“So…?” he asks me with a mischeveous smile, putting his hand on the roof of the car that I’m leaning against, “where is your family from?”
“Where are they from?” l peer at him and give him a look that says “hey-excuse me-these-are-the-1980s-who-gives-a-damn-where-my-family-is-from?”
“Yes, where are they from?” He doesn’t read what is in my eyes, “Where did your parents come from?”
We are standing on one of the most beautiful streets in Haifa, on Mount Carmel, on a Friday night. The air is cool, the clear sky is glittering with stars and I am hoping that this handsome guy, who invited me to go outside because the noise of the party won’t let us hold a conversation, will end up asking for my phone number.
“My parents were born in Israel,” I reply with the unconcealed pride that had been ingrained in me since childhood, though I didn’t really understand why.
“And their parents?” he continues to interrogate me as if he were a surveyor from the Bureau of Central Statistics.
A sense of missing the mark starts to percolate in my belly. He made such a good impression when he approached me in the middle of the party, theatrically announcing that he could not resist talking to a girl who knows the lyrics to a Cat Stevens’ song by heart.
“If Cat Stevens led us to speak with one another, I am curious to see where Marian Faithful will take us,” I answered him with the wittiness of a teenager, while humming: ‘falling from grace, falling from grace.’
But now, all of a sudden, he is interrogating me about my ethnic roots and I am embarrassed and confused because I have no idea what the right answer is or which response will make him ask for my phone number.
“I am three quarters Polish,” I reluctantly choose to tell him the truth – “and the other quarter…” I hesitate, “well, I am the tenth generation of people who were born in Israel. An old family from Safed.”
He looks at me with a glazed look that does not reveal either his intentions or whether my answer was to his liking, and then he leans closer to me, the distance of a kiss away, and whispers: “well, Sharon, you should know that the additional quarter is very sexy…”, not knowing that the importance that he attributed to my ethnicity had eliminated any desire on my part to embark upon any kind of relationship with him.
I remembered this story this week, when my son asked me what ethnicity we are, and when I explained to him briefly about our family tree, he continued to inquire: “but I did not ask you what country our family is from, I asked you what ethnicity we are.”
“I understand your question, but a person’s ethnicity is determined by the place his family came from,” I tried to imbue my response with logic.
“But we all came out of our mothers’ tummies,” my little boy stated-announced the obvious. The obvious, which for some reason always eludes the grown-ups.
Translated from the Hebrew by Rina Ne’eman