My mother with a big smile asked the western looking two young kids (about 4 and 6 years old) sitting on the table opposite us– at our neighborhood KFC– about their country of origin:
“You speak Arabic with a “Shamy accent” are you from Syria?”
At this point their mother who was probably using the rest room came in with a frown on her face and held her two kids close and answered:
“We are from Israel!”
My mother immediately pulled our arms tightly and her face transformed from a big smile to the most hateful face I ever remember her giving to anyone “stay away from them, don’t speak or play with them, do you understand!” my mother yelled.
We knew better than to argue with that face. We (meaning my sister and I) were fourteen years old and very confused.
After making our speedy exit from the restaurant and sat in our car the questions started:
“But mom, they were only children, and the war has been over for decades”
“the war is never over! we were sent faulty weapons that blew up our soldiers instead of shooting the enemy”
We are not a war generation, we will never understand. Is what my mother always said.
The first time I set foot in America I saw a jewish man dressed in his full jewish attire, I started to point at the jewish man to my husband (he promptly put my hand down and reminded me about the rudeness of my gesture) “I’ve never seen a visibly Jewish person before, only on TV” –which now that I think about it is curious since I traveled to Europe before.
A couple of years later we permanently moved to America. Our first upstairs neighbors were two American graduate student girls from New York, they were also Jewish. They invited me to Latke pancakes on Hanukkah and gifted Mei with a hand knit baby hat with a knotted cord at the top to represent the umbilical cord. They brought us meals on my first week of recovery from labor and one of them sold authentic Jerusalem olive oil to help support the palestinian olive tree farmers. I am not a war generation, I will never understand…
I have a Jewish cousin whom I’ve met only once in my life. My uncle was married to a German woman, had a son and a daughter, then got divorced. They were raised in Germany. The girl was raised christian and the boy converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. The last time I saw them, they were teenagers and I was in kindergarten. I used to get a kick out of the fact that I have a Jewish cousin. I find it normal now that I am married to an American myself.
After having my first born by a month my mother made it to America for the first time in her life (also possibly the worst winter she’s ever experienced in her life). I did not tell her that my neighbors were Jewish and we all hid from her that my husband’s aunt, my dear aunt (the woman who spent many nights and days of Mei’s early months with us caring for her and allowing a first mama some precious sleep and making wonderful healthy meals) was ethnically Jewish. We wanted my mother to give her a chance, and at the very end of my mother’s stay, we told her. Quick background about my mother, if you’ve watched any greek or Mediterranean movies before and think these people are passionate, I have one questions for you: have you met my mother? During her brief stay, my mother grew to LOVE my dear aunt. So naturally when she found out she was shocked and devastated. She cried for a long time and then… she hugged my husband’s aunt. We are not made of stone, we have our loyalties, our culture and our experiences but we also have a heart.
Now my mother explains to her friends (who I assume are from the same war generation) “No, they’re not all bad, there’s a difference between Zionists and Jewish people. I met a good one, trust me”
There is this recent controversial advertisement that is in several NYC subways. It is really offensive to say the least. Jihad is an arabic word to mean struggle. The highest ranks of Jihad is Jihad al nafs or the struggle against ones lower self. My mother accepting her heart and love of this wonderful woman over her culture, upbringing and her generation was a high form of Jihad. If what my mother did was savage, and this racist message is an act of the civilized man. Than I believe we should all support “the savage”.
Also thank you to our Jewish cousins.