by S. Nadja Zajdman
coffee, strong and black
While the world was falling in love with him, my mother developed a distaste for Omar Sharif. I was mystified. “Mum. What have you got against Omar Sharif?”
“He reminds me of Stefan!”
My next question was obvious. Mum’s answer would’ve surprised anyone but me. “Stefan was my fiancé in the D.P. camp. He jilted me.”
That’s how I learnt of Mum’s early postwar love. As displaced persons in a refugee camp under American occupation in Germany, Mum and Stefan fell in love and were engaged to be married until Stefan’s father, an Orthodox Jew, emerged from a concentration camp and objected to the match. Both Mum’s brother and sister married Christians. In the eyes of her prospective father-in-law, Mum was tainted by association.
Mum’s fiancé wouldn’t defy his father. Instead, he broke off the engagement. After decades and despite her stardust marriage to my father, the rejection still stung. Unwittingly, Omar Sharif became collateral damage.
In the 1990s, as her generation were becoming grandparents, my mother was visiting friends in their Montreal suburban home when she noticed a photograph of the couple posing with Omar Sharif. Mum’s question was obvious.
“He’s our machatunim! (in-law) Our daughter Debbie was married to his son, Tariq.” When he grew up Sharif’s son, the beautiful child who played his son in Dr. Zhivago, married a daughter of Holocaust survivors. The marriage didn’t last, but it produced a son named Omar. Omar the Third. When the Egyptian-born film star came to visit his Jewish grandson he stayed, not at The Ritz in downtown Montreal, but in Chomedey, with his machatunim. The locals got used to seeing the international celebrity stroll their streets hand-in-hand with Debbie’s little boy. When Omar the Third grew up he moved to Hollywood, becoming an actor as well as a gay rights activist.
Tariq would marry twice more, and produce two more sons. His second wife was Christian, and his third wife was Moslem. His father the film star bragged, “I have a Jewish grandson, a Christian grandson, and a Moslem grandson!”
And that’s how my mum came to forgive Omar Sharif.
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