'Post’ traumatic syndrome

I thought that nothing could be added to the ritual inconvenience I encounter at Ben-Gurion Airport. Turns out I was wrong.

Airport security - Shabbat Goy 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Airport security - Shabbat Goy 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
So I went to New York a couple of weeks ago...
OK, I know I’ve promised not to go on about the hoops I’m obliged to jump through whenever I leave the country without my Useful Jewish Wife and Child. But I just have to one more time.
The thing is, I quite honestly thought that nothing could be added to the ritual inconvenience I encounter at the hands of the delightful security staff at Ben-Gurion Airport. Turns out I was wrong.
“And what do you do in Israel?” she asks, staring blankly at my passport. I try to plot the calculus going through her head. British passport + funny non-Anglo-Saxon name + visa stamps from Egypt and Jordan = full cavity search.
But I’m being unkind as usual, I think to myself. I write for The Jerusalem Post, I reply confidently.
“Ah...” She scribbles 5 – full security check – on a sticker and slaps it on my passport.
Seriously? Doesn’t the Post carry a bit of weight in these parts? But she’s still talking.
“And does your newspaper have an office in Israel, or do you file all your articles online?” I don’t know about you, but I feel just a teeny bit nervous about entrusting my security and well-being to someone who can’t work out that The Jerusalem Post is an Israeli newspaper. The word “Jerusalem” is a pretty good clue, one would think.
Never mind.
New York. I love the city, and I love the people. New Yorkers are so open, so delightfully uninhibited.
They’ll ask you anything and tell you everything at a drop of a hat. That said, one feels obliged to reciprocate in kind. And as you may have noticed, I’m not terribly good at talking about myself...
I’m in a bookshop, picking up a few odds and ends.
The salesperson asks me where I’m from. I live in Israel, I tell her.
“Really?” she exclaims. “I studied in Jerusalem for two years.”
We chat about life in Israel and stuff for a couple of minutes. She asks how I wound up in Tel Aviv, and I tell her about Mrs. Goy and so on, and so forth. There’s a pause while we wait for my credit card to run through the system, and she leans forward slightly.
“You know, this sounds really shallow, but meeting you makes me feel so good.”
OK. I twist my wedding ring nervously.
“I’m Jewish and everything, but living there made me question all sorts of things that I’d kind of taken for granted all my life.”
I relax a little. But I’m still not sure what she’s getting at. Tell me more, I ask her.
“Well, you’re black.” Correct. “And I’m guessing you didn’t convert or anything.” Correct again. “But if you can live in Israel, then perhaps things aren’t quite as bad as they can seem at times.”
I see. I consider telling her that my life in Israel is probably not representative of the common-or-garden- variety goy. But I decide not to. For one thing, I sort of understand the point she’s making. More to the point, I’ve just brightened up someone’s day, if even for a moment – not something I’m used to doing. Best to leave things as they are.
The next day, I’m interviewing a writer, the author of an excellent new book about New York and immigration and isolation and “otherness” and other interesting things. We talk about his book and about New York. We talk about other writers including Amos Oz, whom he admires very much. We talk about America post-Obama, and agree that black man in the White House or not, America is not yet a post-racial country. The debate about prejudice goes on, the writer tells me; but there is debate, which is good.
People have to keep talking, after all.
I START to round off our conversation, but now it’s his turn to interview me. He asks me about Peres, about Bibi, about the legacy of the comatose Ariel Sharon. We talk about the political impasse of the moment between the Arabs and the Jews. Then he asks me about what life is like for me, as a black man and a non-Jew, in Israel.
I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask about things like this, I answer. For one thing, my circumstances mean that I am pretty much removed from a lot of the unpleasantness that non-Jewish immigrants encounter.
“Like what?” he asks. I repeat a couple of the interior minister’s more pointed remarks. The writer’s jaw hits the table. Literally.
But maybe it’s not fair to suggest that this is the whole picture, I continue. He raises an eyebrow.
“How so?” he asks.
Well, I write a newspaper column in which I’m given the opportunity to poke fun at the conventional wisdom of the day, I answer. I try hard to be funny, but occasionally I do write things that rub against the grain a little uncomfortably.
We both, the writer and I, grew up in countries where freedom of expression was not something that could necessarily be taken for granted. He took my point.
“So you’re saying that people are still talking to one another, sometimes listening to each other,” he says.
Maybe shouting, I reply. Israelis aren’t very good at talking quietly. But, yeah, there’s still some communication going on.
Anyway, all this serious philosophizing aside: I’m still shocked that gainful employment with the Post doesn’t score me a free pass at Ben-Gurion Airport. I mean, guys, come on! Can’t you see that I’m a walking hasbara unit? It’s not like I’m asking for a diplomatic passport or anything. Just an upgrade to 2. I’ll even settle for a 3.
The thing is, it really does my ego no good to have my holey smalls exposed to the world each time I leave the country.