No, this isn’t a punchline. It’s exactly what I did tonight.
Tonight I was helping people practice their English at an event in Tel Aviv. I love going there to speak other languages and what I’ve realized is sometimes I want to speak my native tongue. And teach people about my culture.
It’s so nice to be validated as an American, an American Jew, and an English speaker in a place where these identities regularly lead people to discriminate against me. To try to take advantage of me. Or to tell me to leave my identities “in the Diaspora”.
So when I sit at the English table to help people practice, it’s nice to meet folks who are genuinely interested in where I’m from.
Tonight, after having fun at the Arabic table, I walk over to the English table. A young woman, Mara, is sitting smiling at me. Nothing reminds me of the world outside Israel more than a welcoming smile. We start talking and it turns out she’s from Sardinia. Sardinia is a fascinating island that’s part of Italy with its own unique history and languages. I’ve learned some about it before, I’m very eager to visit, and I was thrilled to meet my first Sardinian!
We talked all about the language of her island– sometimes so distinct from Modern Italian that other Italians can’t understand. She said she and her husband will speak in their dialects when they don’t want anyone in Tel Aviv to catch on. Something a great many American Jews may recall about their grandparents and Yiddish.
Shortly thereafter, another woman joins us. Corinna is German so I launched into a bit of Yiddish which made her smile 🙂 I love doing this with Germans. It’s a friendly way to show something we have in common- the languages are distinct but share many words- and it’s also a way of showing pride that my identity survives.
Turns out Corinna is fascinated by Yiddish. We talked about Germanic words in Yiddish and Yiddish words like meshugga and kosher that are in German. We even had a good laugh at the word “blitzpost”. In Yiddish, it means “email”. In German, it’s a phrase you’d say if your snail mail arrived quickly. Hence the connection. But really neat to learn from my new German friend about our shared and different identities. Really cool 🙂
Sometimes it can be hard to see progress when you’re living in the Middle East or watching the absolute catastrophe going on in my homeland right now where the government is literally shut down.
And sometimes you experience little miracles that make your spirits fly. Who could’ve imagined, just 72 years after the worst genocide in Jewish history, that a Jew, a German and an Italian would be sitting in Israel speaking English? At a bar? Laughing? Exchanging phone numbers.
And Mara and Corinna aren’t just ordinary Italians and Germans- Mara’s husband works at the Italian Embassy and Corinna interns at the German one. They literally work for their governments.
From a Jewish perspective, you have to understand that if my grandparents met people from the German or Italian governments in Europe, they would’ve been dead.
And here we are. Sharing a beautiful moment, a quotidian moment, a peaceful moment. Making friends with each other.
I’d like to remember this experience for the days when I feel really sad. There are things I see and experience here that are depressing. I don’t think many Israelis or Palestinians or Syrians or really many people in the region right now feel optimism. It just seems to be getting worse by the day. And given the wars, the terrorism, the displacements, the cutthroat politics- I can understand it. Trauma here is real- and in every group imaginable.
I would like to share a bit of hope. If you were to ask someone in 1945, just after the Axis powers murdered 6 million Jews, if they could envision a day in which a Jew, a German, and an Italian would be hanging out in a Jewish homeland- they would say you’re fucking nuts.
And they’d be wrong. Because that’s what happened tonight. Because progress sometimes passes under our noses unnoticed. I feel it is a real blessing to have met Mara and Corinna tonight. We’ve buried the old Axis and made a new one- one that will hopefully be filled with visits to Sardinia, with learning about the German language, with visiting Yiddish libraries and concerts.
Because the seemingly impossible does happen sometimes. When you lose hope, open up this blog or find something around you that makes you look in awe.
Don’t give up.