Bloodlines in Bethnal Green… and the Jewish Question

Around 1911 my Great Grand-Mother, Rivkah Notlovitz, arrived on a boat in London; she’d fled pogroms in the Baltic East. She headed straight for Stamford Hill, because well you know, it is Ashkenazim HQ. She was bored after a few months however, and boarded another boat; this time for Cape Town. Her religious life over, she now gave herself to politics where an altogether new circumstance of colour presented itself.

Hush descends a shoddy shack and red runs down my leg, heat rising to my face – I forgot the bloody date!

Silence, and after 20 minutes a small pool is at my heel. I clean up.

At break, a German artist books me for an entire week. I’ve got what it takes he says. Public bleeding apparently indicating that I am in fact a woman, not a mannequin.

Pronouncing my name is often followed by, “Are you Jewish?” – by Jews and gentiles alike. Usually I’m not, though occasionally Rivkah has her uses, but technically she’s on my Father’s side, so she doesn’t actually count.

As for why I’m called Esther, well that is another story, and oddly it is related to the holocaust!

Mum grew up in East Berlin and was always an outsider from the off, because she and her family lived there for political reasons, i.e. being on the run from McCarthyism. One thing she observed in the East Germans was, they blamed the holocaust entirely on West Germans. Clearly this was propaganda, but as a child (she left aged 13) it somehow indelibly marked her. She became a dedicated housewife, and her only form of protest for something she witnessed as unjust, was released in the naming of her first born. Somehow she knew that throughout my life I would be mistaken for Jewish, time and time again.

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