|The Golden Rose Restaurant in Lviv Ukraine photo by Tripadvisor|
Alex Schmidt, an American of Polish-Jewish ancestry, visited the Golden Rose restaurant in Lviv, Ukraine, and published a piece about that visit on an NPR site.
The Golden Rose restaurant is one of many attempts by Eastern Europeans to address the near extermination of the Jewish presence in what was once the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. (Lviv, Ukraine used to be Lwow, a Polish city.)
There are many such attempts. These include folk carvings of Jewish figures, Polish people maintaining Jewish cemeteries, and the Jewish festival in Krakow.
Alas, these attempts are often excoriated by those invested in the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype. In this stereotype, we imbibe antisemitism with our mother's milk, we are essential anti-Semites, and therefore everything we do is antisemitic.
There's another possible explanation. Maybe the folks who set up the Golden Rose restaurant want to share and honor Jewish heritage and educate their customers about it.
Alex Schmidt, in her piece, goes back and forth. She and her mother try to figure out if the restaurant, or a "Shabbat shalom" greeting, are menacing or friendly.
Earlier on the trip, I'd experienced a detail that felt far less positive: On a Friday evening in Warsaw, a hotel doorman wished my sister "Shabbat Shalom" without having shared another word with her. It was said with no discernible animus — in fact, some might have found it a polite greeting. But the fact that Jews were persecuted here, and that we could be identified by a stranger, felt ominous. In the U.S., I go through life pretty blissfully, benefiting from white privilege and generally not thinking much about my race or religion.
Now, in an area that had a history of hating people like me, and feeling unable to hide, I sensed a visceral, immediate danger that "playing Jewish" at the Golden Rose hadn't come close to. At the restaurant, it was easy to guess what people thought of Jews — that we're stingy and eat matzo and wash our hands a lot. But in the hotel, I had no idea what it meant to be assumed Jewish. Was the doorman's greeting an attempt at politeness? Connection? Or was it something more coded? What did he really think of Jews — of me and my family? There was no way to tell.
I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to live full-time in a country with documented hostility toward me and never be able to hide. Would I be on edge all the time? Would I get accustomed to it somehow? In what subtle ways would the fear I felt only momentarily in Poland creep into my subconscious in a place where it was ever-present? Would it affect my mindset, my trust of strangers, my overall sense of joy and peace? I know this is something that visible minorities deal with every day. And I couldn't fathom it.Here's the thing. Yes, there is a "documented hostility toward" Jews in Poland. There is also, as no less a personage than Columbia University Slavic Literature professor Harold Bernard Segel pointed out, a significant "documented" philo-Semitism in Poland, a philo-Semitism unique in Europe.
Philo-Semitism is often mocked. "A philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who likes Jews," a Jewish person once said.
Well, no. People like Jan Karski, the Ulma family, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Irene Sendler, and too many others to list here put their lives on the line. They should not be mocked and stereotyped.
There is also a "documented" history of Jewish autonomy, power, and success in Poland.
It's funny. Schmidt's piece is about being stereotyped as a Jew, but in her piece she manages to disseminate and perpetuate stereotypes of people like me as exclusively menacing, dangerous, ignorant, and hateful.