A Hostage for Peace: When I Met Judih at the Bowery Poetry Club

Judih Weinstein Haggai at the Bowery Poetry Club August 2003

Judih Weinstein Haggai, a huge-hearted haiku poet, teacher, mother, grandmother and longtime friend of Literary Kicks, has been missing since October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz near the border of Gaza where she lived with her husband Gad. We have been waiting since that terrible day in hope that Judih and Gad are still alive. Their faces have appeared in news reports as the Haggai family pleads desperately for information, and we’re keeping a thread for Judih running on the Litkicks Facebook page.

There’s a real chance that Judih and Gad are alive and being held as hostages, so we are waiting and praying for their safe return. We’re also urgently praying and speaking out in public forums to demand a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that can lead to meaningful peace talks. As an antiwar activist and technology director for the global organization World BEYOND War, I’m painfully aware that the arts of diplomacy and peace negotiation are at an all-time low in our current age of fortress imperialism and rising global fascism. But peace talks can truly make a difference in any war zone in the world. A courageous peace negotiation process could help save the lives of hostages and lead to a path away from the pointless hatred and violence that causes so much agony to Jews and Arabs and Muslims and peace-loving people all over the world.

I was already thinking a lot about Palestine around October 7, because I’d just dropped a scorching episode of the World BEYOND War podcast called “A Journey from Gaza City”, an interview with my friend and co-worker Mohammed Abunahel about growing up in besieged Gaza City and finding his way to a new life as a political scientist and doctoral candidate with a growing family in India.

22 years ago, when I first met Judih Haggai on the rollicking and freewheeling Literary Kicks Action Poetry and Haiku message board community, I wouldn’t have known enough to create this podcast. I had to find my own path towards committed peace activism, and back in the early 2000s Judih Haggai was one of several wise souls who helped light this path for me.

The years when Litkicks’s online poetry community thrived were the heated years immediately after September 11, 2001, when conversations about war and peace were just as heavy in the air as they are today. I was fascinated by what seemed to me a contradiction about Judih: she lived on a kibbutz very close to the Gaza border, and yet she was absolutely outspoken for Palestinian rights, for opposition to Israel’s militant tendencies, for the idea that broken societies could be healed through communication and reconciliation. I’m sure this was why she wrote poems, and I bet it’s also why she performed puppet shows and taught children. Judih told me that she and her husband had joined their kibbutz with idealistic enthusiasm, that agonizing years of violent politics had discouraged but not defeated her pacifism. She told me about her constant struggles to articulate progressive ideas within her kibbutz, where she often found herself playing the role of peacemaker, countering the bitter arguments of the most violence-prone or hatred-afflicted members of her community with all her heart. I’m sure Judih helped turn me into the outspoken pacifist I am today.

I’m looking today at some photos of the day I met Judih and Gad in person in New York City and crashed an open mic at the Bowery Poetry Club in the East Village where Gary “Mex” Glazner was MCing an impressive lineup including Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Daniel Nester, Regie Cabico and Todd Colby. Judih took the stage to read some haiku and other verses. I love the photo of her up there with a big smile, accompanied by a Lite-Brite of Walt Whitman. It’s heartbreaking to see this photo and think of the ordeal Judih may be going through right now.

When I look at a particular photo of Judih and I in the midst of an intense conversation that day, and based on the looks on our faces it’s a good bet we were talking about George W. Bush’s disturbing Iraq War, which was only six month’s old at this time and still in its “honeymoon phase” with the media. This was the topic to talk about in the summer of 2003, at least for people like me and Judih. I’m sure we also talked about the rising arrogance of Israel’s right-wing settler movement, and about the bleak outlook in general for a planet addicted to fossil fuels and greedy capitalism. Here’s the funny thing: I was often ambivalent in those years, and Judih was always ahead of me, a little wiser than me. For example, I didn’t call myself a pacifist in 2003. I was a confused Jew in New York City after September 11 and I didn’t know what the hell to think! In the various conversations we had over email, poems and conversations during these years, Judih always talked sense into me, and I think she helped me a lot.

Hanging out at the Bowery Poetry Club

Today, I imagine Judih held against her will in a Gaza hideout, possibly badly injured along with her husband and definitely in shock and grieving for their kibbutz. Even with all the horror Judih might be facing if she’s still alive, I can’t help dreaming that she’s found a voice to speak with, and that she’s doing a little bit now of the same thing she always did, wherever she was: talking, telling stories, building bridges, being brave enough to tear down a wall.

I’m sure a lot of people consider me naive because I believe that both the Israel/Palestine disaster and the Ukraine/Russia disaster and every other war on earth could be solved with serious peace negotiations. I’m sure a lot of people consider me “wacky” because I dare to say that I don’t believe in nations, and that I don’t think it’s important or even valid that a nation named Israel or Palestine or the United States of America or Ukraine or Russia exists on planet earth. I believe that nations are a Napoleonic concept that we are ready to evolve beyond. It’s only the fear and hatred left behind by centuries of vicious, traumatizing constant brutal war that have kept humanity stuck with the obsolete concept of nationhood: a rigid exoskeleton of hard-bitten generational trauma that we need to break out of so we can evolve towards a better human race and a better planet earth.

Maybe it’s because I believe all that stuff that in moments of hopefulness I let myself imagine that Judih is conducting a haiku workshop with traumatized residents of Gaza City in some tunnel somewhere. If she’s alive, I know she’s tearing down walls and making friends, just as she did with me twenty years ago the last time we met. A poet can work miracles, and that’s what I’m hoping against a lot of worse possibilities is happening in Gaza today. And I hope our stupid governments can stop shooting bombs and missiles and start sitting down for peace talks, now, to save all our lives.

Judih Weinstein Haggai and Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher, August 2003

I’ll update this Litkicks post with further information, and I’m also planning to record a podcast interview with a friend of Judih’s which will be coming out soon.

6 Responses

  1. Beautifully said. I’m right there with you. Not much else to say. At times it feels like I’m losing my ability to believe in … us. Our future.

  2. “When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

    ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

  3. Speak of Judih like she is with us.
    This is for maximum good luck.
    I will pray for her.
    I always imagine Gaza becoming a place such as Dubai, its Jebel Ali Free Zone sending their economy sky-rocketing upwards since the infrastructure was laid before Desert Shield/ Desert Storm and its oil/gas depleted. An aside: they don’t waste time on hate. Or buying red heifers from Texas for the 2nd coming/ “End Times.”
    Most Americans don’t know how bad things are for Palestine and the Palestinians.
    Now I think of how bad Beirut became during/after the Civil War when I see Gaza 2023. Last night, all Al Jazeera TV had on the news for an hour was war-porn.
    Allowing the status quo to fester like an untreated cancer or allowing 700,000 non-Palestinian settlers on the West Bank or the reality-TV-Prez to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv and cancel the anti-nuke deal with Iran is madness. The reality-TV-Prez was/ is the epitome of short-sidedness & the nature of realtors & show business types.
    God help Judih et al.
    I type these words and realize the folly of the USA to get involved. Please excuse this ramble because I don’t think it sheds any light. Neither am I wise enough to suggest a solution but have never heard any in my whole life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!