Standing Silent is Not an Option

As a Jew of Eastern European decent, and complexion-wise, arguably one of the whitest people I know, I can “pass” as a white Christian Anglo every single day. Non-Jews assume my last name is German. If they ask, “Is your name German,” I have always answered “no, Hungarian”.

I was taught not to make waves. Ssshhh. Don’t draw attention to yourself.

So, it is not surprising that I have heard acquaintances, colleagues, and clients say horrible anti-Semitic statements in my presence. Some, maybe most, have no idea that I’m Jewish. Some do. What I’ve learned is that some people will say terribly bigoted and racist things and they don’t care that what they are saying is not acceptable.

It’s difficult to know what to say in response, or even when is it appropriate to respond to an anti-Semitic comment.

On two occasions, a group of women I considered friends made anti-Semitic comments in conversation in my presence. One comment was in reference to a son’s girlfriend as a “JAP” or “Jewish American Princess”. A JAP is a pejorative meaning that a girl or woman is pampered and selfish and only likes the finer things. In this instance, the girlfriend wasn’t Jewish, but the mother said that her son’s girlfriend acted like a JAP. Not too long after, one of the women was explaining how she “jewed down” a car salesman to get a better deal.

So I privately told one of the women involved that as a friend, the comments, especially the comment “I jewed him down,” were hurtful to me. She told others what I said. One of the women told me “we don’t even think of you as being Jewish”. I have no fucking idea what that even means. I can only surmise that they meant it as a compliment, which of course, is an insult. Another of the women told me that people just talk that way and that I needed to grow a thicker skin. I don’t talk to those people anymore.  I don’t think they notice my absence or care that I bowed out.

I’ve realized that I cannot stay silent in the face of bigotry and racism. I grew up in a mixed race/religion neighborhood in NYC. It was a wonderful childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. I thought, apparently wrongly, we were beyond this. I thought we were better than this.

Since this last election cycle, there have been so many incidents of anti-Semitism, and other bigotry, and racism, and it makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve started using my social media presence to call out certain of these incidences because I believe that I have to point it out.

I was told that being so outspoken about my politics was hurting my business (it hasn’t. I’ve been busier than ever). When I expressed that all these incidents made me fearful, I was told I have nothing worry about. I have had difficult expressing why I am so fearful. I’ve taken the admonition to not be so vocal as a call to action with regard to anti-Semitism.

We cannot act like this doesn’t happen with “love and light” blinders. Sometimes “turn the other cheek” just doesn’t work because these bigoted, anti-Semitic, and racist people think that your silence means you agree with them.

Well I don’t agree with them and I’m no longer going to stand silent. I don’t see this as negative because sometimes you have to walk in the darkness to appreciate the light.

And anyone that doesn’t like it can kiss my tuchas.

 

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Prayer in Public

Since the election, there has been even more about the issue of prayer in school on my social media feeds.

Here’s my viewpoint on this.

When I moved to Texas in my junior year of HS (January 1978), I had my first taste of prayer in school and it has left a lifelong bad taste in my mouth for any sort of public prayer.

The school used to do the prayer over the loudspeaker every day. Every day it was “in the name of Jesus”. I had never experienced this in my 17 years. We never had prayer in school in New York City. Not ever. We did salute the flag every day. But prayer? No. Never.

Every day in an Arlington, Texas, public high school, however, the Jewish girl that I am was subjected to a Christian prayer. Every single day I felt dirty and ashamed. I only told my mom about this for the first time last week. This was almost 40 years ago and I didn’t want to talk about it until recently.

Now when I’m asked in public meetings and events to bow my head, I don’t. (I only ever bow in Temple for those prayers that call for the bend of the knee and the bowing of the entire upper body.)

And during that public prayer, I wait for it — that “in Jesus’s name”. And I get that clench in my stomach and the tightness in my jaw because I know it’s coming. And I’m surprised on the rare occasions that it doesn’t. But that awful feeling, even as a 55 year old adult never leaves me.

Over the years I’ve tried to rationalize it. “They don’t mean to be exclusive.” “They don’t know better.” “I just ignore the ‘in Jesus’ part and remind myself that I believe in God.” Or in those instances where the leader just says “In his name” I  say to myself that it doesn’t really mean “Jesus” when they say “his” but the truth is, they are saying”in His name” and they do, indeed, mean “Jesus”.

All of my rationalizations don’t help. The lack of understanding of how that prayer is not my prayer; that I don’t want to pray in the name of Jesus. That I am sitting in a public meeting and don’t want to have to even make myself rationalize my feelings to make this situation palatable. Hey, if I was sitting in a church or a private club meeting, or someone’s private home, sure! I expect the prayer and I just sit quietly and take everyone’s hands as asked and be respectful as respectful can be.

But in a public meeting, and in the instances when I’m a member of a non-religious organization that insists on having prayer before the meeting or meal, it takes everything I have to stay quiet anymore. Because let me state this unequivocally — I am a Jew. I am not Christian. I do not believe that Jesus is God and I sure as heck don’t want to pray to Jesus. That you do is okay. It’s your religion — believe what you want to believe. Just don’t make me follow.