Bat-Ami (Tikva Sarig)
What do you know
From Inside, 1960, vol. 23 pp. 1-2
"What do you know?"- - -
Our conversation flowed like a spring. No, not our conversation. Only she was the speaker and I was the listener. I made remarks, occasionally, with a word and two in my poor, Sabra Yiddish, breaking my teeth like gravel. Her life story spread open before me, page by page. What does it contain and what does it lack: It speaks of a wandering Jew. There is a Holocaust, it contains death. It contains partisans. It contains traitorous Jews and there are compassionate non-Jews in it. It tells of SS officers and of a U.S.S.R. officer. It relates about a furnace and - about Siberian snow. A single Jewish girl in the Red Army - - - and what does it lack: youth of the sun and gaiety.
- - -
Independence Day is proud in its radiance, song and joy. There were chains of lights on the lawns around the dining room, game stalls, cold drinks, and sweets. Cheerful melodies were lavish with joy and celebration. Everyone rejoiced. They too, she and her two children were merry. They were playing around in the crowd. I had met them. Afterwards, we gathered in the hall and broke into loud singing, and we joined in the rondo that became increasingly loud. No one was left out of the singing and dancing: children and parents, boys and the elderly, immigrants and veteran Israelis. She was also there. I ran into her in the tidal human wave. At midnight, a vocal squad stood up for a performance. They sang "those were the days" songs, from the first Aliyah to this day. They comically sang "Carry to Zion a Flag and a Miracle" and "Once, a Fellow Went Out". The audience joined in with the team, and responded by laughing, singing along, stamping their feet and clapping their hands.
Suddenly, there was a sharp and incredible transition. She got up and began singing, in Yiddish. Her voice was pleasant. Her singing had a trill to it. She sang with anxiety and occasionally went off key. Her singing style was foreign and the melody was full of grief. The words related of a Jewish boy who was lost to the mother who had given birth to him, on the way to the furnaces.
Whoever felt and understood and whoever - the hall full of people, froze. Next to the Northern Wall the youths were seated. Not necessarily school children. But sons, some of them - already fathers of children.
- - -
Suddenly the laughter began to diminish. Here, it would stick with the young children. As an epidemic that affected all present, I froze on my place. Right next me stood a wife, a girl. She smiled in a pre-crying spasm. I wanted to help her and myself. I told her: She was wrong in choosing the song. Here they sang with laughter and she sang with "truth."
The foreign woman turned pale and folded, the word froze on her lips. As if it got broken. And she ran out.
- - -
You know - she said - when the children laughed at me then, when I was singing, I ran out, I cried all night and said to myself: Here too they are anti-Semitic! There is no difference. They too do not wish to hear about Jews. What do they lack? What do you know?
What do you know - she repeated - you say that Jews and Israelis are one nation. - No, this is not true.
I had no idea that she would target the truth in her awareness to such a degree. That she would know how to express, in such a way the terrible thing that had occurred - on Independence Day!
You know - she had said - that night, I decided to quit learning Hebrew. Why do I need Hebrew? Do not I speak enough languages?
Why should I understand you? Do you understand us? Only a short while ago I went back to school ...
- - -
And now she felt my distress and wanted to rescue me from it. She tried to save the situation. She said: And I saw that the friends did not laugh at me. Only the youth. But you are the parents of this youth! And she said no more.