You’ll forgive me for feeling a little pensive, self-indulgent even. I’ve just written an essay on whether or not Jews have a future in Italy (abridged version: basically yes, but hugely reduced and only in a few key communities). It’s the kind of topic that invites reflection, especially as the future of Judaism, and what it means to be a Jew, seems so unclear in Europe these days.
That’s why I’d like to talk about the bathrooms at CIELS.
One particular cubicle, to be precise, in one particular bathroom.
As you walk into the building, go up the hospital-esque squeaky rubber floors to the 2nd floor. Turn left, and it’s the one immediately on your left.
Don’t let the fact that it says servizi uomini [Male bathroom] by the door put you off. None of the female students observe the rule and none of the male students seem bothered, so go right ahead.
The cubicles are all pretty much identical, except for this one. It’s the second one in the row. About 1x2m if I’m any judge, white walls, toilet right in the middle, the last few sorry-looking sheets of toilet paper left hanging on the roll, where they will probably spend the rest of eternity.
Close the door behind you and sit down, make yourself comfortable.
Ah. You’ve spotted it then?
The Star of David, drawn on the cubicle door that you are now facing, in permanent marker, just over half-way up. Something seen endless times, but which, out of context, takes a moment to recognise, like bumping into your stoner classmate looking immaculate in a suit and tie. My first thought when I saw it was, what kind of student goes into a bathroom with a permanent marker at the ready, and why is that student not speaking out when I’m being sent down to the office for the third time that week to get a new permanent marker because the one in the classroom has dried out, making the secretary suspect that I’m either a hoarder or running a really niche black market trade in markers?
The Star of David. Something I have seen endless times, but which, out of context, takes a moment to recognise, like bumping into your stoner classmate looking immaculate in a suit and tie.
It’s a long, rambling thought, but I think it’s an instinctive reaction from my brain, a magician’s trick intended to divert my attention away from the second, and more important question. This one is more philosophical, one of the classics of the genre: Which came first, the Star of David that first caught my eye, or the swastika, now coming into sharp focus, clearly marked out in pencil just above it?
The second question is more philosophical: Which came first, the Star of David that first caught my eye, or the swastika, now coming into sharp focus, clearly marked out in pencil just above it?
Having thought about it in some detail in the intervening week, I’ve decided the Star of David most likely came first, and it was Twitter, as it so often is, that provided me the answer as to why. You see, when Nazis, neo-Nazis, and like-minded groups united by a passion for baldness spout their anti-Semitism on Twitter, they tend to get blocked and/or reported. When Jews talk about being Jewish (or even when they don’t), it creates an effect on neo-Nazis like a red rag to a bull, or like a wad of unmarked notes to an entirely hypothetical Israeli interior minister; they just can’t resist. This is essentially the same situation, experienced through the old-media format of toilet cubicle graffiti.
What I can’t get my head around in this whole situation, is the motives of the Star of David creator. I’m confused as to what message that was supposed to portray. The swastika is fairly clear, not too many ways to interpret that. But the Star of David…. Sure, it’s a nice enough star. Undoubtedly one of my favourites, and not just because it’s one of the few things simple enough that even I can draw a passable one (two triangles, one upside down… You’re welcome).
Beyond that though, what was the meaning? Was it a positive gesture, a symbol of solidarity with the State of Israel, a sudden burst of Zionism by someone who just couldn’t wait until they left a space tainted by its association with bodily secretions? If not, could it have been a negative statement? It’s an ineffective one if so. It hadn’t been altered in any way, it wasn’t ‘dripping blood’; there was not even any writing underneath it revealing the Rothschild’s nefarious plans for world domination in collaboration with the Elders of Zion and Natalie Portman. Just a simple star.
Maybe, I reason, it was drawn by a fellow member of the tribe, placing the symbol of Judaism there in the hope that, one day, another Jew might come along and put a dot in the middle of it, thereby identifying themselves to each other the way Christians used to do in Roman times with the fish symbol.
Maybe the creator was artistically challenged, like me, and wanted to show off their new-found ability to create basic clip-arts to a wider audience than a doodle on a block of paper in a boring lesson would allow.
Maybe someone just likes the shape.
And maybe it was drawn up there in the hope that one day a Jew would, entirely by chance, happen upon that very cubicle, in that very bathroom, on that very floor, and over-analyse the meaning behind it. If so, to the creator of the piece I would say: “You may rest now, your work here is done.”
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-The Wandering Jew-