«Jewish Observer»
November 2001
5762 Kislev

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Along the beach, just near the water, a camel with a muzzle was going to and fro.

- What is the muzzle for? - asked my daughter. - Not to let him spit?

From this trip to Israel we brought glossy pictures in which I and Masha are all in curable mud from the Dead Sea (after this mud the skin becomes as that of a small girl) and are smiling at the camera. There is also a pile of notes left on occasional sheets of paper, napkins and pages torn from the notebook.

In my bright and dissipated youth I had two close friends - Mashka and Katika. Both blondes, both are Russians.

It was very strict in my family as to the purity of blood.

- You may marry, my daughter, anyone you love. Please, do love a Jew ...

The bitter truth of these words and the correctness of this formula that was designed by centuries of suffering (despite of many exceptions) I learned much later when mass repatriation began.

Some years later Katika with his husband Fima went to America without any trouble. Masha with her husband Borya and one-year old daughter went to Israel. As to me, by the irony of my life, I remained in dilapidated Petersburg until my fate kicked me out into Germany. There in the beginning, I felt like a small fish thrown from the water on the sand and suffocating from the lack of usual air. Soon I got over it by saying: "All this we did and do for the sake of children ..."

Then we went on a visit to Israel. The preparation was long and meticulous. I visited cheap German shops and bought presents to numerous Israeli relatives and friends. At last we went to Israel. "Ben-Gurion" airport met us with dry heat and passionate embraces of our relatives. There were many impressions from Israeli kaleidoscope. They were like colorful little stones at the shore of the Dead Sea. The memory still keeps some scenes, episodes and conversations.

The general impression was as if something thawed inside you. In Germany, especially in the beginning, I felt as if I was cold, frozen like a semi-product, when your soul died down, and you, saving energy, responds only to what is necessary. But in Israel I got warmed up. The reason is familiar faces of old friends, Russian language everywhere, Israeli openness and friendliness. You ask in a bus when to get off and about two dozens of people start explaining to you in Russian the way, interrupting each other: "You, my dear, get off now, pass two streets, then turn to the left and then you'll see the savings bank. Where are you from?"

Here comes a confusion. At first, being frank, I used to answer:

- I live in Germany. But on seeing a strange change on the face of my collocutor, I tried to correct myself.

- On the whole I am from Leningrad.

- What do you do in Germany?

- I live there.

- How can a Jew live in Germany?

There are two damned questions that still bring unrest into my soul when I am asked them because I cannot answer them openly and in a simple way. When answering, I feel that I am not sincere and I simply want to hide my fears. The first one is usually asked by Germans: "Why did you come here?" The second one is asked with a deep malice by Jews living in other countries of the world: "How can a Jew live in Germany?"

As to my friend Mashka, she has got four children at the time of our meeting and got a house of her own in Maale Adumim.

As I understood, Maale Adumim is inhabited mostly by intelligentsia from Moscow and Leningrad, observing shabbat and tradition. Mashka passed through giyur and became religious. I, a 100% Jew, who still remembers Masha as an ordinary Russian girl in wind jacket near the fire at the Komsomol tourist camp, could hardly believe this. First, she almost didn't change in appearance: fair-haired, lively, open and slender though she gave birth to four children. However, after the first day of our happy talking with the usual "Do you remember?" I began to learn more and more new features of Masha. It was a new and unexpected Masha.

- Take off the hat. Why do you wear it in the street? Because of the sun?" Masha looked at me somehow strange.

- I can't.

- Why? - I asked surprisingly.

- A Jew woman can't go in the street bareheaded. Only at home and in front of the husband.

- Is it serious? - I was amazed.

- Yes, it is, - said she and changed the topic. - Okudzhava gives a concert in Jerusalem today, would you mind if I buy tickets?

Shabbat came and I delightfully participated in lighting the candles. But on Saturday I had to call a friend from Leningrad and arrange a meeting with him because only few days left before my departure.

- No, said Masha. - Shabbat is today.

- Listen! - I burst out. - I do respect your God, but for God's sake, let me make a call.

On Monday, I with my 6-year old daughter, Masha with junior children and with her pregnant friend got into Masha's small jeep and went towards the Dead Sea. The dusty road was impressive with its scenery and sights. Here is, for example, a young girl of rare beauty with a machine-gun at her hip at the block post before the Arab settlement, here is a Bedouin thoughtfully riding his camel ... Our children became friends and communicated in Russian. On our way Rivka and David began singing in Hebrew. My daughter was listening attentively trying to understand unknown words. Then suddenly she began singing in German ... What other language could she sing in, except Russian, if she was brought to Germany when she was 3? See how life has fantastically and irreversibly changed our lives, if fair-haired Masha's children sing in Hebrew and my classic Semite girl sings in German. What will happen to us all in some dozens of years?

"Vestnik EAR", Russian

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