Summer 2015, Edinburgh.
I was on my way home when I passed by a second hand bookshop and decided to go in, as I was on a quest for a rare series of books. A lady who seemed to be the owner of the shop greeted me from behind her laptop, allowing me to roam around on my own. After a few minutes I realised it was almost impossible to fit a human presence between the crammed shelves and the very narrow isles, let alone find a book, so I walked back and approached the lady with my request.
It didn’t take long before she asked where I was from. I looked at her, hesitated (as always), took a deep breath and let it out. ‘Israel’, I waited for the silence to disappear and the bitter comments to come. ‘Oh are you!’ the lady enthusiastically shouted. It seemed to be a good answer and so I exhaled my worries. “Jennifer is my name” she said, “and my Mum was Jewish”. We spent the next 45 minutes talking about life as a Jew in Edinburgh and what it is like to live in Israel. I was probably the first Israeli person in the shop as Jennifer eagerly opened up about her mum who had to hide her Jewishness, a trip she had to the Middle East when she was only 12, the constant attempt to explore Judaism and how last year during that cursed summer in Edinburgh, she realized she will never be able to tell her friends the truth about her roots.
There were rumors about Israeli shows taking place at the Fringe Festival and we were looking forward to support Israeli culture. At first the coverage was positive, but gradually the groups started to draw more and more negative attention from the media. Soon after the shows went on board, the riots began. Anti-Israel groups were all over Edinburgh, shouting, being violent and preventing people from attending shows until one theatre group was finally declined from a venue and headed down to London. Everywhere in Edinburgh you saw activists handing out leaflets, calling to send all Israelis to the sea, Free Gaza Free Palestine but no room for Israel whatsoever.
As an Israeli I couldn’t let them shout slogans and shove leaflets without knowing more. It was shocking to see the majority had no clue where in the Middle-East Israel is. What PLO is. Who Morsi is. Above all I was sad.
As an Israeli artist my feelings were even more extreme. I felt I was boycotted myself. I was a target even though I didn’t do anything. I questioned freedom of speech, freedom of art and people I knew. Would they boycott me too?
That summer I was an individual between nationalists but I got people to think, see behind flags and titles and accept that our name, home country and religion do not define us.
I left the bookshop after 45 minutes thinking that if nothing changes, I will become her.
Jennifer found the courage to confide in me simply because we share the same religion. It was overwhelming. To be carrying this burden on her own shoulders alone, feeling isolated and having no one to talk to – I truly felt for her.
I paused after walking a mere 200 meters. It was Friday, I remembered, and I intended to go to the Rabbi’s place for dinner. So I went back to the shop and offered Jennifer the opportunity to join me. Never praying, celebrating Friday dinner or participating in any Jewish ritual before, I knew it would be a first time for her but after thinking it over for a few minutes she looked at me, smiled and said she will happily join.