. Had the mother fled, holding her infant and in her haste, not noticing a shoe dropping off its tiny foot? You could not sit on the ground, you called it a stone grave and you wanted a garden. Your words filled the air creating an opaque screen; we could not see through the words and you finally had to leave. But something made you call that night in sadness. "I disappointed you, Helene?" "Yes," I admitted. "But I do understand that you, yourself, fled from Poland for your life, and yet you did not look back." 

On the third meeting, we talked above the sound of speeding cars in the ancient hills. 

Now Ha'Yam showed me photographs. They were the ones she took of her sisters' Arabic weddings. "I, myself, will never marry." I questioned why, holding her hand until she could answer. "My sisters had to remove their pubic hair on their wedding day to appear more virginal to the groom. My own mother had to make the concoction, sticky as molasses. It hurt so." She saw me cringe, another woman. The last thing she cared about at that moment was that I was Jewish. "You know the Chinese foot binding and the violent clitoridectomy had mainly been executed by mothers who do not realize they do the work of the patriarchy," I said. "Just like here," she nodded. And we knew our common denominator was feminism. 

But where are you now, you beauties? Do you have gray in your
hair? I want to come back to find you. Would I find you?"