Jewish Film Festival in the Bay Area

August 12, 2008

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Baghdad Twist

Don’t ask my age.  It’s none of your business, I told my son, and doesn’t concern people who’ll watch your documentary.  No one’s going to see me in this film.  They’ll only hear my voice.  Better they look at black and white photos of me as a child in reasonably hospitable Iraq where 180,000 Jews once lived.  They’ll also enjoy watching a 1965 home movie of my handsome husband dancing the twist with me.  My lips were red, my legs lean, and we made a striking couple

Baghdad had been a good enough place before the first Israeli-Arab war in 1948, but by the 1950’s we were feeling uncomfortable.  Most other Jews had already retreated to Israel. We stayed because we still had enough Jewish friends.  After the 1967 war, though, everything collapsed.  People all at once hated us.  Our phone lines were cut and we couldn’t leave the country.  Then the police came to our house for my husband.  They said they just wanted to talk a little.  I began screaming.  That was a lie, one of a series they used to put him in prison four times.  Most outrageously, they accused him of sending money to Israel.  How could I possibly be doing that, he asked.

We’re going to have to leave, I eventually told my three young children.  But they might kill us, one worried.  We’ll definitely die if we stay, I said.  I don’t know what’s going to happen but we must try to escape.

Editorial note: That’s where the documentary ends.  An online search revealed filmmaker Joe Balass was four-years old in 1970 when he and his parents and two brothers escaped to Canada.  He currently resides in Montreal.

Arab Labor

I am Amjad. I report for a Hebrew-language newspaper and offer readers the insight of an Israeli Arab.  Now my talents are also targeted on a new documentary television series, which will soon dramatically reduce, though perhaps not entirely eliminate, Arab-Jewish conflicts.

Our debut effort focused on a critical misunderstanding.  Arabs detest being detained and searched at checkpoints while Jews are ceremoniously waved through.  I at first asked my young daughter to help by saying something delightful in Hebrew to the guards.  She rebelled and spouted Arabic.  Inevitably, they told us to get out and open the trunk.  I considered throwing her in after our ordeal.

Though most embarrassed, I resolved to discuss this with a Jewish colleague.  How do those guards spot us, I asked.  Is it my looks?  I think I look more like a Jew than you do.  What could it be?  Don’t I appear to have money?  Maybe it’s my smell.  I sniffed my armpit.

No, it’s none of those things, my colleague said.

What is it, then?

It’s the Subaru.  Too Arab.  You need a Rover.

That’s it.  I got one, praying it would change my life.  And it did.  Immediately, Jewish guards, with a flourish, began motioning me to drive right on through checkpoints.  My only concern was the different lettering for gears.  Determinedly, I shifted then accelerated, and did not become hysterical after backing into a car and sitting in my Rover as it was towed away.

We soon examined the need for equal opportunities in education.  My daughter was rejected by a fine kindergarten.  If she’d been Jewish, I know she would have gotten in.  We considered a renowned school, which emphasized mystical insight, but demurred after learning the schoolmaster was named Adolf.

I must acknowledge that Jews also have educational concerns and deficiencies, the principal of which is they don’t speak Arabic.  My colleague asked some Arabs if he could use their bathroom, and they graciously showed him the way.  But he didn’t understand how to open the door from inside and instead of asking in Arabic he panicked in Hebrew, screaming he’d been kidnapped by terrorists and firing out frantic cell phone calls.

Linguistic and cultural differences also dominated the next documentary.  My Jewish colleague was smitten by a beautiful young Arab woman.  He invited her to his residence where he’d labored, rather unskillfully, to prepare the appropriate food.  She rebuked him for presuming she’d want to eat grape leaves, he responded with displeasure, and she called him a loser and pounded out the door.

Meanwhile, my family was invited to a religious dinner in the home of Jews.  All our hosts were congenial except the old grandfather who, at the dining room table, assaulted us with loud readings of fanatical Hebrew scripture.  In festive spirit I slapped on a yarmulke.  Later that night, my lovely wife said I stank of gefilte fish and ordered me out of our bed.

After a few more episodes, I’m sure relations will improve.

Editorial note – This hit Israeli television show is written by Sayed Kashua, the “Arab Woody Allen and the Palestinian Dave Chappelle.”

George Thomas Clark

George Thomas Clark is the author of Hitler Here, a biographical novel published in India and the Czech Republic as well as the United States. His commentaries for are read in more than 50 countries a month.

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