Visions of Matzo Balls

by Loolwa Khazzoom • May 9, 2013 • Jewish Multicultural Corner

I was at my semi-regular ultrasound appointment, which I go out of my way to arrange with a specific tech. She is super gentle, so I don’t end up with pain. In addition, she’s very accommodating, so she doesn’t stress me out with a negative reaction when I request a few sheets to stay warm, or if I need to adjust my head while lying down. The radiology department does not typically allow patients to make appointments with specific techs, but I make my arrangement through the tech supervisor for the department.

A few days before, I had gone to a 12-step group and, as part of my share, talked about feeling alienated from the local Jewish community, and therefore, from myself. Because my abusive father is in this community, I explained; because I have a long-ass Arabic name; and because the Jewish community here is almost exclusively Central and Eastern European, meaning that an Arabic name sticks out, it’s impossible to go to synagogue without getting the, “Are you related to _____” routine. In other words, if I do not risk running into my father himself, I risk encountering his shadow everywhere I turn.

In addition, I shared, given that my father plays a good game and is a master manipulator of perception; given that he went to Harvard and uses that to generate respect and admiration; and given that the Jewish community is super tribal and family-oriented and, stemming from that orientation, oblivious to the existence of domestic violence among Jews, it is extremely challenging to walk through the Jewish world at odds with a family member also in the community.

I did not get into details about that last piece in my share, but the issue is that religious Jews do not pick up on cues or respond appropriately to very obvious boundaries, like, “I do not have a relationship with my father and do not want to talk about him.” A typical answer to that is, “Why?”

After my share, I stuck around, to see if anyone who resonated with my share might come up and talk with me. Several people did talk with me, but not one actually responded to the content of my share. Instead, a mixed black/white woman told me all about getting to know the Jewish side of her family – attempting to bond with me about our presumably common white Jewish lineage, when in fact the Jewish side of my family is, as clearly indicated in the share, Iraqi, and the white side of my family (not addressed in my share but present in my physical features) is Irish, Danish, and Welsh – Catholic, Protestant, and Quaker, respectively.

Next a woman approached me with the opening statement, “I had this lawyer…” I knew where the conversation was going from there and knew that it would not be good. Suffice it to say the terms “rich,” “smart,” and “Jewish” were strung together as if they were both inextricably-intertwined and sinister. This woman went so far as to link her racist rant with my share, saying how much she “resonated” with what I had said. Apparently my very personal description of dealing with the fallout of family violence made her “realize” that the rich-smart-Jewish-lawyer who had screwed her over was enabled by the protection and cover-up of the Jewish community.

Great. Yet another reason to hate Jews. So glad I could help with that.

When an earnest-looking young woman then approached me, I thought I was being rescued by someone who would actually connect to my share. “Do you know Gertrude [insert very Ashkenazi sounding last name]?” Immediately I bristled. “No,” I replied. “Oh well she’s very active in the Jewish community in Los Angeles,” the woman said. While it just so happens that I moved here from Los Angeles, I do not recall mentioning that in my share. Regardless, of course I would know Gertrude Shmutsky, because she’s Jewish, and I’m Jewish, and well. There you have it.

Which all goes to say, there I was, arranging myself on the medical bed, getting ready for my ultrasound, when the tech said, “Do you mind my asking about your name?” I did not mind at all and informed her that it is Judeo-Arabic. That usually gets a blank stare, so I helpfully added, “which is the Jewish dialect of Iraqi Arabic.” As soon as the tech heard the word “Jewish,” she jumped in and talked over me, not hearing anything about the dialect.

“Oh, I thought Jewish,” she said, seemingly pleased with herself. “Really?” I asked, surprised. “Usually people think it’s French or Hawaiian.” It seemed odd that someone would assume my name is Jewish, unless that person not only was from the Middle East and not only from Iraq, but also from the Iraqi Jewish community. Even Iraqi Muslims are not familiar with “Loolwa,” because in their dialect, the name is “Lu’lu’a,” with a more guttural sound. This woman was pretty damn white looking, so how could she possibly tease apart Iraqi Arabic from Iraqi Judeo-Arabic? “Well, you’ve been here a few times,” she responded, “so I’ve seen you, and you look Jewish.”

I’m tired.

People hear “Jewish” and run with it, to places that have nothing to do with me. Then they project these images onto me, despite my clearly indicating that my “Jewish” is something entirely different than what they think they know. In this case, the tech asked about my name, but really the question was not about my name or about me at all. It was about confirming a projection, replete with matzo balls and gefilte fish, black hats and curly locks. I felt tempted to inform the tech that there is no “look Jewish,” that there are Ethiopian Jews and Indian Jews and Brazilian Jews and Yemenite Jews, with every shade and physiognomic feature.

But seriously, I just came in for an ultrasound. So I said nothing and lay down and took a little nap, practicing gratitude that I had the gift of working with such a gentle tech.




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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

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Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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