Semitic Symbols in Dreamland

She kept dreaming of people from her past. People who were specifically Jewish. When she looked up a phrase like, “What does it mean to dream of a Hasid?,” the stereotypical response was that money was meant to soon come your way. It was a bit on the nose in its more than faint anti-Semitism. Then again, maybe it could be viewed favorably to be “a people” associated with money and power. Except that the association was tainted by Shylock and a representative penchant for money-grubbing in general. No, there was no way Ella could spin the interpretation to be just in its oversimplification of what it means to be Jewish. At least from the gentile perspective.

She had to marvel that she was even able to dredge up so many “emblems” of money from her past considering she grew up in a gated community, her house recessed in a cul-de-sac protected from the “horrors” of the world that came into play when diversity was in the mix. Or so her parents seemed to believe. Yet it was Lauren Rosenberg, who liked to insist that she was the granddaughter of Ethel for shock value, that Ella befriended immediately upon moving into the neighborhood. Lauren was the only one who would deign to talk to the new girl, to invite her over to play or watch afternoon cartoons. Yet when Ella’s mother, Gilda, found out about the friendship, rather than being pleased that her daughter had found a companion to ensure she wouldn’t become an isolated sociopath, she insisted that Ella put a stop to the after school meetings. “It’s not appropriate,” Gilda decreed, though she would never add the unspoken reason why it wasn’t appropriate: “She’s a Jew.”

The Rosenbergs were well-known in Belfort. After all, there weren’t many Jewish families in Washington State. Ella could hear her mother talking to someone on the phone one day, saying, “Honestly, they should all just keep sequestering themselves in New York and Los Angeles.”

She wouldn’t understand what that meant until much later, when she had made her way down to L.A. to major in film production and one of her professors asked the class to raise their hand if they were Jewish. About five people did. He concluded, “Congratulations, you’re the ones who will make it in this industry.” One of the people who had raised his hand was a boy named Leonard. He was shy and wore black-rimmed glasses, as one always expects a Leonard to. It was Ella who struck up a conversation with him one day after class that led to coffee at Cafe Collage on Pacific Avenue (Leonard had lamented that there was nothing but Starbucks, Peet’s and Coffee Bean in Marina Del Rey, but Ella suggested a quick dip into nearby Venice would unearth something less chain-y. Though they were both new to L.A., he from San Luis Obispo and she from the aforementioned nothing suburban town, intuition guided them).

Their shared love of Pier Paolo Pasolini and trash Italian film of the 60s and 70s cemented the inevitable romance between them. One that Ella assumed would die out eventually like all college trysts were supposed to (if she had learned anything from Dawson’s Creek and Felicity). But it only intensified–to the point where she was developing a sense of dread about what she would have to tell her parents. While her mother was vocal about her anti-Semitism, her father, Quentin, was almost worse for the silent judgment that came over his face when something or someone Jewish was mentioned. The man wouldn’t even venture into Noah’s Bagels. He couldn’t even enjoy a delicious schmear, the word alone oozing too much Jewishness for him. Ella never could figure out where their contempt arose from. If it was some long-standing hatred that was simply passed down from generation to generation, or if they had fascist ties in Germany she didn’t know about. They were too repressed to be questioned. And such attempts at frank conversations would only result in awkward silence and harsh glances.

So no, she had no idea what to tell them about Leonard. Deciding instead to bring him home for Christmas in the hope that they wouldn’t suspect he was Jewish in spite of his name and appearance. When she briefed him on the importance of the secrecy of his “heritage,” he was livid. Declared that he would rather not go at all than hide his true self from anyone. His own family had ascendants that had died in the Holocaust. They weren’t about to be persecuted in the present by some uptight Washington whiteys. The argument led to their breakup two days before Ella would take her flight up to Seattle and then drive to Belfort from there. Or rather, her parents would pick her up and drive her. Like wardens taking her to a prison. She had never despised them so much as during that drive, blaming them for what they did not even know they had wrought. They had stolen away from her the only boy she would ever love. Likely because he was her first love, but also because no one would ever have the same cinematic tastes. About three years after they graduated, she heard he was already producing his first movie for Lionsgate. She was working at a jewelry shop in Venice, right near where they had their first coffee date. It was daily torture.

As time went by, she continued to work there, elevating her position to manager, writing screenplays during the many lulls involved in the business. At twenty-eight, she received the phone call from her mother announcing some “startling” news. She had divorced Quentin and shacked up with someone else. A Jew. His name was Morton Levin and they had met atop the Space Needle (she was feeling whimsical that day and had decided to drive into Seattle to play the tourist). In town on business from New York, he managed to charm the anti-Semitism out of her in a single night at the Four Seasons. It was that he had chosen to stay there that convinced Gilda maybe not all Jews were tasteless and stingy with their money. Ella wanted to strangle her. Take her into the Puget Sound and slowly drown her. The hypocrisy of it all, the pain she had caused Ella without even realizing.

Instead, Ella said, “That’s great Mom, I’m really happy for you,” and hung up, not bothering to ask if Gilda was planning to move to New York with her new berye or if Quentin was going off the rails. She didn’t care. All she knew was that she had lost the person closest to her because she had given a shit about her parents’ opinion. Still, she showed up to the wedding months later. It was at Gallow Green. No one in attendance seemed to be acquainted with the bride other than her daughter. For of course Gilda could never tell anyone out West about her dirty little secret a.k.a. Jew. As she picked up a dreidel-shaped piece of cheese with a toothpick stuck in it (this smacked of Gilda’s instruction), she wondered what Leonard was doing. If he, too, had also gotten married by now. Had a couple of kids. If his wife could cite lines from Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

It was after the wedding that the dreams started recurring, of Lauren, of Leonard. She wanted it to mean something about those broken relationships–that they could be repaired–rather than the money foreshadowing stated by the internet. Yet a few months after her return from New York to everyday life in the jewelry store, she decided to test the theory by purchasing a lotto ticket, something she had never done in her life despite how much Los Angeles promotes it. The winning worth was three million dollars. That the numbers she chose consisted of a combination of both Lauren and Leonard’s birthdays added to the eerieness of the Semitic symbols in dreamland that kept visiting her. Yet it wasn’t the money that made her feel wealthy, so much as when, after her name, face and story were featured on the local news, she received calls from both of the Jewish people she had been forced to excommunicate from her life.

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