Magazine article Tikkun

Une Juive Sur la Rue Mouffetard

Magazine article Tikkun

Une Juive Sur la Rue Mouffetard

Article excerpt

It's nine o'clock, dinnertime in Paris, and I'm walking down the rue Mouffetard thinking about my own dinner, thinking about the Roman ruins that are supposed to be somewhere on the rue Monge, thinking about the postcards I promised to write, thinking about the smell of the dead leaves in the garden of the Musee Rodin and the hats in Le Bon Marche, thinking about nothing very much at all. It's easy to think about nothing when you're walking through Paris and don't know French because there's no intelligible conversation to distract you. People's voices become just more white noise, blending in with the traffic, less obtrusive than dogs barking and church bells clanging. I saw Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator yesterday, and now I want to conduct myself among the French like a silent movie character, dramatic gestures, small dance moves to recover from tripping over curbs, a big, sheepish pardon, je suis une americain estupide smile whenever a stranger tries to talk to me and I don't understand what they're saying-that is, whenever a stranger talks to me.

The rue Mouffetard is full of students, which is not surprising since it is in the Latin Quarter. Three boys are walking on the sidewalk a little behind me. Did they make me nervous at the time, or do I just think so in retrospect? I'm walking on a narrow, cobblestoned street after dark. It's slightly sinister, possibly a scenario for a World War II spy movie. I see a map of the arrondissement posted up ahead, I go to look for the rue Monge, the boys follow me and then pass me, and then they turn and laugh-or did they laugh later?-and one of them shouts something at me, and I prepare my sheepish smile until he gives me the finger and disappears behind the sign, and I realise that the last word he said was "Juive."

"Juive" is one of the few words I understand because two days ago, I left a cafe with my friend Angela, with whom I'm staying, and a man on the street yelled something at us, possibly a request for money, which we ignored, and then he yelled something else. Angela, whose French is far better than mine, said it sounded like he had called us "Jewish bitches." The word for a female Jew in French, she explained, is "juive." Ah, yes, like "juif," as on the yellow stars I saw on display in the Holocaust Museum in Washington and at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. A few hours later, I was walking alone by the Seine when another man shouted "juive" at me, too. Maybe he was North African. The French, Angela told me, blame the North Africans for the recent rise of anti-Semitism in France. Real French people aren't anti-Semitic. They've put up plaques, in French and in Hebrew, in the Marais, the old Jewish ghetto, now home to fabulous gay men, commemorating the Jews who had been "evacuated" during World War II. But that was all the fault of Vichy. The real French are very sorry.

I don't know if those boys are actually French, or just evil imposters who make the rest of France look bad. But the way they said "juive," a drawn-out sneer, a jeer really, "juiiiiiive," and then the finger, and the laugh ... it seems almost too evil to be believable, the sort of textbook anti-Semitism our teachers always warned us about in Hebrew School, and which I later believed never really existed because it was far too overt, because after Hitler and George Wallace, you'd think people would be too enlightened to be overt about their anti-Semitism. Wouldn't they?

The first incident was ambiguous, the second one, too. Maybe Angela was hearing things and I was swayed by the power of suggestion. But this time was real. They definitely said "juive." They dragged it out, they said it loud, they gave me the finger. There was some effort that went into that "juive." Not much, but enough so I would know 1 was a juive and that a juive was not a good thing to be.

When I was younger, I secretly hoped for a moment like this. I was going to fight back, say something great, and then, if necessary, I would become a martyr. …

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