Sunday, March 25, 2012

Story - A Jewess and an Arab


A Story of a Jewish Girl Married to an Arab Man
12/22/10


"Mommy is always crying," 6- year old Suha thought to herself as she came into the house and put her school bag away. Her older brother Machmud pushed her out of his way, threw his back pack on the floor and entered the kitchen. "I'm hungry!" he declared.

Mommy was crying, but he didn't even glance at her. She served him his lunch and he gobbled it up, demanding more before Suha even finished half of hers.

"How was school?" Mommy asked, her red and swollen eyes caressing her beloved children. Machmud didn't bother to answer. Suha ducked her head as she remembered the incident on the playground; she would wait until her brother wasn't in the vicinity before she told her mother about it.

Frightened wails from the children's bedroom told them eighteen month old Maryam had woken from her nap. Mommy went to tend to her youngest child and Machmud helped himself to shvarma from Suha's plate. She had learned long ago not to protest her brother's outrages, and she wasn't very hungry anyway.

Only after Machmud left the table and ran outside to play with his friends did Suha clear and carry their dishes to the sink. She climbed on a low stool and washed and dried them and put them away.

Mommy came in with the baby and smiled at her daughter's initiative. "How was school today, Suha?" she asked.

Suha hesitated, lowering her eyes.

Hannah noticed. "Did something happen?"

Suha nodded and looked at the floor.

"Did you get in trouble for something?" her mother asked in surprise, because Suha was a very good little girl. The child shook her head slightly to indicate the answer was negative.

"You didn't know the answer in class?"

That made Suha laugh. She was the smartest girl in the first grade, and the darling of her teachers; but when she remembered the incident today her expression sobered.

"What happened, dolly?" Dolly was her mother's pet name for her, and Suha loved to hear it.

"There was a fight during recess," she admitted.

"A fight? Who was fighting?"

"Machmud and some others."

"How many others?"
"Four or five. Maybe more."

"What was the fight about?" Hannah didn't really care about boys' fights, but she was worried Suha seemed so upset just because her brother had it out with some of his classmates. Machmud was a strong child and she was confident he could take care of himself.

"I don't know." Her denial was not convincing.

"So why is it bothering you so much?"

Suha smiled for a second, loving her mother for understanding what she had not yet said, and then she took a deep breath and said the word she had heard, "Mommy, what's a Yahud?"

Hannah was stunned. "Who said it?"

"Everybody. The boys chanted it and Machmud wanted to kill them. Their sisters in my class were all saying it too. Mommy, what's a Yahud?" Her voice betrayed desperation.

Hannah put Maryam down to play on the floor and held her arms out to her big girl. Suha burst into tears, and Hannah sobbed with her. How could she explain to her little daughter she and her children were Jewish, even though she had abandoned her birthright to marry their father?

After a few minutes Suha calmed. It felt good to be held in her mother's loving arms, to feel the smoothness of her dress against her cheek, and to hear Mommy's steady heartbeat against her ear. "I don't want to go back to school anymore," she whispered. "I hate them."

Hannah sighed and hugged her closer. She wished she could protect her children, and felt guilty it was her doing their lives were destined for misery.

Maryam was playing contentedly at her mother's feet, and Suha's even breathing told her the child had drifted into sleep. Hannah looked out the window at the brilliant blue sky of Palestine and remembered.

She remembered herself as a teenager, self centered, rebellious and totally lacking in self confidence. Hannah had gone with her friends to the mall. It wasn't something she especially wanted to do, but she didn't have the courage to stay away when her whole gang were so enthusiastic. Their loud talks interrupted frequently by raucous laughter, the group of girls had wandered in and out of shops, touching everything like toddlers, and trying on clothes they had no money to buy. Hannah had allowed herself to be swept along impetuously from one empty activity to the next.

At one point the group was sprawled over a café table, and they decided to order cokes which was all they could afford. A waiter came over to take their order. He looked like a movie star, tall and athletic with a golden tan and jet black curls that framed his face emphasizing his dark lashed brown eyes. Somehow her gaze met his and she quickly looked away. Suddenly Hannah was embarrassed at her girlfriends' giggles and gum popping, but they didn't notice her discomfort. The waiter smiled and made jokes with all of them. When he returned with their drinks on a tray he handed out the paper cups and on the one he gave to her was a note. She peeked inside and it said "Meet me here at eight o'clock".

She shouldn't have, and she didn't really mean to, but when she got home her parents were fighting and they yelled at her and she couldn't stand it so she left the house.

Her feet brought her back to the mall, and somehow she wound up back at the café exactly at eight. The waiter greeted her with a broad smile that warmed her heart. It felt so good someone was relating to her as a person. Hannah fell into his plans like a ripe fruit.

Ali didn't tell her at first he was an Arab. He let her think he was a Jewish boy from a Sephardic home. Over the next few weeks he spent a lot of money on the shy Jewish girl, taking her places to eat and buying her jewelry and magazines. Hannah believed him when he told her he thought she was beautiful and intelligent and special. The emotional abuse at home and her feelings of inferiority at school receded into the distance when she was with Ali.

By the time he revealed his ethnic origins, it didn't seem especially important any more.

It's hard to keep secrets. Word got to her parents about the Arab she was seeing and they confronted her. With newfound confidence she retaliated verbally and told them what miserable people they were and how she hated them. Their response was to throw her out of their house and tell her they never wanted to see or hear from her again.

The satisfaction she felt from finally speaking her mind was short lived. She had nowhere to go except back to Ali, and he welcomed her with open arms.

They were married in his village after she went through a ceremony that officially converted her to Islam. Ali knew how to assuage her conscience with sweet words and presents, and she was happy at first.

A few months later things changed. Arab women are expected to live very restricted lives. They may never step out of their homes unchaperoned, they must fill their husband's desires without argument, and when in public they had to wear head coverings to hide their faces. Now that compliments and gifts were no longer necessary, Ali helped Hannah adjust to her new role with his fists.

In her parent's home she had been unhappy, but nothing compared to the misery she now endured. She found herself missing her mother and father, brothers and sisters, even the exams at school—but she could not imagine returning to them. Staying with Ali was better than shamefully admitting her failure.

Hannah learned to adjust. "I can't bear the sound of a woman crying," her husband threatened, and so she obediently stifled her tears when he was around. From the early morning until the night she was occupied cleaning and cooking, washing laundry, hanging it up and bringing it in. There was no electricity in the house, and they had to use kerosene lamps for light. There was no telephone to contact the outside world.

When Ali came home from work he never noticed the floors were washed and the house was clean and orderly. He hardly even acknowledged her existence until she had poured water over his hands, given him a towel to dry them, and put his dinner plate on the table in front of him. In the beginning Hannah had been afraid he would be disappointed.

"Is everything all right?" she would ask timidly. "Perhaps it needs more salt?"

Ali had regarded her sternly and answered, "If I eat it, it is good. If it is not good you will know it soon enough." She understood his intentions and every meal became an endurance test. Ali never complained, but he beat her whenever he was not satisfied.

Occasionally women from her husband's family came to visit. They sat in her living room and drank black coffee while they gossiped. From their high pitched chatter it seemed to Hannah all of them had married men who mistreated them, as if it were self understood. Their complaints went around and around in circles in a kind of plaintive ritual punctuated by shrill laughter.
Read the rest here.

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