Saturday, January 11, 2014
When the Penny Drops
I was 16, fatherless for two years, raised as a princess, clueless about the surrounding world. Studying at one of the most prestigious schools in the county and ranked among the top students in my class, I was mostly preoccupied with dating this father figure, preparing loosely for the upcoming "level exam" to get into 11th grade. Knowing that even if I don't make it into my favorite class, there are plenty of others and although less prestigious, they are still in the same high school, I didn't worry too much.
To my surprise, I was not only told I've failed the exam, but that there is no place for me at that school and at any school in town. I will have to learn in a village - the ultimate downgrading and humiliation. "You should not be allowed to learn at our school, you will soon leave for Israel, anyway, we better give your place to someone who stays", said my former class master. After lots of bureaucracy, I was able to get into a school with a really bad reputation, in town, in the Hungarian section. Although I spoke Hungarian, my writing was self-taught and basic, and my vocabulary limited to domestic conversation. My classmates were a bunch of low achievers, expelled from their former schools. After a few nightmarish weeks, I managed to get into an industrial school, pretty much the same level, but at least the tuition was in Romanian. To my surprise, a former [Jewish] colleague learned in the same class. I never asked her how she got there. Shortly afterwards she emigrated with her family to the USA.
My industrial school classmates were mostly village girls who came to town to become textile workers. I befriended my bench mate, a dexterous Hungarian girl and helped her with her studies. We exchanged presents: I made her an embroidered tablecloth, she knit me a blouse. A year later I married the father figure and started my odyssey to Israel, repressing the sour memory of these last two pre-matriculation years.
For years I believed I actually failed that exam, until one day the penny dropped and I realized that what happened was a blunt antisemitic act. Whether a policy from "above" or local initiative, not less sickening than the Jew trafficking Romania was engaged in.
Thirty something years later, a woman in Hungary opened her closet and found a tablecloth embroidered for her as a present. After some nostalgia tears, she found me online and sent me a nice mail. We started corresponding, including the inevitable subject of that school we both hated and whether we kept in touch with other girls from there. I remembered the Jewish girl (who is among my Facebook friends) and asked her how she got to that school. "It's an interesting story. Allegedly, my level grade wasn't high enough to stay at the [prestigious] school. The interesting part is that my colleague got to stay with a lower grade than mine (the grades were published on the board) and so until my father fought for my reinstatement, I was sent to the industrial school. That is when my dad decided there is no future for us there and we better leave."