Excerpt from A Jew in Tarshish by Mayo Simon

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The following essay was Tiferet’s 2017 Writing Contest Winner for nonfiction and appears in our Fall 2017 issue. The issue is available in print format or digital download.

After the morning service, while everyone was shaking hands, I talked about my flight to Istanbul. The Rabbi looked dubious. I explained that Turkey is like Disneyland for history buffs. The Rabbi shook his head. “A lot can happen in Disneyland.” The other men were less diplomatic. “New York to Istanbul? Are you nuts?” said one, unwinding the leather strap of tefillin from his arm. “Why go all that way to a place where they hate us?” Another reminded me (did I need reminding?) about the rising tide of anti-Semitism all over Europe in this unhappy winter of 2015. I said, “Please, enough already. Jews have been safe in Turkey for 500 years.”

The following week my inbox was flooded with clippings about Turkey and the Jews. There was the latest opinion piece in an Istanbul newspaper demanding that Turkish Jews apologize publicly for the Palestinian casualties of Israel’s operation in Gaza. There were calls for Jewish businessmen to pay for reconstructing buildings in Gaza or have their licenses revoked and their property seized. And, finally, the threats delivered on television by a prominent government supporter: “Turkish Jews will pay dearly for Israel’s actions. And Jewish tourists—don’t dare to come to Turkey. We don’t know how long we can restrain our young people.”

MAYO SIMON has spent most of his life has been writing dramas, live dramas for TV, movies for Hollywood, and plays for theaters in the US, Mexico, and Europe. “A Jew In Tarshish” is Mayo’s first personal essay; not easy to find the words, but satisfying.