The Fairer Sex: Maude in East Jerusalem

The Fairer Sex: Maude in East Jerusalem
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Photo by Andrew E. Larsen (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Andrew E. Larsen (copied from Flickr)

“Americans are very friendly and very suspicious, that is what Americans are and that is what always upsets the foreigner, who deals with them, they are so friendly how can they be so suspicious they are so suspicious how can they be so friendly but they just are.” — Gertrude Stein

Maude rode an Egged bus, which had more umph to it than Greyhound, and also worn-out seats that looked as if bombs had already made an imprint.

The Palestinian and Israeli passengers were reluctant to speak English, and it was impossible for Maude to concentrate on anything but her anxieties.

***

Maude once dreamt that the PLO drew graffiti on the Israeli consulate and she called the Mossad from a Manhattan pay phone.

“Who eez deez?”

“This is Maude, and the PLO is destroying your building.”

“What street?”

“Lexington and Park,” she said, not cognizant that the corner of Lexington and Park did not exist. He hung up on Maude, thinking she might be a member of a fringe movement.

***

Because Maude attended Zionist camp and went with her Mom and Dad to Israeli Independence day marches since five, she kept an “eye” out for Arabs who might detonate her synagogue.

As a teenager, Maude was wary of both Arabs and Germans.  She was also more loyal to Israelis than Americans; she’d spy for Tel Aviv if push came to shove and search the seats on this bus for discarded boxes that contained explosives. But, she surmised, there is a soldier sitting next to me, so perhaps my paranoia is in overdrive.

Maude had been a member of the local Labor Zionist group in her Jersey hometown; she had written a letter to the editor of the Ocean County Daily Times supporting the Entebbe invasion, which her mother displayed in a Sears frame.

Maude’s house was blue and white, the colours of the Israeli flag, and her mother emphasized that Israel’s survival was at risk 24/7. That’s why Maude was as fixated on bus seats as a schoolgirl might be on determining the whereabouts of the kid tormenters who dispelled rumours she was sucking her thumb. More people were getting on the bus, and she hoped that the nearby soldier could aim his rifle properly. She also said the Shema[1] so that none of her limbs got severed.

***

Maude, who was a petite brown-haired twenty-year-old student at Hebrew University, got off the bus at an East Jerusalem stop. She had to get her passport renewed and ventured toward the American Embassy. There was a neighbouring olive tree and Maude rubbed its smooth and rebellious ribcage; she smelled the olives and tried to grab one but was not tall enough.

Maude was hesitant about coming here and, generally speaking, being alone or off the university campus for the past three months. Israeli and Palestinian men scowled or made snide remarks if she walked with shorts, so she wore jeans while traipsing through the Old City.

Along Mt. Scopus, where Alexander the Great marched, she’d argue with the hummus or falafel sellers who admonished her bad Hebrew. This was a precursor to how she’d behave at 35 when she moved to Manhattan: tell everyone, including Pakistani cab drivers and elderly Italian men in boxer shorts leading their pit bulls at 2 am, to “shut the fuck up.” But in 1983 Maude could not silence irascible Jerusalemites. “These beasts,” she wrote home, “utter sexual obscenities or whistle or threaten to make me pay for the glass case I accidentally broke,” which occurred in a Yemenite émigré’s store.

Maude had slammed her Coke can down, which caused the glass to shatter.

“You crazy bitch!” the man shouted. She already thought he was eyeing her because she dressed like a boy.

“I’m soooooooo sorry,” she apologized.

“Get out of here!” he yelled, cursing in Hebrew.

***

Maude was not in her college town where her only nemesis was the frat boy or occasional feminist who got offended by her impudence. Jerusalem pedestrians, whose unpredictability left her speechless, surrounded her.

As Maude strolled in search of the embassy, she cautiously passed “Arabs” whom her mother mentioned, “might rape you.” There were East Jerusalem’s fragrances of fried falafel and fresh sage and Bedouins bumped into her. An old lady spit in the street and Maude was frustrated about not being able to ask for directions in Hebrew or Arabic.

She had recently failed Hebrew first semester and was more interested in a modern lit class starring Marcel Proust and Vladimir Nabokov. She had sent her family a sympathy card announcing this tragedy, as this was the first time she received an “F”.

Her mother, however, was more incensed by Maude’s intended visit to the Old City.

Must you go to East Jerusalem?” Mrs Lucas called Maude twice a week at a public phone in the dormitory basement.

“Yeah, why?” Maude replied.

“Haven’t you read about the Arab stabbings?”

“What stabbings?”

“Do you have any male friends who can accompany you?” her mother queried through the withered telephone wires near where students did laundry and occasionally listened to people’s conversations. Maude didn’t know men, unless you counted the guys she slept with on two separate occasions while drunk.

“I’ll be fine, Mom.”

***

Maude meandered, still unsure if she had gotten off at the right stop. She did not pay attention to the nearby commuters until a bulky man banged into her. He had a nicely trimmed white beard and wore a grey suit, and stood prominently with his blue and green silk tie.

“What’s your problem? Don’t you look where you’re going?” Maude, who felt a sense of entitlement to the sidewalk, asked him.

“Excuse me?” the man’s English was impeccable, almost as refined as someone with a British accent.

“Can’t you watch where you’re going?” Maude glared at him. They want to extort land from Jews, just as the Nazis stole our homes in the Ukraine, she surmised. Of course, this was a convenient argument for Maude, who was addicted to convenient arguments whenever strangers infuriated her.

“How dare you speak to me like this—who do you think you are?” This man was not accustomed to rude Americans, although he felt regularly slighted by Israelis who made Levittown plans in the desert. He had been born in a villa nearby, but fled with his family in 1948. There was now an elderly Jewish couple who survived Auschwitz living in his house.

“This is the Jewish homeland!” Maude screamed.

“How dare you speak to me like that!”  He waved his hand at her.  She inhaled his cologne.

“I’m going to contact the Israeli army if you don’t leave me alone,” Maude said more fearfully, like he might reprimand her the way the Yemenite (whose glass case she had broken) did.

“I was born in Jerusalem,” he said to her, “how dare you act rude to me—you—”

“Going to call me a Jew?”

“That’s what you are,” he soberly acknowledged, declaring “the Israelis massacred Palestinians and stole our homes.”

“You want our land because we turned these swamps into crops,” Maude announced, noticing more people hovering around them.

“You are thieves,” the man bellowed, as some of the onlookers, who understood bits of the conversation, nodded. Maude looked at the cluster, some of whom she referred to as “The Bedouins,” and others who dressed like her parents going to work.

“I’m going to call the police if you—and…”

“Call Golda Meir for all I care,” he hollered, as several people sneered. “You have no respect for us,” he glowered, “you weren’t even born here, but you come from the U.S. and act like you own everything.”

Maude, sensing this might not be the most beneficial chat, began to walk, and then quickly ran. She hid behind an olive tree and hoped that “they” would not follow her.


[1] One of the holiest Jewish prayers that reveres God’s name.

Eleanor Levine

About Eleanor Levine

Eleanor Levine’s work has appeared in Fiction, The Evergreen Review, Midway Journal, Pank, Hobart, Artichoke Haircut, Connotations Press, The Coachella Review, Milk Magazine, BLAZEvox, Atticus Review, The Denver Quarterly, The Toronto Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Lunch Ticket Magazine, Prime Mincer, Happy, Gertrude, Thrice Fiction and Hot Street; she has work forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine and Storm Cellar. Eleanor is currently a copy editor and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She studied with David Ignatow and Katha Pollitt at Columbia University in New York, NY; and with Richard Dillard, Jeanne Larsen, Cathryn Hankla and Pauline Kaldas at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, where she received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2007.

Eleanor Levine’s work has appeared in Fiction, The Evergreen Review, Midway Journal, Pank, Hobart, Artichoke Haircut, Connotations Press, The Coachella Review, Milk Magazine, BLAZEvox, Atticus Review, The Denver Quarterly, The Toronto Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Lunch Ticket Magazine, Prime Mincer, Happy, Gertrude, Thrice Fiction and Hot Street; she has work forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine and Storm Cellar. Eleanor is currently a copy editor and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She studied with David Ignatow and Katha Pollitt at Columbia University in New York, NY; and with Richard Dillard, Jeanne Larsen, Cathryn Hankla and Pauline Kaldas at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, where she received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2007.

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