Sunday, July 31, 2011

What do you call this baby?

Sayed Kashua
"(Arabic: سيد قشوع, Hebrew: סייד קשוע; b. 1975) is an Israeli Arab author and journalist born in Tira, Israel, known for his books and humoristic columns in Hebrew.

Sayed Kashua was born in Tira in the Triangle region of Israel. In 1990, he was accepted to a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem - Israel Arts and Science Academy.[1] He studied sociology and philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Kashua was a resident of Beit Safafa before moving to a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem with his wife and two children." (wiki).
I have been reading his satirical column in Haaretz for some months now, following with great interest the way he retells his life experience as an Israeli-Arab in a predominantly Jewish Israeli society. He has an unparalleled talent for making a poignant comment on some of Israel's social scabs and warts when it comes to the treatment of members of the Arab minority in every day life. His irony is sharp and on-target. It is when he allows a flash of anger to peep through in sarcastic asides that he fails as a satirist. As long as he keeps the irony, he reaches readers and succeeds in making us laugh and cringe at the same time.
In a recent piece he gave us two glimpses of the difficulties an Arab may encounter in Israel.
The first is his procrastination in finding a name for his newborn son:
קשה למצוא שם לילד ערבי. אנחנו יושבים מול אתרי אינטרנט שמציעים שמות, מדפדפים במילונים ערביים, בספרי שירה, אפילו חיפשתי בקוראן אחר שמות הולמים, אך לשווא. כל השמות נפסלו בזה אחר זה. צריך להקפיד ששם הילד לא יתחרז עם קללה, וזה כמעט בלתי אפשרי, לכל שם בערבית יש קללה שמתחרזת, וגם אם לא, זה ודאי לא ימנע מילדים אחרים להמציא קללות בלי להקפיד על חרוזים. בסופו של דבר, איכשהו ילדים חזקים ומאיימים הם היחידים שהשמות שלהם לא מתחרזים עם כינויים משפילים. ועם הילד הזה אסור לקחת סיכון, בסופו של דבר, הוא נולד פג.

כמו אחיו, סביר להניח שגם הילד החדש יגיע למערכת חינוך מעורבת, על כן צריך להקפיד למצוא שם ערבי שלא יקשה מדי על המורים והתלמידים היהודים. זה לא נעים שמעוותים לך את השם, מה שלא תעשה תמיד יקראו לך בסוף סעיד. בכלל, הניסיון מוכיח שלילד ערבי כדאי לקרוא בשם אוניברסלי, זאת אומרת שם שלא נשמע כמו חפץ חשוד, שלא יקפיץ מאבטחים ולא יגרום להרמת גבה כשהוא מושמע במערכת הכריזה של קפה ארומה. מרבית הילדים שלומדים עם ילדי קיבלו שמות ערביים כמו: אדם, עדי, רם, דני, סמי, נור ואמיר, ואני מדבר כאן על המוסלמים, כי הנוצרים יכולים ללכת גם על: ג'ורג', פיטר, מישל, כריס ומייקל.

מצד אחד אנחנו לא רוצים להיחשב כמי שעושים מאמצי יתר להתקבל, להתבולל, להיטמע בסחף הישראלי. בכל זאת, קצת כבוד, שם ערבי עם משמעות שתשפיע ודאי על הזהות. אבל מה? אני באמת אקרא לילד שלי מוסטפא, מוחמד או איבראהים? האם זה לא יהווה מכשול בדרכו למצוא עבודה, להתקבל ללימודים או סתם לטייל בחוף הים עם חברים?

It's hard to find a fitting name for an Arab child. ... It has to be a name that does not rhyme with a swearword. That's next to impossible. Every Arab name rhymes with a curse word and even if it doesn't, it won't deter other kids from manufacturing curse words that do not necessarily rhyme. When all is said and done, it is the big bullies whose names do not rhyme with humiliating nicknames. We cannot take any chances with this baby, born premature and all.
This baby boy will likely follow his siblings and join the integrated educational system so we must find a name that will not be too hard on his Jewish teachers and classmates. It's very annoying to have your name distorted and anyway, his last name will always be Sayed. Experience tells us that an Arab boy is better off with a universal sort of name, that is, a name that does not sound like a suspicious package, that won't get security guards rattled and will not cause any raised eyebrows when it is called out by the barrista at Cafe Aroma*. Those who go to school with my kids have got Arab names like Adam, Adi, Ram, Danny, Sammy, Nour and Ameer. I'm talking about the Muslim Arabs. The Christian Arabs can always go with George, Peter, Michel, Chris and Michael. Naturally, we do not wish to be seen as going out of our way to be accepted, integrated, assimilated into the Israeli mud slide. After all, we have our dignity. A meaningful Arab name is sure to have some impact on the formation of the boy's identity. But what? Should I call him Mustafa, Mahmoud, or Ibrahim? Won't it be an obstacle when he looks for a job, apply to university, or just walk on the beach with his friends? After wrestling with this issue to distraction I decided to drop the name-finding mission on my wife. Let her pick out a name and if he grows up to complain about it, I can always blame it on her.

The second is an encounter with what seems to be a hotel that is not too keen on serving people "with accents". Kasua is trying to book a room for himself and his two kids for a weekend at Ma'agan Eden, a lovely resort his director recommended as eminently suitable for a short family getaway. The man in the Reservations Dept. tells him there are no available rooms for the dates he has in mind or for the entire month of August.
אני לא יודע למה, אבל היתה לי תחושה לא טובה. "איריס", ביקשתי מהמפיקה הקשוחה, "את יכולה בבקשה להתקשר למספר הזה ולשאול על חדר פנוי בתאריכים האלה?"

"מה?" הזדעק הבמאי הג'ינג'י בחיוך ציני על פניו, "רק בגלל המבטא? אתה לא חושב שאתה פרנואיד?"

"אני יודע שאני פרנואיד", אמרתי כשהמפיקה כבר התחילה לחייג, "תגידי לו להורה אחד ושני ילדים", ביקשתי והיא הינהנה בראשה.

כן, אמרו לה במחלקת ההזמנות, יש חדרים, כן, מתאימים להורה ושני ילדים, כן, יש באוגוסט, כן יש בתאריך המדויק שאנחנו רוצים. היא קיבלה גם אפשרות לבחור בין כמה סוגים שונים של חדרים שמעגן עדן מציעים.

"אני לא מאמין", אמר הבמאי הג'ינג'י שהיה עד לשיחה, "אני פשוט לא מאמין".

"די", נזפתי ברכרוכי שהתחיל לבכות, "איפה אנחנו חיים? איפה אנחנו חיים?"

חייגתי שוב והגעתי אל אותו בחור. "כן", הוא אמר, "אבל אמרתי לך לפני שנייה שאין חדרים פנויים".

"בסדר", עניתי לו, "אני יודע שיש, תעביר אותי למנהלת בבקשה".

"שמי סייד קשוע ואני כתב של עיתון 'הארץ'", אמרתי למנהלת, סיפרתי לה מה קרה לפני דקה וביקשתי תגובה.

"זה כמו בורסה", היא אמרה, "רגע אחד יש חדרים ורגע אחר אין. באים אלינו מכל המגזרים".

"יופי. ועכשיו מה מצב הבורסה? יש חדרים?"

"כן", היא ענתה, "עכשיו יש לי חדרים. אתה רוצה להזמין?"

"בטח", עניתי לה ונתתי את מספר כרטיס האשראי.

"אני לא מאמין", הבמאי הג'ינג'י רעד וניגב את הדמעות, והמפיקה הקשוחה צחקה לו בפנים.

I don't know why, but I had an uneasy feeling about this. "Iris," I turned to the tough-minded producer
"Can you please call this number and ask whether they have a vacancy for these dates"?

"What?" cried the red-headed film-director with a cynical smile, "Because of the accent? Don't you think this is paranoid?"

"I know I'm paranoid, " I said as the producer started dialing "Tell him one parent and two kids," I said and she nodded.

Yes, they said in Reservations Dept., there are vacancies, yes, for one parent and two kids, yes, in August, exactly in those dates. She was even offered the possibility of choosing among a few types of rooms.

"I don't believe it," said the red headed film-director, "I just don't believe it".

'That's enough" I scolded the agitated wimp who had started bawling. "Where do we live? Where do we live?"

I re-dialed the number and got the same booking clerk. "Yes," he said, "but I told you a moment ago that we have nothing available."

"All right," I retorted, "I know there are vacancies. Let me speak to your supervisor".

"My name is Sayed Kashua and I am a journalist for Haaretz, " I informed the lady. I told her what had just taken place and asked for an explanation.

"It's like the stock exchange," she said, "one moment there are vacancies and the next, they are all booked. We get guests from all sectors in Israeli society."

"Great. So how is the stock exchange now? Any available rooms?"

"Yes," she answered, "Now we have rooms. Do you wish to reserve a spot?"

"Sure," I said and gave her my credit card number.

"I don't believe it," the red-headed film director kept repeating, trembling and wiping his tears. The tough producer laughed in his face.

"Hello," I told my wife on the phone " I just booked a vacation resort for the kids. Did you find a name?"

"Still looking," she said, "Is it a good hotel?"

'Wonderful," I reassured her, "they do not let in people with an accent".

(Unauthorized, partial translation by CC)

I can offer Mr. Kashua only cold comfort by telling him that where I live, people with accent are treated with hauteur and dismissiveness, only it is done so very politely, one cannot quite pick up a quarrel and get the satisfaction of rubbing their noses in being found out. I cannot count the number of times I was treated with patient contempt by some low-level clerk who was trying to explain to me that Noga is not my first name but my family name, and that I misspell what they consider as my first name.

Or this: Two weeks after placing my daughter in a Montreal public school, she comes home telling me a joke:

- Ima (Mummy), you know how they say that Jews are cheap?

Before I could register my shock, she went on:

- My friend today told me this joke. What is faster than lightning?

- ?? - I looked at my daughter cluelessly

-A Jew with a coupon!

This in Canada, where multiculturalism was invented, and, sadly, this ingrained bigotry is what anyone can find in any "normal" society, like French-Canadian mothers refusing to place their children in daycares that have black kids.

Wasn't it the Zionist dream, to make Israel a normal country? Is there a more normal country than Canada? So there.


* Cafe Aroma is a chain of popular coffee houses in Israel which makes the best coffee in the world, (including Seattle) and serves sandwiches and such. You give your order at the counter and when it is ready, the barrista calls your name in the loudspeaker to inform you that your order is ready and please come to pick it up.


At 4:44 PM EDT, Anonymous Brian Goldfarb said...

CC (or may I call you Noga?), what makes you think that there's any such thing as a "normal country"? Try this very recent Nick Cohen article on "normal" Britain:

and let me know what you think, please.

At 5:21 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"... what makes you think that there's any such thing as a "normal country"?

I thought I wrote ""normal"" , not "normal" ...

More to the point, the first time I encountered the concept of a country being normal was through reading Christopher Hitchens' memoir. I commented about it here:

At 11:27 AM EDT, Anonymous Brian Goldfarb said...

Actually, you wrote normal, no quote marks. And I would place Israel very much in the normal category, given the existential threats it faces. However, have you read the Cohen article yet (I know it's on Comment Is Free, but nothings perfect, and it is by Nick ("What's Left?") Cohen?

If, after that, you still think Britain is "normal", then Israel certainly is.

At 12:17 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

No. The first "normal" was written with quote marks, and the second normal no quotes was supposed to pick up from that (having, presumably established that "normal" is to be treated with some doubt).

I read Cohen's article and he was not speaking about normal but about the inherent danger in a "stable" country, like Britain. Does "stable" correspond to "normal"? I don't know. Israel is a pretty stable democracy with a rather giddy population. It makes her no worse than Britain, perhaps, and maybe better in other aspects. Israelis lack complacency, are always subjected to self-criticism and Israeli society acts like a self- cleaning oven.

I'm not sure I completely understand your point here.


Post a Comment

<< Home