We are in Moscow. Outside the car window is a gray city. The rain hardens its lines. People in shapeless, quilted coats scramble against the wind like Santa Claus dolls running amok. Left of us, the Lenin library and a huge advertisement for Lexus hanging over the granite beard of Vladmir Ilyich.
Yelena is my tour guide. She is around 50, light eyes and hair, dressed in four layers of pink and white. Twice a week she attends services at the Russian Orthodox Church near her house and she doesn’t like Jews.
I don’t know if I ever thought about what anti-Semites look like but surely not like her: A tiny woman, with milky skin whose neck cranes in your direction like a bird when she addresses you. “The Jews,” she explains to me earnestly, “are genetically more aware. That is why they were the first to steal Russian after the fall of the Communists.”
“Who is this ‘we’?” I ask her. And if ‘we’ stole all the money, why didn’t I get any of it?
Don’t play dumb with me,” she berates. "Who are the oligarchs: Brezovsky, Chodorovsky, Abramovich, Gosinsky and Gomelsky. All Jews. By the time we figured out what was happening, they had all the money. That’s the way you are. It’s in your genes, you are good with money.”
It's in the genes?
This is the second time she mentions ‘genes’ I tell her. “Why not?” She stares at me with her blue eyes seemingly innocent but now there’s a struggle. “Isn’t it true for example that you are all very connected to your families?”
Yes, I say, I guess so.
“See?” she rejoices. “So if it’s acceptable to say that you are different in this one respect, why isn’t it acceptable that you are built differently in other ways?”
What ways? I ask suspiciously.
“Morally.” Yelena says, “You see the world differently.”
Since I am very close to my family, I excuse myself and call my father who has more experience with this subject. She’s my first anti-Semite, I tell him, what do I do?
He thinks for a moment. Ever since he was appointed as Chairman of Yad Vashem Holocaust Institute he feels obligated to behave respectably.
“It’s not complicated,” he answers. “Open the door and kick her out of the moving car.”
I end the telephone call and seriously consider the idea. So, I say to her, you want to kick all the Jews out of Russia?
“Don’t need to kick them out,” she answers. “But I don’t understand why they have to be a nation inside of a nation. They need to decide if they are Russians or Jews.”
And if they don’t want to decide?
“Then it gets complicated,” says Orlovah, thinking. “Maybe we have to decide for them. I don’t know. It’s a political issue. You know why we have all the problems with the Americans?”
I can guess but I let her say it. “Because they are controlled by the Jews,” she says. “Bush can’t move without the Jews. He has to do whatever they tell him. I read a pamphlet about it, by Ganiyev. He’s a psychologist, more important than Freud. He’s well known in Russia. He explains the difference among the different races.”
I laugh again. Can’t control it. “What’s so funny?” she asks, her feelings hurt.
Winning her home game
I’ve been around you know, but I have never encountered this. You grow up in the state of Israel where you read how anti-Semitism is increasing. It sounds like something that only soccer fans and skinheads are likely to believe.
Do a lot of people think like you? I ask her.
She thinks about it for a minute. “Everyone I know,” she says. “But you still haven’t explained why you are laughing.”
I am suddenly overcome by a love for Israel. Maybe it’s the kind of thing you can only experience when abroad. From a distance, all the crises and the maladies we experience seem like a kind of indulgence for people who succeeded much too quickly. After all, our country managed to raise me for 43 years without introducing me to the likes of Ms. Orlovah.
She doesn’t scare me. I don’t see a second Holocaust when I look into her eyes. Unlike all the fears people like her planted in 50 generations of Jews, she looks to me exactly like what she is: A woman who is not particularly bright whose only way of escaping her lousy life is to belittle someone else’s.
I was laughing that you didn’t know, I tell her.
“I didn’t know what?”
“Who’s a Jew?”
President Bush, his real name is Bushinsky. We hide this fact because otherwise no one would understand why helps us so much.
I can see the wheels turning in her brain – with great difficulty – as she tries to absorb this new information. She will certain have something to talk about at her next church meeting.
“How does he help you?” she asks.
What do you mean, I chuckle again, why do you think you are so poor? He helped them get the money out of Russia.
You know, Brezovsky, Chorodovsky, Abramovich, Gosinsky, and Gomelsky, who did you think? Everyone is part of the network. That is how we took over the world. Everyone does what we tell them, Putin too.
“Putin as well?” She’s in shock.
I was going to tell her that his name is really Putinsky, a Jew from Lodz, but I thought that even this stupid woman would catch on to my teasing. So instead I say that his price tag was a little high but we came to an amicable agreement.
“You paid him?” she asked, dumbstruck by my revelation.
Sweetheart, I tell her, I won’t say that you are totally wrong but we are not exactly Mafia. It’s more like a worldwide organization. We have the money, the connections and whoever messes with us gets it in the end.
“What do you mean, ‘gets it’?
I don’t want to discuss it further but if I were you, I would be very careful with my questions. She looks a little scared.
“I didn’t mean anything bad,” she says.
Dead serious I tell her it’s a good thing it was me that she met. A different Jews would see to it that her career is ruined. Remember one thing, I tell her: We control everything. When we are the topic of conversation, it’s best to keep your mouth shut.
She cowers in her seat, throwing frightened looks at me now and then. The truth is, I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.