[The following conversation between two Jews in Warsaw was
published online in Jidele, a web site for Jewish youth in Poland:
Red highlights below are the only changes from the original]]
In a Pub
- A dialogue on anti-semitism, assimiliation and minority problems between:
Beata Juraszek and Piotr Pazinski.
Beata: You keep harping on this unfortunate issue of crucifixion, but this is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. As a matter of fact, the Church is becoming less and less anti-semitic, at least officially. I must agree with you on one count, though, that anti-semitism is unique. Jews are probably the only community which has failed to undergo assimilation.
Piotr: Jews have failed to undergo assimilation ?!! What are you talking about ? Don't forget that we are talking in Polish. When it comes to cultural awareness, we were all born Polish, maybe a little on the lay side.
Beata: True, we've been stripped of our roots. But that's about it. We haven't been provided with a new home in return. We aren't Polish, we only aspire toward Polishness, but these aspirations are not necessarily accepted by our Polish surroundings.
Piotr: I have no aspirations toward being Polish. But you have to admit that in our literary education, for example, we first found out about Mickiewicz and Sienkiewicz, the pillars of Polish national literature, and only then did we learn about Alejchem and Sforim. This was after we took interest in Jewish issues. Actually, we viewed Jewishness as something exotic at the time, and could have well developed a fascination with any other culture like Buddhism.
Beata: Sure, that's the way it was, but this was because we came from families which had deliberately moved away from their national tradition in favor of the culture of their local environment. We learned from our neighbors that we were Jewish. Jews haven't managed to assimilate with society. We have Polish names. Israel is as foreign to us as China, yet others somehow never neglect to call this camouflage.
Piotr: I think you are going overboard a bit with the China example. If you ask me, I do care about what goes on in Israel, although I don't really know if this is because the country is theoretically my homeland or because I have many relatives there. We've learned about our Jewish background from our neighbors, you say ? Actually, I think it was from family stories.
Beata: Your experience must've been special then. It seems to me that the general experience of the generation was different. But I'm referring to the sense of alienation and the fact that, contrary to appearances, our lifestyle in this country is drastically different from the Polish lifestyle.
Piotr: Maybe it's different now, even though I don't know if the difference is really so drastic. But we didn't feel our separateness until we discovered our Jewishness, in one way or another, and after we started to practice it, so to say.
Beata: That's not true. Jewishness became an excuse for the sense of "renegading" that we had earlier in time. Our parents were also referred to as Jews despite the fact that they didn't practice Jewishness.
Piotr: I can't remember anyone saying such things. The only thing that people used to say about me was that I didn't believe in God. And that was it.
Beata: But our discussion is not limited to the two of us! You cannot possibly ignore all these appeals made to Jews to come out from the shadow. This proves that Poles are afraid of some enemies among their ranks. Jews, including you and me, are precisely considered to be such enemies.
Piotr: It's difficult not to speak about oneself. But let me repeat that as long as we didn't realize that we were Jewish, we didn't see anything particularly strange about Polish national culture. You are right: We are seen as enemies, but why ? Because we aren't Catholic, because we oppose nationalism, or because we are Jewish ?
Beata: All of the above, I'm afraid. It's strange, but somehow anyone who fails to dwell on Polish national symbols in their thinking is considered to be a mason or Jew. In the face of such arguments, one is bound to feel out of place.
- Piotr: That's right, it often happens that one feels out of
place, far too often, I would say. But this doesn't necessarily prove
the lack of assimilation. Actually, the fact that we are seen as enemies
shows that we have excellently melded with the majority. What's more,
we have become masters of assimilation. We are so difficult to spot
that hordes of nationalists must rack their brains over that !
Beata: They have their ways of spotting Jews. Anyone who looks Jewish, who has made a career and who speaks and thinks like a Jew is a Jew in their opinion.
Piotr: In the process, the word "Jew" has been deprived of its original meaning. Today, "Jew" is an ordinary insult. But actually this problem doesn't affect us.
Beata: What do you mean "us" ? It may not affect Chassids or Orthodox Jews in their self-contained ghetto, but many people with a Jewish awareness are refused the right to participate in Poland's public life.
Piotr: Yet, as anti-semites scrupulously point out, we control the Democratic Union [now renamed the Freedom Union (UW) after closing ranks with the Liberal Democratic Congress (KLD)] and Gazeta Wyborcza daily. Such Jewishness is actually becoming one's banner and is considered to be in good taste.
Beata: Gazeta is sometimes referred to as Folks Sztyme. But even if these people pride themselves on that in private, in public they go around producing the birth certificates of their distant Polish ancestors. Apparently, it's not easy to come to terms with the atmosphere surrounding Jewry.
Piotr: In private, a fairly large group of people seems to proud of their Jewish roots. After all, why should we suffer for millions ? Don't we feel comfortable being Jewish in this context ?
Beata: One sure likes to belong to an elite. But at what price ? We are reducing ourselves to a different ghetto instead: not religious and cultural but cosmopolitan and leftist. And, naturally, people with leftist views are castigated as Jews.
Piotr: Or masons for that matter. But assimilation doesn't have to mean the lack of membership in any community. Even when assimilated, we don't have to be part of the majority. Let us remain a minority !
Beata: Being a minority precisely means failing to be assimilated. The way I understand it assimilation is based on being a majority or at least on being accepted by the majority. A good manifestation of such acceptance would be if people refrained from peeking into someone else's zipper, even if the person in question voiced "foreign" views.
Piotr: Let's face it. Minorities are an attractive offer. And the zipper business ? The majority has a number of different ideas: It believes in some hidden signs and secret alphabets. Such is its privilege. After all, on our part, we reject the majority.
Beata: Everything would be fine if we forgot one minor detail: emotions. You are forgetting them, while I'm trying not to play them down.
Piotr: I'm simply trying to approach the matter in a slightly cynical way. All these jokes invented by our ancestors and their unending practice of poking fun at their own original tragic weapon, but a weapon nonetheless. Otherwise we wouldn't even venture out onto the street. Anti-semites will not disappear. We must exist somehow, look at the Star-of-David-on-gallows graffiti and keep a distance even when desecrated Jewish cemeteries cause despair and disgust in us. Unless we decide to flee to Israel or Madagascar, thus meeting the dreams of those calling for ethnic purity.
Beata: You said that so bitterly that I actually find it awkward to rejoice in my victory. Indeed, we've finally reached a point from which there is no escape: We must be cynical, and this is what makes our lifestyle different.
Piotr: Cynical and assimilated or cynical and unassimilated. That's a question of interpretation.
Beata: Do you always have to have the last word ?
After peacefully concluding the (family) debate, the parties got up and left the establishment (its name withheld for editorial reasons), leaving behind empty g/asses and a full ashtray. Holding their heads up, they ventured onto a Warsaw street. The weather had not changed.
(Jidele, March '94)