Just before I turned 20, I was an impoverished student and a lousy waiter who settled in Tel Aviv on the couch of a Jewish friend from university. Between work and studies, I didn’t spend more than five hours a day in the apartment and he agreed to put me up for more than two years in return for a pittance (he refused at first to take even that but I insisted). Life went on as usual until the night between 1994 and 1995 when my friend dragged me to a party, and there she was. She came with her friends, and the first words I heard her say were “I thought Arabs don’t drink alcohol.” At midnight I was rewarded with a kiss.
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She was in the same faculty as I was, a year below me, and except for the puzzled look I got from her friends the first time I joined them for lunch, the liberal hothouse of Tel Aviv University protected our couplehood for more than a year. Life in the city was beautiful. Pressured, exhausting, confusing, but beautiful.
After six months of living together, her parents came to visit. She warned them ahead of time and reassured me, saying they voted Meretz. I thought the visit went well, but that evening I saw that something had changed. A month later, I was back on my friend’s couch. We’ve kept in touch since then, and although it wasn’t necessary, she explained to me. Her grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, she is an only child, her parents gave everything for her. We both knew that it apparently wouldn’t work. It wasn’t easy to admit it, but over time, I guess I agreed with her.
In an article in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition, Profs. Yedidia Stern and Avi Sagi explain why they believe Dr. Aharon Meir Mazia was not racist, even though he asked his grandson to marry a Jewish woman, as recounted by his great-grandson, Miron Izakson, in these pages (“Phasing out Jewish Identity, July 18). According to the professors, there is nothing wrong or racist about that. Parents want their children to preserve the collective identity into which they were born.
There is no doubt that a homogeneous national, religious and cultural group has the right to steer its offspring to choose partners who are like them, just as parents have the right to raise their children as carnivores or vegans, as long as no harm is done to them. Is there something wrong with that? Yes. Was Dr. Mazia a racist? Yes, like most Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike.
The liberals who call this racism, write Sagi and Stern, are blind to “the particular human group experience.” However, even the most radical liberals recognize the experience that Sagi and Stern speak of, but they give this tribal awareness secondary importance in their value system. In contrast, one must undergo lengthy brainwashing, the kind that requires an entire childhood and beyond, to be blind to the similarity between the desire to perpetuate the pure Jewish dynasty and any other racial doctrine. In the end each of us married a member of “our own kind.” She’s been living in Canada for a decade now with her partner, while I remained here. But we continued to correspond. “Look,” I wrote her, attaching a link to the article by Sagi and Stern. “Our parents were worse,” she answered. “At least they were polite,” she wrote, and continued in the optimistic tone that was so typical of her even then, “and our children will care about it even less than we do.”