Saturday, July 5, 2008


aka: A Normal Evening in Brussels

aka: Do I Look Jewish?

A strange thing happened to me the other night. I went out, as every evening, about 9:00 for a long walk with Truman. We usually take a 15-45 minute walk (depending on how tired we are). This walk turned into about an hour and a half. Here I am, innocently walking along a sidewalk in Brussels just a few minutes from my flat. Suddenly I find myself accosted by an elderly woman. Okay, she didn't actually do the first accostation; that was Truman who, as we were passing the woman, felt the great need to reach up and lick her fingers. He does this sort of thing a lot, and I always get smiles and friendly chatter out of such embarrassing moments. No different this day. The woman turned to me and started chatting away. And chatting. And chatting. Within the space of a block of shared sidewalk, she basically told me her whole life story. It turns out, she's Jewish. Her father escaped Austria into Switzerland before the Haulocaust. Interesting. "Where are you from?" she asks me, of course in French. "I'm from the States", I say.

Conversation takes a drastic change. Ah, she has a friend who was born in Maryland but moved to Canada. He's also Jewish. His wife and he live only a few blocks away and shouldn't I like to meet them? "Of course," I say, not realizing, until too late, that she means this exact moment. So off we go, to meet more Jews.

They had a lovely home and shared the nicest wine with me. "How strange..." I think as I'm sitting on their veranda. Moments ago, I didn't know any of these people, yet here I am on their private veranda, enjoying a nice glass of wine. Now I have to explain to my hosts why I'm not able to house sit their flat for them on their next trip to the U.S. in two months. How strange. How Belgian. How Bruxellois. Things like this happen here for many reasons. Most people who live here in Brussels are foreign (I am American, the accosteress Swiss, her friend American/Canadian, and his wife Dutch). People here are lonely, and they reach out to anyone who has the faintest connection to them. In this case, I apparently look Jewish and that was enough.

I didn't think much of that particular aspect of my experience. I was too busy thinking how strange it was to show up at someone's house I had never met and be offered a glass of wine and an evening chat. But the next day we had a new student at French class. He was instructed to guess each student's nationality. Most he quickly guessed: 4 Spaniards, 2 Italians, 1 Indian, 1 Afghan, 1 Brit... and then me. He looked at me for 2 seconds and promptly asserted "Ah, tu es d'Isriel, non?" (You're from Israel, eh?). Israel? How strange. How coincidental. How funny.

I was telling some fellow interns this yesterday, two of which are Jewish. After a chuckle, the Jewess next to me asked, "But how did they both know you are Jewish?" to which the other Jew nodded. Unbelievable. I explain that I am not Jewish. Really. Looks of disbelief. "I'm 1/4 Italian, 1/8 Swedish...." and they drop it.

So here I am: 4 people (3 of which were Jews) in less than 1 week have thought I am Jewish. I've only had one other person in my entire life ask if I was Jewish (a girl at school who was asking everyone because she just found out that SHE was Jewish).

I ask you, my dear readers, do you think I look Jewish? I would humbly present that I can do one killer of a Jew-from-Brooklyn accent, but I've never thought I also look Jewish. What do you think?


Rebecca said...

Joshua, this is all very amusing! What a great story. My family and I were just saying earlier this week how we all thought you look Jewish. How can you not see it?

Jeremy said...

I would have to say that you definitely could pass as Jewish. But you should be glad. I mean after all, aren't the Jews like "God's Chosen" or something?? Then again it seems that Jews are persecuted more than other ethnic groups. hmm.... just stay away from the Jewish/Brooklyn accent and you'll be fine. :)

Ruth said...

It's the hair.

Pierre Bellville said...

*Sigh* I never knew I looked Jewish... The hair? Do Jews often have auburn hair?

I should try it sometime time. Just start saying "Muzeltuff", or however you spell it, to everyone I meet.

Rebecca said...

Mazel tov, I believe is the correct spelling. It literally means "good stars."