Sami Shalom Chetrit
Who Is A Jew And What Kind of A Jew?
1. The story is told:
An American Jew dies and he leaves no children.
In his will, the following is written:
"I hereby decree that all my money and property
be given over to the State of Israel and my last
wish is that I be buried in the Land of Israel.
The undersigned, Isaac Cohen."
The attendants sent the deceased and his money,
according to his last request, to the Land of Israel,
to eternal rest. The clerks of Zion collected
his money and transferred the corpse, as a matter
of course, to the burial society of the Ashkenazi Jews.
They turned his papers upside-down but found no authorization
to determine whether or not he really was an Ashkenazi.
Because of their doubts they deferred, sending him
on to the eternal resting place for Sephardic Jews.
The Sephardi sages sat down to take the matter
under advisement and, in conclusion, their answer
was formulated like this: "The name Isaac Cohen could
be either here or there, and given that this is so,
if he a Sephardic Jew, then we have been privileged
to fulfill a wonderful commandment; and if he is
an Ashkenazi Jew, then we will gladly bury him!"
2. Getting to Know a Friendly American Jew: Conversation
(translated into Hebrew)
Tell me, you're from Israel?
Yes, I'm from there.
Oh, and where in Israel do you live?
Jerusalem. For the last few years I've lived there.
Oh, Jerusalem is such a beautiful city.
Yes, of course, a beautiful city.
And do you...you're from West...or East...
That's a tough question, depends on who's drawing the map.
You're funny, and do you, I mean, do you speak Hebrew?
Yes, of course.
I mean, that's your mother tongue?
Not really. My mother's tongue is Arabic, but now she speaks Hebrew fine.
Oh, 'Ze Yofi,' I learned that in the kibbutz.
Not bad at all.
And you are, I mean, you're Israeli, right?
Yes, of course.
Your family is observant?
Do they keep the Sabbath?
Me, no, depends, actually...
Do you eat pork?
No, that, no.
Excuse me for prying, but I just have to ask you, are you Jewish or Arab?
I'm an Arab Jew.
No, I'm quite serious.
Arab Jew? I've never heard of that.
It's simple: Just the way you say you're an American Jew. Here, try to say
Now, say "Arab Jews."
You can't compare, European Jews is something else.
Because "Jew" just doesn't go with "Arab," it just doesn't go. It doesn't even
Depends on your ear.
Look, I've got nothing against Arabs. I even have friends who are Arabs, but
how can you say "Arab Jew" when all the Arabs want is to destroy the
And how can you say "European Jew" when the Europeans have already
destroyed the Jews?3. When I Left
It was only when I left that I remembered
I hadn't wanted to get so involved,
I really only wanted to tell her
that my first babysitter in Morocco was a Muslim girl
and that I have a black-and-white photo of her in an old album
sitting on the mosaic tiles in the courtyard
and that when I was a new Moroccan stiletto immigrant
I tried in vain to recall a little boy's conversation
with his babysitter in Moroccan Arabic.
And whenever we brought her up, my mother would say:
How she loved you, she never left you for a second.
translated from the Hebrew
by Ammiel Alcalay
Sami Shalom Chetrit ) was born in Qasr as-Suq, Morocco, in 1960. Educated in Israel in Hebrew literature and political science at Hebrew University, he has also lived in Los Angeles and New York. An educator and poet, Chetrit helped establish a new alternative school, Kedma. His first book, Openings (1988), received a prestigious literary prize. He has also published translations of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, as well as Freha is a Beautiful Name (1995). His most recent book in Hebrew is The Ashkenazi Revolution is Dead (1999). "Who Is A Jew And What Kind of A Jew?" first appeared in English in Keys to the Garden, New Israeli Writing, an anthology edited by Ammiel Alcalay and published by City Lights.
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