The Invisible Synagogue: Facing Jewish History—and My Own—in Croatia
In her memoir ‘The Pat Boone Fan Club,’ Sue William Silverman recalls where she and her Christian boyfriend went their separate ways
From Dubrovnik, Graham and I travel by boat up the Dalmatian coast to Rijeka. Here we rent a car to drive to Sarajevo and Montenegro, where we spend the night in a farmhouse. Before dinner, I sit outside and the elderly farmer, in peasant clothes and cap, approaches me. He holds out a gnarled, work-worn hand. At first I think he means to shake mine, so I extend it, smiling. But he, grinning with absent teeth, places three colored eggs in my palm: blue, green, pink. Today is Easter. I have forgotten. He speaks to me in Croatian, so I don’t understand his words—yet I feel them, like a warm egg in my hand.
“Hvala!” I say. Thank you!
I hold up the eggs to admire. The dye is uneven, in places barely a transparent tint, white shell peeking through. I nod my head, still smiling. “Hvala.”
I long for more words but have few in his language. He motions toward the eggs, toward his mouth. Yes, I nod, imitating him. I will eat them, yes.
He smiles, satisfied.
In our room in the farmhouse, I hold one out to Graham. He refuses. They might be spoiled. We might get sick, he says. I sit on the straw mattress peeling blue, green, pink. I take a bite of egg. Speckles of colored shell fall to the rough floor.
On our final evening in Yugoslavia, back in Dubrovnik, I stand by the railing on the hotel balcony overlooking the Adriatic. I want to hear the oarlocks from our first night, just to know someone’s out there: Croatian, Serb, or Jew. The stars in the cobalt-blue sky seem to shine through a film of night…as if there is only a thin membrane between me and the realm of pure light.
It will still take me several more months to see that, after all, ancient feuds and warring ethnic and religious factions do predict the future. I will see that Graham’s father was right. His son and I are not meant to marry each other. Our cool, hip, 1970s accoutrements only mask how different we are—mask the fact that, although earnest, Graham is not brave.
But tonight I long to tell him about the 31 1/4 Jews, that I will always be a Jew. I want to tell him I am beginning to lose my desire for his love, which is deficient by 1⁄4, or perhaps 3/4. Which means it is entirely deficient. Which means I am beginning to peel away his beautiful shell.
Excerpted from The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew by Sue William Silverman by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2014 by Sue William Silverman.
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