On May 3, 2019, a coalition of Palestinian activists from the local villages of Susiya, At-Tuwani, and Umm al-Kheir joined with the Center for Jewish Non-Violence and the All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective to repair a main access road that critically connects five Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills. The occupying Israeli Civil Administration had permitted the road to decay to such an extent that villagers must hire tractors to transport in some of the most basic life resources, such as water.¹ By the end of the day on May 3, 15 activists (along with two Palestinian journalists) had been violently arrested.
What can tikkun possibly mean in such a context? When acts of Palestinian, Jewish, and Israeli repair, even at the scale of road infrastructure, are violently foreclosed by the government and military of the so-called Jewish state? In the face of such violence, the utopian optimism that nearly always reigns over invocations of tikkun—reducing it to toothless platitudes, often strung together from the most superficial grazing of kabbalistic sources—only works to defer confronting the magnitude, specificity, and urgency of the damage. Contemporary Jewish power relations clearly complicate any simplistic allusions to repair as an unambiguous “Jewish value.”
At the same time, as scholar Jodi Melamed recently argued, “road repair done as direct action against the occupation and its cruel logistics makes a good symbol for the infrastructures of steadfastness being built between North American Jews, Southern West Bank Palestinians, and the Israeli left.” There are thus multiple dimensions and “speeds” (as Melamed describes them) of repair at play. The act of manual repair itself, transformed into a nonviolent direct-action tactic, builds relational infrastructures that mend the separatist logics dividing Jews, Israelis, and Palestinians. Melamed’s language of “steadfastness” even points beyond repair toward the Palestinian ethic of sumud, bringing the material and symbolic registers of repair together with strategies of Palestinian existence and resistance.
The Hebrew word tikkun appears in a variety of textual contexts and is stratified into multiple layers of meaning. This multiplicity is often lost today, especially when pop-spiritual hucksters flatten tikkun into a mass-produced lifestyle brand, or when non-profit managers market tikkun olam (repair the world) to reproduce communal wealth. However, Jewish texts over two millennia have stretched tikkun to account for rabbinic legislation, bodily care, emotional wellbeing, cosmic/messianic reparation, and beyond. It offers a complex, uneven topography for (re)imagining political justice, individual and collective health, and ecological futures.
Tikkun is also particular, giving shape to primarily reparative acts that demand continuity in the face of rupture. Assuming a state of brokenness, repair does not demand original purity but experiments with the destruction that is, setting it in motion. Curators of a Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum exhibition that I visited this past winter, “Repair and Design Futures,” cited philosopher Elizabeth Spelman’s definition: “Repair is the creative destruction of brokenness.” Her double-negative, so to speak—“destruction of brokenness”—implies that repair does not accomplish a return to an unbroken state. Rather, repair plays with wreckage in order to mend the brokenness at hand, positioned like the Angel of History turned backward to the pile of debris.
Riffing on Marx’s definition of communism in The German Ideology (1845), the mysterious far-left European collective Tiqqun described their name in their Theory of Bloom (2001) as “not an assignable point, sooner or later, in the future—even if it is also that—but rather the ‘real movement that abolishes the existing state of things.’” Within such a revolutionary movement, the worlds of words and aesthetics play a vital role, providing the ground on which our present orders can be rearranged, reimagined, and overcome. The Tel Aviv-based Communists Anonymous (COMA) collective reminds us that “the most vital dialectics in human history are at play in fiction contradicting reality.”² This issue conjures such speculative and imaginative fictions, from the past and from the future, and brings them to bear on our seemingly inescapable, ever-accelerating present.
Such a movement abolishing the existing state of things is ironically evident in the older, reparative poetics of Avot Yeshurun, translated here by Ariel Resnikoff: “in a language of rags/I called-out a poem.” Stitching together Yiddish and Arabic, khurbn and nakba, Yeshurun creatively refuses the politics of Hebrew domination and undermines the possessive investment in Holocaust memory. In a wide-ranging conversation with writer and curator Ariel Goldberg, Tucson-based activist Laurie Melrood reflects on the American Jewish failure to understand U.S. imperialism and war, and shares her own journey toward connecting fragmented zones of poverty, violence, and power in both political analysis and activist praxis. Nicki Green’s glazed earthenware opens up different forms and phases of alchemy, sequencing the transformation of matter within trans and Jewish frames of spirituality and the body. With her sculptural installation, Hannah Chalew takes the charged context of the Louisiana gulf to imagine future landscapes of ecological abundance and degradation.
Chalew’s practice both echoes and challenges the following ancient words of midrash: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it.” The contributions to this issue do not all take the possibility of tikkun/repair, nor the value of tikkun olam, for granted. Isaac Brosilow returns to a forgotten group of Kerry James Marshall artworks exhibited at the Spertus Museum of Judaica in 1994 and suggests how focus on repairing relations between supposedly discrete Black and Jewish communities conceals the more complex cultural lines moving across particular Black and Jewish cultures. In a series of contributions specifically devoted to expanding and probing the concept of tikkun olam, Gabi Kirk interrogates how ideologies of tikkun olam in North American settings of “eco-Judaism” can reproduce settler-colonial logic by fetishizing indigeneity.
The particular shape of Tikkun implies the revolutionary and messianic dimensions of even small or mundane acts, highlighting how different scales and speeds of transformative change are coordinated into more general and complex visions and goals. Its attention to the small or mundane does not necessarily distract us from big, structural solutions—although it may. Attention to the small scale or the slow speed has the advantage of redirecting our gazes away from the hypnotizing and paralyzing screens projecting images of insurmountable catastrophe. Above all, Tikkun and repair raise the possibility of transformation over that of eradication (or incarceration, or retribution, or extermination). They are practices that push through the rubble of this world and rework it to craft another.
- In Area C of the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Civil Administration severely restricts local Palestinian residents from making even basic infrastructure improvements in their villages, and virtually never grants them a formal construction permit
- Solution 275–294: Communists Anonymous, eds. Ingo Niermann & Joshua Simon (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017), 13