Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful! We were invited to a good friend’s house for the festivities and when I asked what I could bring, the hostess’ answer was, “Nothing!” How good is that, I ask you? I trotted off to the store and bought a big box of chocolates for her since I do know that is one of her weakness. The only thing that muted my euphoria somewhat was the fact that I did not spend the day with any of my kids or grandkids. They were all in different parts of the country, each involving the purchase of an airline ticket and going in and out of airports on the busiest weekend of the year. And how would I figure out which house I should go to without offending anyone. Visiting them had to be postponed.
I truly enjoyed the Thanksgiving party not only for the lavish dinner but also for meeting a group of very interesting people. It seems that each one of them had a unique story to tell about their work or their background. The most interesting conversation was with a gentleman who told my husband that his family, although ethnically white Russian, spent much time in Harbin. “Harbin?” my husband said, “My wife has been in Harbin.”
Questions about what each of us was doing in this undistinguished city in China followed, undistinguished except for the fact that the Trans-Siberian Railway ends in Harbin. And if any of you have read my memoir, Becoming Alice, you would know that I have been on that train, and must necessarily gone through Harbin in my odyssay to America.
In time my Russian friend asked why I left Vienna, one of the great cities of the world. I gave him a one word answer, “Hitler,” and realized that he had no idea that I am Jewish. This has happened to me so often that I sometimes wish that my identity could be read on my physical appearance like it can on the face of an African-American or Asian person. I have been told often, “But you don’t look Jewish.” I wonder what characteristic I must have to look Jewish. And I have heard people say, “But you don’t act Jewish.” I ask you, how do Jews act that makes them different from anyone else?
That brings me to the question for which I still don’t have an answer. Do you have to look like and act like the person you are with to be accepted? Isn’t that what we call bigotry? And what can you possibly do with the person who doesn’t fit into any kind of slot? We live in a world now where that is becoming more and more the norm. I am grateful that I don’t have that problem. I find people interesting as they are, especially when they are different than I am. I understand myself. I can only learn from those who are not like me.