May 25, 2005

Are you Jewish?

I am feeling a bit guilty about how I have been neglecting my weblog lately, especially with all the priceless readers I have. But sometimes us humans simply experience what one might call 'just one of those times'. That is pretty much, or even precisely, what I'd call what I have been going through lately. I am still working like a lunatic to save up for university 'registration fees', that have just been raised by 40% (we all know it's tuition in disguise).
But even though life isn't always easy, pleasant and amusing, it does seem to constantly be able to provide you with more of those funny little incidents. Since work is all I've been doing lately, all my recent experiences are related to work. This is why I shall describe the events of today and yesterday, at the little souvenir shop on Reykjavik's tiny shopping street, where I work.

As you know, there are very few Jews in Iceland. There is no Jewish community. There are, however, a lot of people who don't like Jews and/or Israelis. I believe I've been through this. Iceland is certainly not the only place, but it is, after all, where I spend all my time. So since it is all I see, all I encounter, all I come in physical contact with.. it might as well be the whole world where I'm concerned. Or at least for the time being.

Since yesterday I have been asked 3 times if I'm Jewish. The first time the question was "you're not Jewish, or are you..?", with an obvious tone of a sort of mixture of disgust and anger. The second time I was asked with a tone of suspicion, and a degree of seriousness that made me feel almost as if I'd say yes, I'd be confessing to having committed a crime.
During the third time, one the other hand, I was asked with a tone of anticipation and positivity.
So why the difference in attitude?

Yesterday an Australian woman and a British man walked into the shop where I work. We talked a little, and the woman soon told me that they lived in Jordan, but that before that they had been "living in Palestine" (if it hadn't been my job to try to get them to spend money, I would have corrected that term). Further conversation led me to tell them that I had been in Israel, and I made a few 'minor' comments that nevertheless made it clear where I stand. The man asked what brought someone from Reykjavik to Israel? I replied with the question: What leads someone from Australia to Ramallah? (They had been living in Ramallah, and the woman told me I really should visit, since it is 'such a lovely city'). The woman angrily answered that she was doing human rights for palestinians, and that the man was doing water. Then I saw her begin to return the things she had intended to buy, and she headed to the shop accross the street.
The man on the other hand stayed behind and chatted with me for a while and was friendly, trying to make excuses for the woman's behavior. As he was leaving he even said: "So, next year in Jerusalem, perhaps?"..

The second incident was my co worker that day. Since he is new at the job I haven't worked with him before. He insisted on discussing Middle Eastern politics, claiming (like most other Icelanders) that he had most certainly acquired knowledge on the matter, and had therefore formed an opinion. I gave him several warnings to stop. When he had given me a very lengthy speech about how the hamas is 'simply a political organization', I finally got very angry.

The third incident took place today. I've actually had a few similar things happen at work, but they are always a pleasure, and make up for things such as what I mentioned above.
A middle aged Jewish couple from Montreal walked into the shop today, just as I was playing Ofra Haza's 'Yemenite Songs' in the shop. They did a lot of shopping, and stayed for at least half an hour chatting with me. In the end the woman (her name was Miriam) asked me to write my name on the back of the company's card, to be able to 'remember me and tell people about me'. Like all the other Jews I've encountered they wanted to know if there is a Jewish community in Iceland, etc. As they said goodbye, they also left that greeting that is so traditional, and so unbelievably filled with hope: "next year in Jerusalem".

So these were the people who asked if I am Jewish. The answer to that question is of course: No, I am not Jewish. I am just a girl who loves Israel, and a girl who is trying very hard to tell right from wrong.

Posted by Maria at May 25, 2005 09:04 PM | TrackBacks
Comments & Trackbacks

Beside the sad state of a world that dosen't seem to learn from it's lessons it's good to know people like you are out there, I don't think the situation here in Holland is as bad but still there are too many uninformed people that seem to have it all figured out, it's like being in a michael moore/twilight zone convention. But I think the people who run ito me in life learn preaty quickly to get there facts straight. but usualy they learn to shut up ;-) I think booth of us are doing excactly what were here to do.

Posted by: hasidicG at May 25, 2005 11:14 PM Permalink

You guys rock!

Posted by: Alice at May 26, 2005 01:06 AM Permalink

Very nice post. Would you believe I actually had (have, I guess, though I've not seen them in a long time) a couple of very good Icelandic friends who lived here in Boston? You Icelanders are an odd lot!

I'm sure you've seen this, but just in case, here's an essay on anti-Semitism in Iceland:

Posted by: Solomon at May 26, 2005 04:04 AM Permalink

I've seen it. The guy who wrote it, actually has a Jewish father by the way.

Posted by: Maria at May 26, 2005 09:25 AM Permalink

What a wonderful post, Maria!

I believe the people in the first 2 incidents were angry at you because of your opinions, whether you are Jewish or not, but it is sad that just because you think the Hamas is a terrorist organization you are 'suspected' to be Jewish.

You've got some really interesting stories from the shop. But the most amazing thing for me is that they let you play Ofra Haza's Yemenite songs there... I would like to see that!

Posted by: Orly at May 26, 2005 09:44 AM Permalink

Each time I've gotten I always answer, "Why do you ask?". Let them sweat for a moment with being called out on their prejudices!

Posted by: David at May 26, 2005 10:53 AM Permalink

Whoops, obviously that should say:

Each time I've gotten that question I always answer, "Why do you ask?". Let them sweat for a moment with being called out on their prejudices!

Posted by: David at May 26, 2005 10:54 AM Permalink

Thank you for sharing your thoughts again, Maria.

I also often have "odd" experiences when express my support to Israel.

The last (sad) example was in the past weekend, while having lunch with parents, nephews, step-sister, and brother.
After I said that Arafat was the terrorist inventor of plane hijacking, my dear brother said that "Israel has concentration camps"... that was sheer, gratuitous, baseless defamation.

The assumption of prejudice is the death of thought. I will gift him the book Eurabia to help him about the whole issue.


Finishing with a hopeful note, what I find most wonderful is the fact that almost all staunch Israel supporters are lovely people!

Best regards from the place where Nahmanides won the Disputation...

Joel Català

Posted by: Joel Català at May 26, 2005 03:07 PM Permalink

the place where Nahmanides won the Disputation


Posted by: David Boxenhorn at May 26, 2005 07:37 PM Permalink

Orly: I play whatever I want at work. I have the world's coolest boss. He often says 'shalom' when he sees me, and he says that "it's priceless to have a worker who used to volunteer in the Israeli military". (He's funny).

David: I've been thinking about that. I might ask them why they're asking next time.. Oh and there are Jews all over Iceland these days by the way! I just got off the bus where I was helping a couple of Jewish guys find their way to the pool..

Joel: That's a sad and familiar story

Posted by: Maria at May 26, 2005 08:08 PM Permalink

"No, I am not Jewish. I am just a girl who loves Israel, and a girl who is trying very hard to tell right from wrong."

... the world really needs more people like that.

Posted by: yiddishe-kop at May 27, 2005 04:26 AM Permalink

David: You won! :-)

Yiddishe-kop: Yep, you're right. And possibly more Jewish people is needed, too.

Posted by: Joel Català at June 1, 2005 04:27 PM Permalink

Well I sorta take pleasure now in tormenting palestinian supporters it's quite hilarious watching people's reactions when I say I support Israel.

I used to be pretty self-hating - but Not any more! I'm a proud supporter of Israel.

However, I think antisemites should be left alone and ignored, you don't want getting into any more danger than is absolutely necessary. I haven't had much antisemitism but I've had a bit, I think every Jew has had a bit. You just have to not let the bastards get you down ;)

Posted by: rach at June 1, 2005 08:34 PM Permalink

Don't always assume that people are going to disagree with you or be hostile when you talk about Israel. And don't assume that all Muslims, french people, whoever are anti-semetic, because that's not very good either :)

If someone asks me if I'm Jewish I just say yes and if they ask me if I support Israel, the same thing. We normally have some pretty interesting discussions.

Posted by: rach at June 1, 2005 08:37 PM Permalink