Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
ANOUCHE SHERMAN (# 15)
Born in Paris, France
Father born in Germany / Mother in France
Ethnic heritage / Father & Mother Jewish (Ashkenazi)
ANOUCHE’S STORY :
Jewish people have experienced discrimination and persecution throughout the ages - in antiquity, under the Roman and Byzantine Empires, during the Middle Ages, at the time of the Crusades, under the Inquisition, through the 19th-century pogroms of Eastern Europe, right up to Nazi Germany’s ‘Final Solution’ and the Holocaust.
To create a safe homeland for the Jewish people after the horrors of World War II, the State of Israel was created in 1948, on lands once part of the Ottoman Empire and then known as Palestine. Israel now has a population of over eight million people, 80% of whom are Jews, and it has prospered, both economically and culturally. Militarily, modern Israel is also very powerful and the most influential nation in the region. Regrettably, internal conflict between Israelis and the indigenous Palestinian population, and external hostilities between Israel and its largely hostile Arab neighbours date from the very inception of the Jewish state and remain a sad reality right to the present day. Nevertheless, for most Jews dispersed throughout the world, the state of Israel is perceived as the all-important, safe homeland, should the world turn to pogroms once more.
Anouche was born in Paris to Jewish parents. Her father, an intellectual and academic - a historian of Philosophy - was born in Berlin into a highly educated and cultured family; her mother, an established artist, was born in Paris into a family of industrialists. Anouche’s parents were liberal, intellectual and observant Jews, studying the traditional texts, the Talmud and the Kabbalah. Anouche observes that, “Unlike the warm and welcoming home of my industrialist grandparents, who were traditional observant Jews, humanistic in their views, lovers of mankind, and who had never lost the common touch, my parents’ home felt rather cold and almost overtly intellectual; they seemed to have lost connection with the real people around them.” Together with Anouche in this slightly chilly ménage were an older brother and a younger sister.
Anouche began primary school in Paris at the age of five, attending a rather exclusive, experimental establishment where there were only ten children to a class. When Anouche was seven, her parents decided, rather impulsively, to emigrate to Israel and to play their part in building the new homeland. The family was housed in an ‘absorption centre’ for new immigrants, located in one of the poorest, most deprived areas of Jerusalem, where her parents attended intensive classes to master modern Hebrew. “To be honest,” says Anouche, “I was totally traumatised. I had been used to living in a large flat in Paris, or in the house of my grandparents, with its nine bedrooms and large gardens, where I spent most of the early years of my childhood. Suddenly, all five of us were living in a tiny, two-bedroom ‘council flat’, built on the site of an old Palestinian village. It was the middle of Winter and there was no central heating and no proper bathroom. It was a profound shock to all of us children.” She attended a rather strict, religious, but co-educational local school, sitting in a classroom with forty others, not understanding a word of what was being said or what was going on. It was a period when street bombs were not uncommon, so rather than travelling by bus, Anouche confesses that she was very independent and walked everywhere on her own.
Once her father had been appointed to a post at the University, they were able to move to a somewhat better flat, though still in a poor, deprived area. “Very early on,” remembers Anouche, “I became aware of the Palestinian people. They were treated as invisible people: you never saw them in shops or at the bank or post office, but I noticed them. I saw them tending to public parks early in the morning on my way to school, and cleaning the staircase in our apartment block when I got home from school. Palestinians were largely treated as second-class citizens; you only ever saw Palestinian people doing manual work, as gardeners and labourers; and I felt sad for them, felt that it was deeply unfair and wrong.”
After the October War of 1973, the whole family returned to Paris for a while. Having looked forward greatly to what she felt was ‘returning home’, Anouche was disappointed: “Paris seemed different: it was no longer the Paris of my early childhood and I was no longer the same little girl. I had learned the lesson that you cannot go back in time, and Paris no longer felt like home. When we returned to Jerusalem, it didn’t feel like home either; I still hated being there, despite having had my illusions shattered about Paris. Unlike me, my parents settled extremely well into Israeli life, and they thrived, prospering in their new homeland.”
The next step in Anouche’s education was attending an experimental school, which consisted of 20 children only; they could do as they pleased and could decide not to attend any lessons if they so chose. This suited Anouche and she passed the time in a world of her own. Having done what she saw as very little work, she was amazed at doing well in the Baccalaureate. Anouche spent every Summer in Europe - in France, and in London to learn English, gradually becoming trilingual. She also started to write poetry at that stage.
By the time she was seventeen, Anouche was already making plans to go to film school in London but, of course, military conscription was now on the horizon. “Already during high school, we engaged in lots of citizenship classes, with discussions about Jewish history and Zionism, and my views were often out of step with the others. I was frequently seen as a ‘traitor’ because I did not take Zionism for granted; I questioned it. I was not patriotic. I did not feel I owed the country anything, but people around me did. I have never had patriotic feelings towards any country. I believe in the individual, and in personal choice. Having successfully avoided the draft, I spent a year as a classroom assistant in a school for deprived children and I mentored a little disabled girl; I’ve always loved children and working with children was a very important experience for me. Later, I spent six months working in a film archive which I adored.”
Then, following her heart, Anouche got engaged to a French journalist and, aged nineteen, returned with him to her beloved Paris. But things did not work out and she decided not to marry him, though they parted amicably. “I was simply too young,” recalls Anouche. Making plans but being unable to raise the funds to pursue film studies in London, Anouche returned to Tel Aviv to study film there, only to discover that the emphasis was mainly commercial, whereas she wanted to make ‘art films’. She made one short film and then left the course, disillusioned and bored. Anouche then moved to Jerusalem University to study Theatre and Philosophy but, feeling bored again, switched to Art School. She got engaged again and spent most of her time with her fiancé instead of attending classes.
Anouche continued to be very critical of Israeli society and its treatment of Palestinians; she was amongst those who saw the idealistic principles upon which the state of Israel had been founded being corrupted by extreme, nationalistic, often racist and reactionary forces from within. “I felt uncomfortable living there and only stayed on because I was trying to complete my education.”
Having met her future husband, Anouche came to London for a week with a small suitcase; she has stayed until now. She was 23 then, it was 1986, and London seemed very exciting. She married soon after and had two children, two delightful girls, and though Anouche devoted herself to motherhood, she continue to be a poet and an artist, generally trying to express herself through her creativity. “I have a great deal of imagination and I’m a creative thinker.” says Anouche. “ I have a lot of ideas and ideas are the source of my inspiration. My student days were my most creative: I was writing poetry, prose and screenplays, drawing, taking photographs, and had acting and singing lessons. I always experimented with new genres and disciplines. Once I married and had children, my priorities shifted towards raising a family and, as my children always came first, there was little time left for my writing.”
Anouche took up serious writing again in 1995, when she was 32, and started to write a lot of poetry in French which she was keen to propel into the world. “I write short prose and poetry in French, and in English, and I write quite intuitively - I don’t plan. I also translate poetry and rather unconventionally, I translate from French (my mother tongue) into English because I feel that to translate poetry, you must understand the poem ‘from the inside’ and that means translating from your mother tongue.”
Anouche says she decided to take part in this project because she considered herself always an outsider. In her childhood, she oscillated between two different worlds, the world of her dear grandparents, the industrialists, which was a practical, down-to-earth world that felt warm and welcoming, and the world of her parents, a world populated with über-intellectuals that was cold and excessively analytical. In Israel, she was seen as French and her critical observations often made her feel unwelcome, but later, having returned to France, she was labelled an Israeli, which felt very strange. In London, while she speaks English well, her French accent makes her stand out too. “ I am French in Israel and French in London but it is not so clear in France. I am a bit of a foreigner in my native land, very much a foreigner in my supposed homeland and a foreigner in my adopted land.”
Strangely, being Jewish has never made her feel an outsider. “I am not one of those Jews who is obsessed with anti-semitism, although I am a second generation holocaust survivor and have all the neurosis attached to it. I have witnessed more racism and discrimination in Israel than anywhere else, not just towards Palestinians but towards anyone voicing criticism of Israel. As soon as you criticise Israel, you are labelled a self-hating Jew as if being anti-Zionistic was synonymous with being anti-semitic. Judaism is not Zionism. As a matter of fact, they are quite opposed: Judaism is a faith, a culture, a history, whereas Zionism is a nationalistic movement. But in some people’s minds, anti-Zionism is perceived to be anti-Jewish.”
“I always struggled to understand how Theodor Hertzel, a nineteenth-century Viennese bourgeois, could ‘make science’ and theorise about the Jewish people coming home, returning to a supposed promised land, a land he had never seen or experienced living in. Perhaps that is why he did not take into account that another people was already living there, that Palestinians had lived there for many centuries. It was a utopia which denied the reality on the ground rather than worked with it or built around it. I fully recognise that Jewish people need to have a homeland, especially after the Holocaust, but I feel that this could have been achieved by sharing the land with the Palestinians. I believe in a one-state solution - two peoples living equally side by side, sharing one land. Also I feel that if any other nation granted absolute priority to one religion over another, in the manner adopted by Israel, it would be accused of a most terrible act of discrimination.”
“It is not just the doctrine but also the politics that I always found troubling. It is important that Jews have their home and can feel safe, but not by the exclusion of another people.” Anouche agrees with commentators who see the monstrous wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories as understandable from the point of view of pragmatic security but, like them, wonders how such a wall could have been conceived and built by a people who had the experience of living in walled ghettos. Now the Palestinians live encircled by such a wall. “The answer to why these things happen is simple, “ she says, “it is to do with human nature itself. There are two possible reactions to having suffered persecution, like someone who’s been bullied: you can become a bully yourself or you can deplore it and promote anti-bullying. I also very much deplore the way that Israel uses the Holocaust to justify everything it does while the opposite should be the case. The first rule of humanism, which is ‘do as you would be done by’, seems to have been misinterpreted in Israel, or turned on its head. So rather than ‘do as you would be done by’, it is something like, ‘do as you were done by’!”
Asked how it feels to be an outsider, Anouche says: “In my experience, others find it difficult to place you, to define you; it can make you feel misunderstood or quite lonely. On the other hand, as an outsider, you can be true to yourself always, you have that freedom. You are not too bothered about what others think of you. My first duty is to myself and to remain true to myself. I have an acute sense of justice and cannot bear injustice, deception and lies. I am motivated by the positive and the good in people.”
Asked what she would do, given the choice not to be an outsider, Anouche says: “No, I am a free spirit. I am a free thinker and I am a creative thinker. For me, there is no clear-cut horizon; I am truly open-minded and you need to be an outsider to feel like that. I have seen so many people around me who conform, but they seem trapped, walled inside the barriers they have erected around themselves.”
Interview Date: 19th June 2013
Updated: 9th August 2013
Anouche's Prose, Poetry, Translations, Photography & Multi-Media Work can be seen at:
Anouche was born in Paris to parents who were liberal, intellectual and observant Jews. She is a trilingual poet and an artist, a free, creative thinker, who also translates poetry from the French. Being Jewish has never made Anouche feel an outsider, but having grown up and been largely educated in Israel, she has witnessed more racism and discrimination there than anywhere else, not just towards Palestinians but towards anyone voicing criticism of Israel. She gradually came to realise that as soon as you criticise Israel, you are labelled a self-hating Jew, as if being anti-Zionist were synonymous with being anti-semitic. Judaism is not Zionism, in her view, but in some people’s minds, anti-Zionism is perceived to be anti-Jewish, and she is emphatically not that.
Photography: London 19th June 2013