On Yom HaShoah, a day to commemorate the people who suffered from the terrible, extreme racism of World War Two, Shlomit says that she can’t help it, but she is a little bit racist. I don’t suppose it’s accidental, it had to be today, everyone is thinking about it, that’s what today is for. Israel takes it very seriously; everything stops at 11 for two minutes silence, even traffic on the motorway. Cafés are closed. Entertainment is not appropriate, tv mostly closes down, except to re-show Schindler’s List. Then, to excuse herself, I suppose, to let herself off the hook she has put herself on, Shlomit says that everyone is a little bit racist.
She says there is a man who hangs around outside, where she lives, a black man, are you allowed to say that? she doesn’t want to give offence, and he is sweet to her, he helped her with her car, but she is nervous around him.
She goes around the class asking people if they are a little bit racist. Most people nod and say yes. Nathan says, Of course, it’s natural. I know this about Nathan, and try to change the subject when he gets onto ‘Muslims’. I’ve tried arguing with him and he grows louder and speaks more quickly and is more certain he’s right. Don’t ask his views on the EU or immigration, is my advice.
Shlomit gets to me. I try not to be.
I hear casual racism so often in Israel, it isn’t said angrily, but wearily, it’s always given with a shrug, What can you do? It’s how people are, they hate us, we hate back.
I, hopelessly, trying to lighten the room, but, actually, it’s only me and the East coast Americans, Josh, Megan and Saarit, that don’t nod and say yes. Everyone else thinks a little bit of racism is normal. I say, There was that song from Avenue Q, Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, but it’s best if I don’t try to sing it.
Before I can explain that this was satire, Nathan and Shlomit leap. See! Even you say it.
No, I try to tell them, I didn’t mean I agree, but they sit back, satisfied that I have done just that, argument over.
After two months learning, or, at least, attending, I cannot speak Hebrew. I can express a few simple thoughts. I can name most of the days. I know the past tense, there is only one, only one future, too. But words don’t stick in my brain. I’m at the upper end of the age at which it’s possible to learn a language, and I’ve stopped enjoying the lessons.
I wasn’t very well that night, something, of course, that came from food I bought at the organic health-food shop. At 5am, awake all night with stomach ache, I decided not to return to the ulpan. I have no future there. And, how does this work, my pain subsided. I fell into a peaceful, dreamless sleep. So there you are.
Today’s word: shoah – Holocaust – שואה