When Barbie Was Jewish
Sheila and I used to play with her Barbie dolls at her apartment on the 5th floor. Barbie and Ken went to Temple on Saturdays in a red convertible. Sheila and I agreed she would pick Barbie's tops and I would pick her pants or skirts. It wasn't important what Ken wore. I liked being in Sheila's apartment and seeing what they ate there. White bread that felt more like cake. Oscar Mayer balogna. Very thin cheese slices (although they didn't feel like cheese and had almost no taste) wrapped in their own individual plastic wrappers. I liked examining their furniture, her mother's shoes, her father's pipes and electric shavers.
It was Sheila who told me, under the building one night as we watched the boys play ball, how babies are made. The details seemed mechanically impossible, and therefore unbelievable. But the strangeness of it made me think that there was a grain of truth to it. Why else would parents go to such lengths to keep it a secret, if it were not both strange and unbelievable? I thought it would be best not to try to verify it with my parents at this time, I would just save it for future use.
Our summer of being a pair came abruptly to an end when one day Sheila said she couldn't play with me anymore. We were walking home from school. "I told my Mom you were Egyptian, and she said it wasn't a good idea for me to play with you."
"Because we're Jewish." She did not seem puzzled or upset. It was self-evident to her. And final.
I ran home and asked Mama why I couldn't play with Sheila. Mama said I'd have to go by what Mrs. Kaplan said. There would be other friends. But I didn't want another friend! I wanted Sheila. Why was it bad to be from Egypt? Weren't we Americans now anyway? Why does it matter if they're Jewish?
There was no satisfactory explanation in what Mama said. "Some people are hard-headed" or "some people take things too literally" or "some people are ignorant about us" or "it has nothing to do with you." Mama never offered concrete reasons, just words to hold on to when nothing makes sense. I wouldn't be part of a girl pair for a long time after Sheila.