Ibrahim Shihabi and I found each other at “People to People” the foreign students club in the San Fernando Valley. We became close friends.
“Abe” sought me out, he heard I was a Jew from Japan.
Did I know Florence, a Polish Russian Jew, the love of his life? Yes, of course, she was a year older than me, we grew up together in our small Jewish community in Kobe, Japan. Her father, a Holocaust survivor, was one of the lone Ashkenazi voices in our Sephardic Mizrahi dominant synagogue.
I didn’t know why she was not returning for her second year until I met Abe. He was not only Syrian, he was Muslim. They were lovers. He was not what her parents expected her to find in the America we were all waiting for as stateless Jews in Japan.
Abe exuded a familial warmth, we had more in common culturally than I did with my new (exclusively Ashkenazi) American Jewish friends.
He alleviated my dismay as I found myself an outsider among American Jews.
I thought I was coming to a country where my Jewish identity would be obvious.
I imagined Jews in America were aware of our common heritage as a People.
Horrified, I clung to Abe when my Jewish girlfriend in the dorm informed me how her mother warned her to “be careful, those Jews are dirty.” At least she was aware of our existence, I thought, and my new Jewish friends loved my “tan.”
Most of the Jewish (“Jew” was “impolite”) kids I met, and their parents, looked at me as if I was kidding when I said I was an Egyptian-Iraqi Jew. What? There’s no such thing.
No Yiddish speaking grandparents? No lox and bagels? Stateless from Japan? And born in India?
The ignorance was staggering.
As if Abraham and Sarah were from Poland.
Abe made Arabic food for me, and I didn’t bring up why my family was stateless or the second-class status of Jews under Islam before they kicked us out. He knew of course, but it was the old don’t ask don’t tell. We talked about his heartbreak, my new boyfriend, our classes and anything but.
I colluded by pretending Jew hatred was the domain of Europeans, what Florence’s family, Survivors, went through.
We didn’t bring up Israel.Until 1967. Until the Six Day War when the Arab states attacked Israel.
Finally, we “had the conversation” we avoided for three years.
The “problem will soon be over” he said, “Israel must go.” He was sure of it.
“But you like Jews, you’re in love with a Jew” I said as if he needed reminding.
“Of course! but Israelis?” he spat out. “NO.”
Why, I challenged him, why must Israel go, why must Israelis be driven to their deaths. Why this version of Anti-Semitism? Why can’t this tiny country the size of New Jersey, with half the population full of Jews kicked out from Arab lands survive?
It’s not as if I didn’t know deep down that according to Islam, Jews can never be equal to Muslims. Israel’s existence defied that law. Defied the Dhimmi law that Jews and Christians must pay for the privilege to exist as infidels in Muslim lands. As “protected minorities.” Until they aren’t.
Not one single Arab nation imagined Israel would survive their onslaught in 1948.
To get even, they tortured, pauperized, and kicked out close to one million of their Jews. Leaving most of the Middle East and North Africa Jew-free. Except for the thorn in their gut, Israel.
The modern State of Israel changed the status of Jews. We are no longer a powerless stateless people at the mercy of anti-Semites. We cannot take this for granted in a world that has a problem with liberated Jews/Zionism.
By the end of the Six Day War Abe was in a rage.
He was ok with staying friends though, because it was only a matter of time before they “drive Israel to the sea once and for all.” He could afford to be generous, let’s have some tabouli, and focus on our similarities.
A growing group of American Jewish educators are positioning themselves to do exactly what Abe proposed I do, by rallying support for Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour and chiding those of us who refuse with their misplaced “Islamophobia” guilt.
Calling on the Jewish community to “separate” her violently anti-Israel stance from “who she is,” I wonder at the wisdom of our educators. I expect more from them, I expect them to reject Sarsour’s terrorist sympathizing BDS activism and her shared platform with Rasmeah Odeh, the convicted terrorist, the way I rejected Abe’s rhetoric.
There is no “separation” when it comes to Israel’s survival as a Jewish country. The fact that she helped raise money for a vandalized Jewish cemetery does not override her refusal to accept Israel’s existence.
What gives me hope are the Jews who don’t cave, the Muslims who see through Hamas driven agendas, the feminists who see through sharia promoting acts. What keeps me hopeful are the Christians, minorities, gay people, who have fled terror and persecution in their native lands under Islam. Their courage to speak up for those still trapped and cannot.
They are the allies who deserve Jewish support. Not the Abe’s, not the Sarsours, not the Odehs & Co.