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This is where I first met Mischa, who is a big and boisterous presence in Berlin’s gay community and also happens to be a German Jew. A tour guide by day and a cabaret singer by night, Mischa picked me out in the bar instantly by yelling “another Jew!” He was surrounded by more than a few German men, all of whom turned in my direction at once.
“Are you from Tel Aviv?” one of the men asked me.
The man looked slightly disappointed by that answer.
“There are Jews in Seattle?”
“Well, there’s me!”
We shared an uncomfortable moment or two. Then Mischa gave me a big kiss on the lips.
“Mein kleine Jude,” he said, pinching my cheeks: my little Jew.
As the night wore down, Mischa told the bartender to play “Hava Nagila.” He grabbed my hands until we were both dancing the hora — gin and tonics in hand — with an Austrian, a Dutch guy, two Germans and a Brit. Someone kissed me on the cheek as the disc jockey performed the Herculean task of transitioning from “Hava Nagila” to the next song: Kylie Minogue’s “All the Lovers.”
Much later, I told a Jewish friend in Berlin about my experiences, and she laughed. “I know plenty of guys in Berlin who get laid for being Jewish,” she said. “Did you roll with it?”
I told her that I loved it at the time, but the experience ended up making me feel alienated. Sure, it felt affirming to embrace my Jewishness in front of non-Jews, but I couldn’t shake the sense that I was performing a role.
Either I was the spokesJew, easy to fetishize and exotic to behold, or I was a resented remnant from the past, haunting the lives of the troubled Germans whom I’d meet.
Chalk it up to adolescent thinking or to cold, hard denial: For whatever reason, I just hadn’t expected that the Jewish identity I treated so casually — even jokingly — in the United States would become such a burden in Germany.
After Tobias asked me if I was a cheap Jew, I tried to play it off lightly, as if I were dealing with the ironic anti-Semitism that sometimes pops up in the States. I considered my reaction carefully, not wanting to be one of those Jews who projects the past on today’s guiltless generation.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself: “Screw that. Screw polite. There’s no excuse for anti-Semitism, especially in Germany.”
Steven Blum is a writer and editor in Berlin. He has written for Tablet magazine, The Jewish Transcript, The Stranger, Blackbook Magazine and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.