In August 2015 I had a short story of mine published in the Australian Jewish News. Just In Case was something I wrote very quickly, a mixture of fiction and biographical experiences, for the newspaper’s call for short story submissions for the 150th anniversary Literary Supplement.
Seven years old.
You’ve always known you are Jewish. There is no specific memory of your mother telling you – the knowledge is just there, a part of you, as natural as breathing. I am Jewish, you think, and you proudly announce it after all your friends have declared their Christianity.
“You’re a Jew?” one of the boys says. “Your family must be really rich.”
“Why?” you ask.
The boy shrugs. “That’s what my father says. He says all the Jews are greedy and rich.”
After school you tell your mother, wanting to know what the boy meant.
“Don’t tell people that we’re Jewish!” your mother snaps. Her eyes are wide, jaw tense with anger. “People hate Jews!”
“But why?” you ask, bewildered.
“They just do!”
You’ll soon be baptised Catholic, you’re told, like your father. “Just in case,” your mother says, and that doesn’t make sense either.
Fourteen years old.
“Take that off!”
Your hand leaps to the necklace, your grandmother’s Magen David you so proudly put on this morning before leaving the bedroom. “Why?” you ask, frowning, fist clenched around the pendant. “I’m not ashamed, and you shouldn’t be either!”
She says it will make you a target. You think, a target for what? This is Australia, no-one is going to attack you.
“You have so many other necklaces,” she implores. “Why don’t you wear a normal one? Just in case.”
Twenty-one years old.
You’ve learned how to be a Good Jew. The Magen David stays at home, somewhere at the bottom of your dressing table drawer and gathering dust. You’ve learned how to disassociate yourself from Israel, how to not act like a Jew in public, how to fake a laugh at your manager’s “Jewish stocktake” joke. Better yet, don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish at all. Just in case, your mother once said, and now it all makes sense. Mort aux Juifs, they’ve been chanting in France. “It’s happening again,” your grandmother says, almost in tears, but the world doesn’t seem to care.
It slips out one day at university, between a group of friends.
“Oh, you’re Jewish?” your classmate says, a slight sneer to her lips that so often preach tolerance and acceptance and equal rights for everyone, and your heart sinks in immediate regret and you brace yourself for the vitriol that follows.
(“Didn’t the Jews learn anything from the Holocaust?” she declares, and everyone else nods in agreement, like it was the victims who should have learned from their own extermination.)
Now would be a bad time, you think, to say you’re a Zionist. Instead you mumble that you were baptised Catholic, make your excuses and leave. It was not shame, you finally realise, that your mother felt. Just in case, she’d said. Just in case, just in case, just in case.