“Are you Jewish”? A bewildered woman was staring at me as if I were an alien creature she did not know exist. To make sure I am still an actual human being, I took a quick look at my iphone (that serves as a mirror in emergencies such as this), all good, not an alien, just me.
The question was asked when I shared that I am from Israel during a traditional FIka break in a Swedish language class in Western Sweden. Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Buddhist, or a Jehovah witness, does it matter? Whatever happened to the unwritten rules, manners if you will, not to discuss such personal matters with people you’ve barely met. I assumed those rules are universally acknowledged and shall be respected by all regardless of religion, cultural background or political affiliations? OK. “Yes, I am!” a proud response with a smile. “Wow, I would never tell”… Silence. My smile slowly vanishes away, a stone-cold face, I am speechless.
To my relief and delight, one of our classmates who was quietly observing the scene came to my rescue and changed the subject into the “everybody likes to talk about” topic — the gloomy Swedish weather. Thanks, mate.
Since this unforgettable incident, I am wondering how an American or a Frenchman or any other person, for that matter, would actually react in this situation. Will an American show the middle finger? Would the Frenchman raise his voice and respond something spectacularly beautiful and rude at the same time? Will the British politely invite his “opponent” to join him for a drink or two in a pub?
Holding my temper in check and remaining polite is something I learnt to do a lot in Europe. I have been living on the continent for over 10 years and became the master of “politcorrectnost” as we say in Russian. I grew up in Israel with a sense of pride for my Jewish origins but I am familiar with the old good anti-Semitism from my early childhood years in Russia. It is unfortunate that nowadays our Jewishness still makes us feel uncomfortable in Europe. I don’t want to plunge into the obvious discussion about anti-Semitism, politics and social economic issues. Fact is, stereotypes don’t build bridges but destroy the potential to connect and discover each other.
I figure it’s time for a change.
A change that will begin within ourselves, proliferate further and beyond and bring on a new, cool notion of Jewishness.
After all, aren’t we the most diversified people in the world? We are white, we are black and we are Asian. We are European and Americans. We are secular and religious, we speak many languages and we carry a rich history and tradition. We are the start up nation but most of all we are survivors. We must never forget the atrocities that were brought upon our people but we need to transition and diffuse a different message, not that one of a victim but of a nation of strength and innovation that has a lot to offer. We have to be fearless in face of those who keep putting us down because of who we are.
So hear, World: I am a new Jew and I am cool.