Grandpa’s influence still inspiring
With the recent turmoil reemerging between Israel and Palestine, I can’t help but ponder the significance, or lack thereof, of all the fighting.
The division between the two has gone on since before the formation of Israel in 1948. Jews from Eastern Europe fled to Palestine to escape pogroms. Resistance to the migration was evident then, but picked up mainly during the massive exodus of Jews after World War II.
The many reasons, claims and justifications of war are too numerous to mention, or even comprehend. Both sides lay justifiable claim to the area, a fact that intensifies the conflict.
Rather than taking sides in the situation, I look to my grandfather Markovitch Bent as my inspiration for my view on the subject. My grandpa, a Russian Jew, chose to take a third point of view, loving and marrying the love of his life — a Palestinian.
Before I can explain how an event so contradictory to current perception of the two sides came about, I should give a little history of my family.
My grandfather was born in Irkutsk, Russia. Irkutsk is a city in the Siberian region of Russia, north of Mongolia. In winter the temperature often drops to 50 below zero.
Due to persecution in the city, my grandfather and his parents fled south to Shanghai, China. My great-grandfather set up shop there and started an import-export business.
My grandfather had a good upbringing. There was a small Jewish community in Shanghai that he and his family kept involved with. He met his first wife, my Grandma Tonya, as a teenager.
The story gets a bit complicated, so bear with me. I first should shed a little light on Grandma Tonya’s life.
Grandma Tonya was born in Shanghai to a Russian Jewish couple. Her parents were down on their luck, however, and couldn’t afford to raise her and her twin brother.
My grandma was adopted by an Iraqi Jew, Silas Hardoon, and his Chinese wife, Liza. Hardoon was lavishly wealthy. At one point he was the richest man in Asia. Stories of his life are a mix of fact and fiction, and getting too far into his story would take too long.
Hardoon and Liza weren’t able to have any children of their own. This led to the two adopting my grandmother and great-uncle along with nine other children: half were Chinese and half Jewish. My grandmother grew up surrounded by lavish riches and was at the top of Shanghai’s social sphere.
Meanwhile, my grandpa went to the U.S. for school while his father built up the import-export business. My grandfather obtained his bachelor’s degree at U.C. Berkeley and his master’s at Columbia.
After completing university, my grandpa came back to Shanghai and fell in love with my grandma. The two married and started their lives in China.
However, once the communists took control of the country, the two had to flee. This time my grandpa was persecuted for being a capitalist, rather than as a Jew.
The two moved to Rio de Janeiro where they had my uncle and my mom. My mom spent her childhood playing on the beaches of Brazil.
My grandparents’ relationship started to suffer, however. They began spending most of their time together arguing. The two decided to divorce, but there was one problem with their plan. Divorces were illegal in Brazil.
This inconvenience led to their final migration: to the U.S. My grandpa moved to Los Angeles and my grandma to San Francisco.
About the same time, on the other side of the world, my Grandma Lily (the Palestinian one) was leaving Israel for the U.S. The conflicts had risen to a point of daily danger and she and her family decided to move somewhere safer.
Several years later Lily was on a date; she and her date were heading to Catalina on a ferry. At the same time my grandpa was on a date doing the same thing. Lily caught the attention of my grandpa, who left his date and walked up to Lily and introduced himself. Two months later, the two were married.
My Jewish grandfather and his new Palestinian bride were truly soul mates. The two spent every night together until my grandfather’s death six years ago.
I asked my grandpa why he married a Palestinian instead of a Jew and his answer was simple.
“Because I love her.”
When I see the conflict happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but take it personally. My family’s history is intertwined with both Jewish and Palestinian history. The difference, thanks to my grandparents, is that a different route was chosen in their lives.
It’s a true testament to the power of love, I feel, that two people who on paper should hate each other decided to spend the rest of their lives together.
I truly believe that love is more powerful than hate, fear or any other emotion the human experience can produce. Likewise, the result of love overcomes these imaginary lines between race, country and creed.
The two sides have fought for so long that the reason for fighting is hazy at best. I know it is completely unrealistic, but I still dream of a time where both sides will throw down their weapons and follow my grandpa’s ideology and truly love their “enemies.”