The morning after the attack on Westminster I go to the ulpan, the language school I attend five days a week. I’m the only Brit in the class, and the first thing our teacher, Shlomit, does is to ask me if everyone I know in London is ok. She is, I’d say, genuinely sympathetic. We talk about the incident for a few minutes. Terrible, it’s what everyone says, of course. What other response could there be? She shrugs, this is a nation of shruggers, it is the answer given to many questions, and says Muslims, with sad resignation, the weary way people say the name of people who hate them, who want them dead.
We learn the Hebrew for terror attack, pigoo-uh. Much earlier in the course, in the first few days, she taught us the words for suspicious object and bomb, chafetz and p-tza-tza, respectively. They are important to our life here. I would think if you found a bomb the alarm in your voice would be easily understood, anyway. We are soon back to conjugating verbs.
Later, we go to the hall to practice singing a traditional song for Passover, which starts in just over a week. The ulpan will be on holiday then, but we are going on a day trip on Wednesday, part of which will be an early Seder, the Passover meal. Rufina is asked to sing a solo part. She is 29, from Uzbekistan, and wearing jeans and Nikes. She looks like any young American or European, or Israeli, for that matter.
I turn to Josh, 26, who came here three years ago from New Jersey, and has a successful tech start-up, and say that it’s unfair on her. After all, she hasn’t heard this song every year all her life, like the rest of us have. He asks what I mean. I tell him Rufina is Muslim, she moved here a few months ago, from Uzbekistan, with her Russian husband, who is Jewish.
Josh doesn’t quite know what to make of this information. But she isn’t Arabic, he says.
Not all Muslims are, I say.
He thinks for a second. She isn’t wearing the… he mimes hijab.
Not all Muslim women do.
He nudges me again. Really! Really?
Really, I say, shrugging.
Today’s word: chafetz – suspicious object – חפץ