On a flight to Turkey I sat beside a woman, her hair covered by cloth yet face exposed. As she sat in my row, her friend passed by and the two grabbed hands and giggled in excitement. The seat free beside me she turned and spoke a language unheard by my ears, fluent and without pause. My face read I did not understand, this she could see so we spoke by hand. Her moves were soft and gentle, and her voice was sweet to match. More barreling than intended I motioned I’d move over once the plane door had hatched. Oh you want, she said. She spoke of the seat, but I did not see. She asked me where I’m from, and I said New York. Ah New York, she said. Recognition rang her voice and flashed upon her face, a common reaction encountered abroad. Where are you from, I said to return the favor. Iraq, and things took for a turn. I responded as politely as a natural expression would. Ah Iraq, my intonation musical and noticeably surprised. She mimicked my expression, her voice not mockery yet telling all the same. The word scared me. The mere mention of the country and my warmth had changed. I looked my chest to check my chain, the Star of David hang clad to its links. Tucked under my shirt I was safe, she did not know, she could not see. Here I felt the threat of one that was not mine, and yet she was no threat at all. We were on a plane, realistically, what harm could she be?
I disengaged communication, I dare not tempt the danger, but there was my fault. A woman kind of spirit had turned a threat at the simple mention of her origin, if this was not bigotry than I do not know what is. And yet I could not help but feel at risk or at least cautioned. I wanted to ask, do you like it there, do they treat you well. Why go back if they don’t. The question tipped my lips but I thought better of it, too offensive. Besides, her response I imagined, you’re from America, there do they treat you well? And that’s when it hit, perception, of America she hears of police beating blacks, of shots fired in their backs, their violence unpunished and untamed. Of Iraq I hear of women treated as lesser, their rights taken and oppressed. This is perception when East meets West. In Israel mistreatment of blacks isn’t in the culture, isn’t buried in its history and present. Yet of course I would go back, New York’s all I’d known, and how her country treats her is how she’s grown.
Here we were, a black and Iraqi, old and young, and way more similar than realized. Perhaps I should have shown her what laid upon my chest, I had met a nice Iraqi, a kind woman not a threat, and she met a kind Israeli- at least for four months. She changed my perception yet I cannot know if hers I had affected. I wear skin that marks me and a chain that does the same, I cannot hide the melanin in my skin nor the twist in my hair and just the same my Star of David is mine to wear. Next person I meet I’ll share my star proudly for whether American, Iraqi, Israeli or else, we are all more similar than we dare.
As you know Israel is constantly at odds, to put it politely, with its surrounding countries but that doesn’t mean you should fear all those who are from there, compassion and a little more love will go a long way, I learned this on that layover flight from Israel to Turkey that day. After the recent attack on the Jewish market in France, we were encouraged not to wear any indicators or speak any Hebrew when traveling through Europe for spring break, but now we know better. Also with the Black Lives Matter riots going on back home I hope we realize what effect perception can have on a people and how others relate to them. Peace is always better than violence. Here is a picture of me and Carly visiting my sister and brother in law, after we landed in Hungary and walked around Budapest for the day: