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Against Racism. Berlin, August 2013.

From the looks of it, they were all members of the same family. Twenty-five, maybe thirty years old, max. Hebrew words were mixed in with their Arabic. I wondered where they were from. Nazareth? The Wadi Ara area? Something told me they were neighbors. Not just from the region, but the Arab towns nearby, close to where my parents live.

The youngest of the lot – a hijab-wearing woman in her twenties – spotted an open seat. Six months pregnant, from the looks of it,  she held on to her swollen belly, as she attempted to seat herself.

“Sheisse,” (Shit) screamed a large German guy, who had decided to grab the seat for himself. She’d sat on his lap. Her unwieldy body immediately popped up, causing her obvious discomfort. Clearly more, from the strained look on her face, than the man she’d landed on.

Against Racism (remix.) Berlin, August 2013.
Against racism (remix.) Berlin, August 2013.

Her relatives were none too pleased. One of them spoke passable German, and asked him to give up his seat. The guy wouldn’t  listen. The boy repeated his request, with the utmost of care. The man put his headphones on, and began reading something on his iPhone. His Middle Eastern interlocutor approached him one more time, going so far as to tap him on the shoulder. “Entshuldigung!” (Excuse me) he said rather loudly. No response.

Against intolerance (and racism.) Berlin, August 2013.
Against intolerance (and racism.)

Sitting across the way from this scene, I took it all in, trying to make sense of it. Until these folks got on the train, I’d been focusing on a series of anti-racist adverts, flashing on the television screen above me. In between taking in this altercation, and arriving at my destination, I shot photos of the messages being broadcast, wondering about their real-life corollaries. I was transfixed by how appropriate they were. If only I’d had a seat to give up.

For a tolerant city.
For a tolerant city.

Jewish visitors to Berlin are often struck by how many street signs there are honoring Jewry. Ben-Gurion-Straße. Hannah-Arendt-Straße. Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße. Karl-Marx-Straße (and Allee,) even. We are everywhere, if not physically, at least as memories. Seeing signs like these, in the middle of ongoing conflicts, I find myself exceedingly grateful for the reminders. I just wish more people paid attention to them.


Commentary and photographs by Joel Schalit

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