Abravanel, the Blog

Jewish life and not only in Greece / Εβραϊκή ζωή και όχι μόνο στην Ελλάδα

How I learned what malakas means

Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 01/04/2007

I’m grateful to DeviousDiva for publishing another small story of mine even though some words were a bit not nice. ;)

Again thanks and if you want to read it visit -> http://deviousdiva.com/2007/03/27/guest-blogger-3

UPDATE,13th of April. Posting also here the complete article:

Malakas (Greek: nom. μαλάκας, voc. and acc. μαλάκα, μαλακισμένε, fem. μαλάκω, μαλακισμένη) is a slang word, whose literal translation is wanker but the register of the term varies widely between its America/British English usage and its Greek usage. A more appropriate rendering covers a much broader spectrum of applications, including both English equivalents of asshole or jerk or dick or son of a bitch, and the contrasting friend or pal or dude, depending on the context.

I grew up in a rather poor part of my city which still maintained the populist image of the neighborhood/γειτονιά typical of the Greek cities in the past decades. It was a time where parents were a bit less anxious and maybe a bit more naïve and let their kids roam about freely and play in the open spaces that still existed, (the Greek term is not translatable but certainly will invoke memories for the Greek readers: αλάνες).

Each day my best friend N. would come by my house and yell my name for me to come down.

Then we would join the others in patrolling the neighborhood, playing soccer or all the other things kids do when they can simply enjoy a kid’s life. My family lived there since the ‘60s and everyone knew everyone and I can’t say that I was ever singled out as a Jew though we were the only Jewish family within sight. Hell, some of the kids were sometimes envious of my best friend N. because I was Jewish! Why? Because whenever an orthodox priest would pass by he’d take me to kiss his hand in sign of respect, as all the kids would do though in my case I was told to change my name to Manolis and avoid telling I’m a Jew; I didn’t mind since I thought of it like some kind of game. But the priest, since I was younger than the rest of the group and apparently was fond of me, sometimes gave me small wooden crosses which I would promptly give it to my friend who’d boast about it to the others making me proud of being able to make my friend happy.

As kids of course there would always be some strife and despite the usual “killer of Christ” or “Judas” that somebody would throw at me I wasn’t targeted for my Jewishness or at least I was too little to understand it, though of course I was always considered different. Although these remarks were of undeniable anti-Semitic origin, they were tossed at me the same way I was accused in my school of being a supporter of a specific soccer team while everybody else was supporting other teams – just another way between small kids to obtain victory over their companion. In the end of the day I would return to my folks asking them what my friends meant but I must admit that whatever explanations my parents made up mustn’t have been very convincing because I kept asking them each time. But the next day would arrive and we’d make friends again and begin all over , so I didn’t pay too much attention to these outbursts.

The fact though that these remarks are the seeds for the future conscious and dangerous racism to be found in adults is another question which deserves a post of it’s own. Also I prefer not to delve as to what was said in their homes about us, that was leading small kids to repeat mechanically “killer of Christ” and “Judas” – the same homes that I would visit occasionally to pick up my friends or return to pick a ball. These talks, unfortunately or fortunately, were beyond my ears and it was hard to imagine something less of an idyllic situation then.

Still I remember clearly one day, when I was seven years old, coming out the door of my home to find a big graffiti with capital letters in blue paint: “ΕΒΡΑΙΕ ΜΑΛΑΚΑ” (JEW ASSHOLE). I was delighted by the fact that somebody had climbed over the 2mt. wall that surrounded our house and written something about us even though I didn’t understand it’s meaning fully, so I called my grandparents out which swiftly took me inside without answering any questions. I remember that when my dad returned he kept staring at it, while I was standing beside him asking him what it meant. At this point I should say “malàka” (asshole) is the same word as “malakà” (softly) and only the accentuation changes. Well, apparently I was able to read but I hadn’t been corrupted, as I am now, because I remember I kept reading “jew softly” and I couldn’t understand why they had written that or what it meant. The letters were big and judging by their size they weren’t written by a kid but by an adult. In any case I was ordered not to ask in the neighborhood who did it, which I disobeyed only to find out that my friends were hesitant to talk about it. I don’t recall how my parents reacted the following days or weeks but I do remember that; my efforts to talk about it now resulted in their firm denial to “dig old stories” and I “should stop thinking these things”. In any case, my dad got a bucket of paint and promptly painted over even though some blue shades were still visible underneath. Of course no police was involved since there was little for them to do, though I have serious doubts that they’d actually do something even if they indeed had leads. In any case hate speech is not considered really a crime in Greece and is not actively combated today as multiple examples prove and this was even much truer then.

This episode got me thinking some years afterwards. How would I react if I had a family? I see much worse graffiti in the walls of the universities and this “jew asshole” frankly seems quite a flimsy attempt to frighten us; though we should keep in mind that the times then, were less verbally violent, so it isn’t such a low profile attack as one would be led to believe judging by today’s standards. Still I’ve been called much worse things and even now I don’t think this graffiti necessarily implied physical violence. But still would I take the chance to dismiss these fears so easily if I had children? Would I let them go out again this easily, while knowing that a person/persons felt it was worth the trouble getting a bucket of blue paint, jumping in the night a 2mt wall, risk being seen by the neighbors and get caught by cops as a possible burglar just cause he thought Jews was such a bad thing? How much fear would my parents have when seeing me not getting back home early? And how much fear would they have me getting beat up or similar? Nowadays parents are afraid of a possible stranger who might harm their kids, in this case they knew that there was certainly someone out there who hated us.

This is part of the reason why the Jews in Greece are so silent though we must distinguish the response of individuals and the official response of the Jewish Community by the mouths of the local Jewish Communities or the Central Jewish Board. Whereas the latter is concerned there are more aspects to consider which concern the traditional inwardness of jews, the greek society in general and many other things which deserve a post of their own; I must remark that I often personally find myself in disagreement with their silence though I understand the reasons behind this decision. But as this djudeospanish proverb, I mentioned before, says: If a rock hits the glass then the glass will break. If the glass hits the rock, still it’s the glass that breaks.

At some point my family moved to a newer house and I lost tracks of my old friends though I occasionally have encountered a couple of them and shared a story or two. No trauma involved and I still remember fondly my old neighbourhood when I visit it even if my house together with many others gave way to modern block of flats. Eventually I grew up and learned what “malàkas” means and even grew fond of using it like many Greeks do. But I’ll never forget my first contact with it painted with blue.


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