February 3, 2020
Flag Of No Nation by Tom Haviv
Tom Haviv's new book A Flag of No Nation, published by Jewish Currents Press at the end of 2019, is an exploration into Tom's own family, collective memory and the visual and written storytelling becomes a warning about imperfect dreams. Tom shares more about his inspiration and some moments of surprise in his own process.
A FLAG OF NO NATION
The Obstacle of Myth / The Myth of Obstacle
In the summer of 2014, the hellish imagery of the siege of Gaza shook irrepressibly into my conscience. I suddenly found myself in daily meetings with an ever-expanding group of Jewish activists – whose meetings would quickly coalesce and spark the IfNotNow youth movement.
It was also around this time that I began to think about how to design and fabricate a utopian flag I had dreamed of for years – a flag with a hamsa at its center. The shame and rage that pressed into me that summer was so intense that I could no longer ignore this fantasy/idea – no matter how ill-prepared I felt to take it on. This symbolic impulse eventually grew into a series of borderless flags, performance pieces, and poems, which would eventually cohere into a book called A Flag of No Nation, which was published this past December – 5 years later – by Jewish Currents Press.
That summer, I agreed to join the first action of this new organization. Around a dozen of us were arrested in the lobby of The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Although the target seemed obscure, a movement – a new feeling – was born.
After being released from central booking the next morning, I stood outside in the summer light. Excited and exhausted – I hadn’t slept all night.
I had barely walked a few meters from the building when I got a call from my grandmother.
I took a deep breath, bracing myself for what might be a tough phone call. My grandmother was, after all, a Zionist pioneer – and a mythological figure in my family. She had arrived in Israel with my grandfather in 1949, after they had been organized as teenagers into the Underground Zionist Youth Movement in Istanbul.
However, when I answered the phone I heard her say, “Tom, I am so proud of you.”
She continued, “You are not the only person in our family who was arrested for his beliefs. Your grandfather had done the same when he was young.” She proceeded to tell me a story about my grandfather, Israel Haviv, known to us as Izzy, attempting to dodge the Turkish draft in 1946 when he had graduated lycée in Istanbul. He wanted to make his way to Palestine to fight for Israeli independence, and he had planned to do so by smuggling himself (and two friends) over the newly formed border between Turkey and Syria. On the phone, she told me that they had been ratted out, caught at the border, and were sent to Turkish military prison, where Izzy allegedly gave a rousing speech about the need for the Jewish state (as the Turks had just gotten their own) and convinced the judge to let him and his two friends serve their military duty for a year. They did so, ironically, through May 14th 1948, the date of the creation of the Israeli state.
The story she began telling me that day continued to unfold over many years, through conversations with my father, and through interviews and oral history work that I did with my grandmother, eventually making its way into the pages of my book.
The idea that their Zionist activism was somehow continuous with my emerging activism was a profoundly validating feeling for me. It presented possibility, when all I had seen around me was impossibility. It was a signal that the story of Jewish liberation ran deeper than the vision and movement of Zionism, only one of its many historical masks, and it includes a much longer struggle – one that is constantly changing and evolving and begging for more vision.
We are entering a new era, in need of new stories, new flags, new worlds, new communities.
The end of one story reveals the beginning of a new chapter as of yet unwritten.
Or, as I write in the book:
“I wonder / is the truth / simply / that stories change, / and no single story will ever bring us to the promised land?”
This message is at the core of A Flag of No Nation.