Mumbai is on the West coast of India; Kolkata in the East.  But this Holy War is not about geography.  It is only about targets.  It can happen anywhere.  It has happened anywhere.

It feels risky even to write about the subject, about what I think and feel.  But for me, hiding is also a kind of poison, an added layer of isolation for someone who is generally alone anyway.  It’s just how I am.  If this is a Holy War, then I am a target.  In fact I’m a few targets, wrapped up as one.

Why would anyone try to hurt me?  Why would I feel like prey?  My first level of fear is in being a woman.  I was raped at knife point when I was 18.  There are men who would hurt me simply because I am a woman.  It happened.

I am a white woman and therefore represent to some the historic injustices of white people as oppressors and colonizers.  I am white prey because I represent white.  Some years ago I was working with an orphanage in Kolkata, where I’d put in a septic system and toilets.  I discovered that girls were being tortured, and that they were being kept home from school to work as servants.  I tried to get the government to intervene, as all the school records were falsified.  I was driven out of the orphanage.  Later I heard that the Director told the children, “We drove out the British.  We will defeat Mummy!”  Indeed they did, as girls would be beaten if they were seen talking to me outside the orphanage.  I had to walk away.

Just before the children came I was denounced and threatened by the local political bosses who gathered with a mob outside out gate.  I refused to hire “party people” to work.  I was being extorted for a lot of money that I ended up having to pay as I didn’t have the support I needed to fight them.  But in the midst of it all, in the midst of men on motorcycles brought to intimidate me, I was told, “This isn’t America.  We own the police.”  So I am target as an American, a particularly dangerous form of having white skin. 

I am a white Jewish woman.  In Kolkata my white skin leads to the assumption that I am Christian.  In the battles with the orphanage I mentioned, I was also accused of proselytizing.  A crowd was called to the gates of that orphanage and people were screaming at me, accusing me of spreading Christianity.  I was saved because it was visiting day and the parents there knew what I had done for their children.  I wondered that day if I would be a Jewish lady killed as a Christian martyr.

Religion, or my religion is not something I talk about much.  I come from generations of non-religious, secular, socialist, atheist Jews.  I come with a culture, if not a God, as I seem to have developed my own personal relationship with a God or Gods,   But in Kolkata, partly to reassure people I wasn’t here to convert anyone, I made it clear I was not Christian.   Few people knew what “Jewish” meant.  It didn’t seem to matter.  Mother Teresa is  loved here.  I’m often referred to as “The Mother Teresa of Our Area.”  They don’t realize I’m the Jewish Mother Teresa of Our Area. 

The Murders in Mumbai, the assault on Chabad House, the slaughter of the five Jews, the young American Rabbi, his Israeli wife, and others, made it clear that this is not just about white skin or Western influence.   This is a Holy War, and Jews will be singled out, as we were in Germany, in the concentration camps.  I have pictures of my relatives who died in the camps, only in the pictures I have they are still children.  Last week in Frankfurt Cici and I visited The Jewish Museum.   It was sanitized, cleansed of words like torture, starvation, medical experimentation, gassings, trough graves, shoes, lampshades, gold teeth, mothers and children clinging to each other…. crying to be saved.  The museum simply described “deportations.”

I studied at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in the summer of 1990.  I wanted to understand better the Holocaust as I was studying and writing on medical experimentation and new reproductive technologies.  In my private relationship with my God, I felt I had to answer to the question, “In your lifetime, did you think about the Holocaust?”  At Yad Vashem, images of how Jews were historically distorted, portrayed, remind me of literature now coming out of the Arab world. 

Before I left for Yad Vashem a neighbor brought me a brown bag of old news stories from Germany — brought back by a soldier.  Oddly the bag sat, moved with me a few times, and not until I was getting rid of things to move to India did I actually go through them all.  They were  not just news stories.  They are posters from the Third Reich, and publications, showing Jews as poor, dark, dirty, untrustworthy.   The world needed to be cleansed of the Jew,

Are Jews white?  I haven’t seen that question discussed.  I remember as a child riding through areas with “restricted housing.”  That meant no Jews or Negroes, the term used at the time for African Americans.  Clearly our blood was not white enough to cross the restricted lines.

Am I white?  Here in Kolkata, the woman on the treadmill next to me at the gym last week has lighter skin than I do.  I studied her arms as we each walked, jogged…. she is lighter than I am.  As a child I was often taken for Puerto Rican, and people would come up to me and talk to me in Spanish.

To the Nazis, I would be Jewish whether I practiced or not.  It was about blood, a genocide that began in the early 1930’s with the murder of the mentally and physically disabled and grew to include the Jews, the Catholics, the gays, the dissidents, and then the genocide spread to Russia and the slaughter continued.


This is a picture of my relatives.  The woman standing is my grandmother.  The two girls are my mother (to the left) and my aunt on the right, with my grandmother’s sister’s arm around her.   That would make Berta my great-aunt, and her sons my cousins.  The man on the left is my great aunt’s husband.   Berta, her husband and my cousins all died in the concentration camps.  In this picture they are all marked by light.  I wrote a haiku….

Since the ancient past

We bear witness in our sleep,

Shadows in daylight.

I believe we are living in very dangerous times.  I hide out in my Home for orphans, but I write as part of the larger community from which I also come.  I check homework, make funny sounds with Rani, and work at document after document to prove I am taking good care of the children.  But I also write, blog, ponder our times, think about history, and wonder about the future.  It’s a pretty normal existence.  I am happy this way.

But still, I’m curious, “Are Jews white?”


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December 2008
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