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Sunday in the city: Luminous inside, hate outside

Sidra Kranz Moshinsky
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Sunday in the city: Luminous inside, hate outside

Published: 1 December 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

SIDRA KRANZ MOSHINSKY reflects on how the politics of Gaza is impacting the State Library of Victoria's Hebrew manuscripts exhibition.

Luminous: radiant, brilliant, emanating light, particularly from darkness. Luminous is the name of the exhibition at the State Library of Victoria (SLV), featuring 1000 years of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts on loan from the British Library.

Not that you would know. Signage is almost non-existent, publicity limited. Stand outside and the electronic pillars showing what’s on let you know that the cafe is open, the bookstore is open, and a special exhibition of photography is open, too.

Of the Hebrew manuscripts, not a word or a sign. Wander into the library last Sunday in a city busy with shoppers and a guard stands outside the Luminous exhibition space, doors are closed and signs carry a notice: "Exhibition temporarily closed. Apologies for any inconvenience".

Little wonder the SLV is shrinking away from its own exhibition and closing the doors today. The cause of the "inconvenience" is the crowd growing outside for the seventh consecutive week of the Free Palestine rallies that meet on the steps of the library at noon on Sundays. Thousands gather, chanting, donning merch and waving placards.

There’s a silent dialogue going on here, loud within me, as I move between literal and metaphorical inner and outer worlds. One look at the security guards and police gathered around and you know that they are conscious of it, too.

Pro-Palestinian rally at the State Library of Victoria on Sunday (Sidra Kranz Moshinsky)
Pro-Palestinian rally at the State Library of Victoria on Sunday (Sidra Kranz Moshinsky)

I spend some time on the perimeter of the rally as I wait for Luminous to open to a small, known private group. I am deeply disturbed by what I see and hear: placards of Netanyahu being visually equated to Hitler, with a white fuhrer moustache superimposed on his face; large stickers with the Magen David (Star of David) crossed out and boycott called for; recurring chants of "From the river to the sea" with its implied eradication of the Jewish state, and a blur of people with keffiyehs, many of whom have chosen to wrap it around their faces, in my mind a terrifying symbol of terrorism.

One speaker seeks to make clear that this is not antisemitism, which supposedly has no place at this rally and does the cause no good, but anti-Zionism. For me and for the vast majority of Jews, the distinction is false. To call for the eradication of the Jewish state in the name of free Palestine, to equate the Palestinian struggle with humanitarian values but not once, anywhere, acknowledge the inhumane treatment by Hamas of Israelis on October 7 and those held captive since, to place Israel under a level of scrutiny and critique to which no other country is subject, these are all new mutations of the ancient hatred of antisemitism. Non-Jews have no more right to determine what does or does not constitute antisemitism than men have to decide what constitutes misogyny or white people to determine racism.

I feel grief for the 1200 Israelis murdered, anguish for the people held hostage, pain for Palestinians being killed in their thousands, loss for each of the Israeli soldiers who falls in battle.

The crowd moves down Swanston Street on its way to Parliament House and I move into the library. It is quiet in here and I feel a welcome sense of respite and refuge. I have always loved this iconic and grand 19th-century building, with its magnificent Reading Room and treasure trove of books and newspapers.

The doors of Luminous finally open and I can enter more fully into the conversation between inner and outer in which competing narratives are being played out. I am moved by the ancient manuscripts from the British Library, displayed together with texts from the SLV’s collection and related objects from the Jewish Museum of Australia.

A security guard at the entrance to the 'Luminous' exhibition (Sidra Kranz Moshinsky)
A security guard at the entrance to the 'Luminous' exhibition (Sidra Kranz Moshinsky)

Out on the steps, the Jewish state is perceived as a cruel, powerful occupier that relishes in the slaughter of innocents. Any attempts it makes to offer humanitarian gestures are dismissed as fakery. Inside, a different story is being told through the silent witness of these illuminated manuscripts and miscellany of Hebrew texts. Spanning 10 centuries, they tell of the on-going dialogue between a people and its God, its neighbours and within a quest to walk justly in the world. There are sacred texts, legal texts, texts that aim to educate the mind and heal the body, texts that seek to elevate the spirit, texts that chronicle persecution, texts that capture exultation.

The incongruities of moving between divergent and radically different worlds have never been as palpable to me as in this moment. My experience inside is that of the proud inheritor of a rich, complex, vibrant and resilient heritage. This goes way back, as the exhibition attests, and is also my lived experience as the daughter and grand-daughter of Holocaust survivors.

Outside, I am the subject (direct or indirect, it hurts just the same) of vitriol and condemnation. Placards that equate the war in Gaza with the Holocaust, Netanyahu with Hitler, Zionism with lebensraum, pain me. I feel grief for the 1200 Israelis murdered, anguish for the people held hostage, pain for Palestinians being killed in their thousands, loss for each of the Israeli soldiers who falls in battle. Fractures within the Jewish community and within families run deep and divide. Friends and colleagues are worn out and worn down by these contractions and contradictions.

To be a Jew right now is to inhabit a dark space. Feelings of vertigo are being experienced as we see certitudes tumble and attempt to make sense of living within a paradigm shift. Even in Australia, a peaceful and safe place, our days are distressing and our nights worse as dreams give airtime to deeply held fears and sensations of danger (that’s if we even sleep). Workplaces are strained, interactions fraught. We search for light amid darkness, a way forward, a degree of understanding, some illumination.

Here I am, suspended between the inside and the outside, the gilt manuscripts and the blazing placards, the past and the present, the loud and the still, the city of solidity and solace and its now turbulent streets and stickered statues.

About the author

Sidra Kranz Moshinsky

Sidra Kranz Moshinsky is a writer, researcher and educational leader. Having taught and led in Jewish education for over fifteen years at a number of schools, she is now working on projects across the community, including the Jewish Museum of Australia. Sidra is also a board member of Stand Up Australia: Jewish commitment to a better world.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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