“Really? A Jew?” – 5 real life snapshots beside an Israeli

What do you do when your taxi driver displays three Palestinian flags in his tiny car and then asks you: “where are you guys from?”

I tell you what you do, as I’ve learned during the last 5 years: you don’t answer the truth. And that hurts. And it makes you upset. But this is what you do.

Here are 5 snapshots from the last years that I lined up a year ago. The list grows each day.


Originally published in the Times of Israel on 11/24/2015

***
Being The Girlfriend of Him is not easy. No, not because he would show some very Mediterranean traits now and then, or because he could eat za’atar and Tahini for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or not because he cheers for this weird basketball team called Maccabi. (Weird means: I found the word entertaining).

No. Living with Him is not easy because his passport states: Israeli citizen.

Since I have 10 minutes, I share with you 5 recent conversations just to give you a glance at my life, at our life and what it means to be with an Israeli when you’re not an Israeli, and you’re not in Israel. (You know only 5 because writing takes longer than talking. Otherwise, I would just give you the 10.)

***

Four months into our relationship, one of my best friends – thought, believed, hoped, since then gone best friend – pointed me the question: “Really? A Jew? You needed to get together with a Jew?”
I never saw him again. He never called again.

***

“Yes, my boyfriend is from Israel”.
“Tov-tov, but you [sic] ima Jewish?”
“No, my Ima is not Jewish.”
“You must convert then.”
“I must?”
(Subway talk in downtown Manhattan with an Orthodox Jewish man (!))

***

“Watch him.”
“Why?”
“Because he is OK for you not being Jewish now, but once he puts the ring on you, he will want you to be Jewish.”
“No, I know he won’t.”
“So then his Mother will for sure, they are the worst.”
“His Mother passed away, she will not. And even if she would be alive, she wouldn’t.”
“Well, you know, but I would be very careful”, said my Jewish-hater Jewish classmate at NYU.

***

“Yes, we live together”.
“And his name is this?” (the clerk points on my boyfriend’s ID card)
“Yes, that”.
“Where are you from Sir?” (suddenly, I stop being important)
“This is my file; I think we can focus on me”. (I insist assertively, as I learned)
“But Sir, you’re not European, right?”
“I am British”, says my boyfriend, who indeed has two passports.
“But, you are not British for sure. Where are you from?”
“I am from Morocco”.
I see how my boyfriend is controlling himself, and yet, his little vein on the top right corner of his head gets thicker and thicker.
“Ah, salam aleikum – says the bureaucrat at the local, Belgian commune with pride.

When we leave, I am mad at him. Not the clerk, but my boyfriend.
“Why do you lie about yourself?”
“I don’t lie.”
“Yes, you do. You are not British; you are Israeli, be proud of that.”
“Yes, but this is your file, and I didn’t want to give you trouble.”

I am still mad. Not at him, but the clerk.

It’s not the first time he does this. I mean, it’s not the first time that my boyfriend becomes Marrocconian for a few minutes. He says Morocco, because he’s some roots there, and it eases situations when needed. And it’s needed.

***

“I would take out Hebrew from your CV”.
“But why?”
“Because it can close doors for you.”
“But what if I don’t even want to enter those doors?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I don’t even want to work in a place where I can’t talk openly about my next visit to Israel, or that my boyfriend is from Israel.”
“So, get prepared for some closed doors, my dear.”
(Said an HR agent in midtown Brussels)

***

And for the last four years, I am preparing for those closed doors. And they do come. But what nobody told me that I would get some other doors opened. And perhaps, I’m happier this way.



That Jewish man who made my grandfather a priest

Originally published in the Times of Israel on 9/6/2016

I haven’t seen my grandfather in the last five years. But it wasn’t his fault. And it wasn’t my fault either. It was life and all its complexities around it.

I moved away from Hungary for the second time. After a Russian boy, I partnered up with a Jewish boy. He saw my Russian boy once or twice. He didn’t say a word. But I know it was hard on him. My great-grandfather was taken by the Russians one night, and nobody saw him ever after. My grandmother was hiding in the attic from the Russian soldiers, who came and conquered, sexually assaulting women as they wished. History was just too close. They lived in an era I’ll never fully understand no matter how many books I read.

He never saw my Jewish boy.

* * *

I haven’t seen my grandfather during the last five years. But it wasn’t his fault. And it wasn’t my fault either. It was life and all its complexities around it.

Then my grandmother was taken to the hospital.

The day before that I went to visit my grandparents. I don’t know why. It was a gut feeling.

As a child, I often visited them only to show my father that I loved him. That day — after five years of not visiting and a day before my grandmother was taken to the hospital — I visited my grandparents because I wanted to show them that I loved them no matter what. To show them that I’ve forgiven. To show them that it’s okay that they didn’t hold my hand, that they didn’t call on my birthdays, that they smiled at every child but me and my brother. I wanted to show them it’s all okay; I understand now.

Once I left, my grandfather called up my father to tell him he’d forgotten to tell me a story and if I could pass by tomorrow.

I couldn’t go the next day. Because that was the day when my grandmother was taken to the hospital.

But I did go a few days later.

I have no recollection of ever spending two hours with my grandfather alone. In fact, I’ve no recollection of anything more than five minutes.

He was waiting for me with pictures.

Pictures from the era I’ll never understand. He told me his father was a soldier. I didn’t know that. He told me he grew up in Budapest. I didn’t know that either. He told me about what happened with them during the second World War, then during the Communism, and during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Grandfather
My grandfather with his parents

* * *

But all this is not the story I wanted to tell you. The story I wanted to tell you is about three Jewish men. Two of them died. One of them survived.

The one that survived was saved by my great-grandfather. A man I’ve never met.

“We came home from the city,” said my grandfather, “when this woman was waiting at our doorway. She went down on her knee and kissed my father’s hand.” My grandfather paused for a second, and I saw that he was crying. I was choking on my inner tears. I tried to hold up. I knew if I didn’t, thirty years of tears would come out.

That woman was the wife of the Jewish man that survived. Years later — once her husband had already passed away — she came to my grandfather’s home to say: ‘Thank you for saving us. Thank you for risking your life and hiding us when you shouldn’t have.’

This was my great-grandfather. He risked his life to save a Jewish family. (Like so many Hungarians back then — something, we should talk about more often.) The first time in my life I felt closer to my grandfather; to the little boy in that picture who saw how his father saved this Jewish family.

The other two Jewish men died. And we’re around 1944 when they did.

“I was somewhere in Germany with my unit. We’re marching towards Hungary. They didn’t let us walk during the day, only by night, in the dark. We walked kilometers upon kilometers. Some of us never returned home. One night they gave us a few minutes of rest by a dike. I sat down with my mates as I felt my boots were touching something, but I couldn’t see what. I looked for my small torch and made some light. It was a Jewish man. He was shot. Right in his head.”

He pauses, and I see how much I don’t know my grandfather.

“I remember clearly; that was the first moment I knew I wanted to be a priest.”

The other Jewish man also died.

“He was shot. Right there, on the street. They said: don’t feel sorry, he was Jewish.”

Somewhere between the words, I’ve learned that my priest grandfather knew about my Jewish man. He didn’t say anything.

So I talked.

I told him how my trip to Israel in 2011 changed my life. How I started to learn Hebrew and how I love being in Israel. I told him that nobody ever wanted to convert me yet. (Except that Hasidic Jew in Times Square. But I didn’t tell him this). That I, the gentile is treated with love and care by the Jewish people. That I, the Christian is going to Shabbat dinners.

I couldn’t read him. He listened but didn’t say anything.

* * *

Two hours passed when I said bye.

But before could leave he said: ‘Next time bring your Jewish man with you. I’d love to meet him. They’re good people; the Jews.’

I said fine and put my sunglasses on before it’s too late. Before he would see that thirty years of pent-up tears are finding their way out.

This is the story I wanted to tell you. The story of my priest grandfather who became a priest because of the cruelty he saw against the Jewish people. The priest who smiled at every child but me. The priest who made me stop going to church and with that made me connected to Judaism.

And no, he has no idea about this latter one…