lundi 21 mars 2016
A LONELY JEW IN LONDON
A LONELY JEW IN LONDON
My first long term visit out of Australia, as a Jew and a teenager was to Sweden. Coming from a traditional Jewish community in Melbourne, I was astounded by the liberal, open-mindedness without any historic drama dripping out of their long gorgeous blond hairs of the Swedish classmates and surprised that they had obviously grown up without social obligations (common in a Jewish community). I remember clearly, thinking to myself, being a traditional but non-religious Jew is to feel “abnormal” in this diversifying, globalizing world.
We are good Australians, good South Africans, good Americans and until recently good French, but the complexity of the world with populations of diverse origins made us realize that some of those among whom we lived, didn’t actually share that opinion. Obviously we were not French enough, despite what the PM Manuel Vals and President Hollande emphasized wanting the French Jews, knowing they were leaving France in the thousands. (8000 French Jews migrated to Israel in 2015 alone), leaving the beauty, haute culture and the language of Paris for the safety of Israel.
Timmerman, an argentine writer and human rights activist, asked his mother when he was a little boy: Why do they hate us?
They hate us because they do not understand us, replied his wise mother.
I feel lonely in London as Pesach approaches, having lost my mentor and friend Cecil Hellman with whom I could have discussed these things. Strangely enough, London is the only city I want to be in Europe. The comfort of familiarity from my student days here allays the fear, suspicion and the uncertainty.
Natan Sharansky (who was jailed for 9 years for protesting against the oppression of Soviet Jewry) expressed a view that rings a bell
“I hope I am wrong but this century may be the last century for Jews in Europe”
These conflicting thoughts don’t occur to me when I am in KL or Malacca or Fort Cochin. In those places, I am a visitor and perceived as such, despite looking like a local, but in the West, these thoughts arise from being part of the west: physically, emotionally and intellectually.
I am a good citizen, contribute to the society, a humanitarian physician, I am part of the fabric of the society in the west, but that is not the case in Malaysia, India, Colombia or Brasil.
Yet why am I so happy in those places? There, I am not marginalized but exotic. I am not marginalized in the west either. Two things which affords this exoticism to me in the East: my devotion to Cuba and being Jewish does not carry any social weight in the West.
Sitting at the breakfast room at this lovely hotel near Green Park, enjoying the best of the British, I felt lonelier than I felt at Double Tree by Hilton in Kuala Lumpur or Hotel Equatorial in Malacca.
Cubanidad (Cuban-ness) is a mantle of protection and strength in countries that share cultural roots and language, but the symbolism that needs to be transacted here is at yet another cultural level, it is not found in the elegant silence of this breakfast room, but perhaps in a hospital ward or a lecture theatre of an university where WHAT I am ( Doctor of Medicine, Professor of Anthropology) will be far more respectable than the rhythm of my soul for Cuba or the curiosity of the mind of this Jew.
In his comments at the Brown event (where the new anti-Semites chanting for human rights tried to disrupt), Mr. Sharansky encouraged students to explore and claim their Jewish identity. “First of all, always remember from where you came,” he said. “If you want to make the world a better place…you have to be strongly connected to your roots and your identity. This is your source of power to change the world.”
PS Hag Sameach soon and can someone help me find a Seder to attend in Buenos Aires?