Synagogue in Algiers.
“What year were you expelled from Algeria?”
“In 1956, the F.L.N. told us that we were not really true Algerians.”
“What were you?”
My luncheon companion, a handsome man in his late 60’s, smiles broadly: “Filthy Jews.”
“How long did your family live in Algeria?”
My friend sits back and ponders a moment: “Oh, since the churban, [586 C.E.] the Destruction of the Temple. That’s when our family made its way from Babylon to Algeria.”
“It must have been hard to leave.”
He just shakes his head in sorrow.
“The F.L.N. confiscated our home, our furniture, our bank accounts. For the revolution, they said. In truth, the committee members just stole for themselves. We were allowed to take one suitcase each. We arrived in France hungry, exhausted and penniless.”
“Were you ever compensated?”
“Did you receive government help?”
“Of course not. We all went to work. We would not take hand-outs. We had pride. We went to school, worked our way up into the middle class. France was good to us. I even enlisted in the army. I became an officer. But you know what happened. There was another officer in my unit, and he kept talking about dirty Jews. Everything with him was dirty Jews, dirty Jews.”
“The battle of Algiers, it never ends, does it?”
“No mon ami, it does not, not for us Jews. Anyway, I told him to stop, that I was a Jew. Well, this made it infinitely worse and he just never stopped. Finally, I took him outside and I thrashed him. I utterly thrashed him.”
“You are my hero.”
“You know what he did?”
“Cried like a girl.”
“He pressed charges and I was brought to a—what’s the word?”
“Oui, exact, tribune militaire. And there was a General, very stone-faced, who was presiding, and he kept staring at me. And the officer defended himself by saying that he did not mean it when he said dirty Jew. He said it was as a joke.
My French friend, who looks like a dapper European diplomat out of central casting, sits up straight and rattles off a string of irate sentences in French.
I hold out my hands as if checking for rain.
It’s, er, Greek to me.
“Pardon, but I was so angry in the tribune when he said it was a joke that I shot up in my seat and I attacked him with a J’accuse.”
“Mazal Tov. So, what happened, what was the verdict?”
“Ah, I was terrified of the Director General. He just stared at me and I was sure that he was a Jew-hater, he had that cold, Jew-hating look. But in the end he just said that officers may not speak in such a manner, that it was not honorable, and that brawls are for drunken peasants. That was the end of it. Charges dismissed.”
“Not a great ending.”
“Wait, it is not ended. In the courtyard, I am walking away and I hear someone calling to me. I turn and it is the General. I think to myself, oh no, now I am in trouble. He is going to break my rank. He comes over and I salute. He tells me, the next time he calls you a dirty Jew you must be a gentleman, challenge him to a duel—and then shoot him between the eyes.”
“Get out of town.”
“Nothing, go on.”
“I say, but Mon General…”
“The General says, I am Jewish. I say, no, I do not believe it. He says, I will prove it, and he recites: Sh’ma Yisroel Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad. Hear O’ Israel The Lord Our G-d The Lord is One.”