Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a night-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, a student at the American University of Cairo, and a waiter at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont. His second novel, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, won the 2019 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the National Jewish Book Award, the ALA’s Sophie Brody Medal and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, he lives in Oakland and teaches at San Francisco State University.
Michael David Lukas
Exodus on Lake Pontchartrain
Not too long ago, in what feels like an entirely different world, a prominent Jewish organization invited me to give a speech. I was asked not to say anything too "political" in my speech, for fear of offending their donors. I thought I would share with this forum the short preamble I added as a response:
Before I start in on my speech, I want to tell you a story I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few days. It’s a story my grandfather used to tell--my grandfather who spent most of WWII in a Siberian work camp and watched his mother die of Typhus, my grandfather who walked from Siberia to Uzbekistan, then made his way back across Eurasia at the end of the war and settled eventually with my grandmother and mother in New Orleans.
As the story goes, a few years after they arrived in New Orleans, the movie Exodus came out and for some reason, a local group of Neo-Nazis decided to protest the opening night. My grandfather was the gentlest person you could imagine, but when he heard about this, he and his Holocaust survivor friends, the Greena they called themselves, decided to stage a counter protest.
They had meetings about this counter protest and they argued and eventually the larger Jewish community caught wind of their plans and sent over a representative who said, essentially: We understand that you don’t like the neo-Nazis. We don’t like the neo-Nazis either, but the thing is, we also don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves or make any trouble.
As you might imagine, my grandfather and his Greena friends were not swayed by this argument. A few weeks later they showed up at the opening night of Exodus with bats. And you know what? The neo-Nazis saw these bat-wielding Holocaust survivors and they went home.
As I said, my grandfather was an exceedingly gentle man. He would never advocate violence, and neither am I. What he did tell me, in no uncertain terms, is that if you see something unjust you need to say something about it, no matter what anyone else might tell you.