The Jewish boy’s story

A Workshop Script by Robbie McCauley in collaboration with Ethela and Ilona Ferkova, Ondrej Gina, Margita Reiznerova, Hana Syslova, and Miroslav Mencl
First performed in Czech and Romany at the Roxy Experimental Space, PragueOctober 12, 13 and 14, 199
HANA, ONDREJ and MIREK sit facing the audience, holding papers. ONDREJ’s first lines are spoken standing. Each actor in turn reads in a loud voice thewords of a young Jewish man (in Czech). ONDREJ (To Audience)
These are the words of a young Jewish man. His story makes me better understand my own. But he makes it clear that his situation is quite different.
When you compare Jews with Romanies here – well, it’s something else. Most Jewish people in the Czech Republic are assimilated now. MIREK:
This is how I got to hear that I was Jewish. My brother and father and I were starting a new job. Our work was to stand at a bus stop and count the number of cars that drove by. All at once my father said to me:
ONDREJ: Do you know that you’re Jewish? HANA:
In Jewish culture, if the mother is Jewish, the children are.
When he told me, I got very scared. I thought, “Wow, this is awful.” I almost felt physically disgusted. It was a big shock, hearing the word ‘Jewish’. It wasn’t that my family had ever said anything against Jews, though. Let me tell you why I was so startled. HANA:
My Jewish grandmother survived the war in France. My grandfather fled to Palestine, where he joined the army as a pharmacist. So they survived the war like this, and after the war they returned to Bohemia, to the country they had fled. There was no such thingthen as being proud to be a Jew. My grandmother was one of eleven children, and she was the only one who survived the Holocaust; after such a terribleexperience, something gets broken.
It was possible to solve the problem in different ways. You could go to Israel or to America, simply leave Europe – or stay here in Bohemia. Then came Communism, a repressive system which is also anti-Semitic. So they still said nothing about being Jews.
You could say that they were not brave, but after an experience like the Holocaust… well…. And this is how my mother grew up. My grandparents are not alive anymore, but the Holocaust still influences my generation. When problems are not solved, they get carried over to the next generation.
When I moved away from my parents, to Prague, I needed to build up my own identity. I began attending a seminar about being Jewish, and I started very slowly to move in those circles. I can certainly say that now I’m more in contact with my Jewishness, but theprocess is not at all finished.
For Jews who are not religious, it’s a big question. Why should they keep anything when they don’t believe in the basic idea of the religion? This is mysituation. I keep some of the holidays. For instance, I try to rest on Saturday and work on Sunday. But why do it?
What my grandparents were, what my mother was, the kinds of things that Jews have gone through, the minority complexes that Jewish people suffer… My mother is Jewish and she doesn’t want to speak about it because she has many problems with it. This has been traumatic for me. Many Jewish people are neurotic or have more tendencies in that direction – not because of genes, but because of their historical experience. These things must be solved. It’s better to solve them than to deny a part of your identity.
One more unpleasant thing: at least in Central Europe, Jewishness is something that will probably soon disappear. Here in Prague, for instance, there are very few Jewish people. On top of that, they are usually old people. Seventy percent of the Jewish community are more than seventy years old. That makes you think about death or ending. It’s as if you’re joining a funeral march that will soon reach the cemetery. So you think, what’s it worth? ONDREJ: I think you have to come to terms with your identity.