Thought Catalog

Jew Blues: Rosh Hashanah Reflections

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I remember seeing the swastikas when I went outside to play.

Standing there in my lush backyard, I noticed them spray-painted on the back of my one-story, red roofed house: two large, white crooked X’s.

I was about eleven years old. My mom had put a menorah, symbolizing the Jewish festival of Chanukah, in the window of our house like she did every year. Though we were the only Jewish family on our block, we lived within South Florida’s dense Jewish population. Miami’s Hasidim were thriving. Our synagogue was just a few blocks away. The Golden Girls could have been our neighbors.

And yet, in the middle of the night, someone had broken in through the chain link fence separating our backyard from the alley way and spray painted Nazi symbols onto the house. All my life I had felt safe there and now, painted on the wall in front of me was proof that I wasn’t. Not really.

I can still see those large swastikas, side by side, white against a maroon background. I remember them clearer than I remember most of my college professors’ faces. The police came by, took pictures, wrote up a report and then, told us there was nothing they could do.

My father sprayed the outdoor hose hard against the wall, while my grandmother scrubbed the graffiti away with a big yellow sponge. The next night, my mom still put the menorah up, now with three candles instead of two.

This week marks another Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year, and lately, I keep thinking about the overtness of that swastika-spray-painting hate crime. Most of the ignorance I’ve faced for being Jewish since then has been driven more by the power of words than by violent or disturbing deeds. While spray-painting a house with swastikas is a clear, evil action — saying something ignorant is less, for lack of a better term, black-and-white.

In high school, at a week-long journalism camp in Gainesville, Florida, a group of girls nicknamed me “Piggy” when they found out I kept kosher and didn’t eat bacon. It was a stupid joke, but every time they used it, it felt like getting bitch-slapped by a crucifix.

In college, I went with my Irish Catholic boyfriend to a party in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. In a conversation circle in the kitchen, a guy was talking about how he’d tried to buy discounted Rolling Stones tickets the day before.

“He told me they’d be $80, but when I got there, they were $100,” the kid said. “He totally Jew-ed me.”

At first, I thought I must have misheard him. When I realized I hadn’t, the world narrowed around me like the cliche sucked-in movie shot. My face paled. My hand clenched and sweat on the mug I was holding. My boyfriend shot his friend, Patrick, the host of the party, a look he couldn’t miss.

“Hey!” Patrick yelled at the speaker. The party stopped like Mr. Freeze had just walked in. “Don’t you ever fucking use that word in this house again,” he said. Then, he threw the kid out.

“I’m sorry about that,” he told me later, as I stood by the counter, alone and feeling terrible. I hated myself for reacting so strongly and “ruining” the party, and I also felt confused. What was it, 1950 in here? Were we all gonna head over the sock hop and have milkshakes at the soda shop afterwards? Were the Greasers about to show up? Like, seriously? Were people really still saying “Jew-ed?”

It’s more common than I thought. My current boyfriend, a stand up comic, tells a story about performing one night, where the announcer brought him on stage by saying, “And now, a very funny Jewish comic…” As soon as he grabbed the microphone, an audience member in the front row tossed a quarter on stage. It rolled and stopped by his feet. Then, silence. It’s enough to turn even Jason Statham into Annie Hall’s skittish Alvie Singer.

There’s a part in the new Conan O’Brien documentary, ‘Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop’ where Conan is standing outside a stadium he is about to perform in. Two young guys come up and tell him they’re huge fans, but they couldn’t afford tickets. They ask Conan if he can get them in. Conan surprisingly obliges, but says he has to run it by his manager first. One of the kids expresses his gratitude, “Man, those ticket people Jew-ed us,” he says. Like me at that party in Springfield, Conan O’Brien freezes.

“They what?” Conan, who is not Jewish, asks. The kid says it again. He has no idea what’s wrong with saying “Jew-ed.”

Conan spends a few awkward minutes debating what to do. Finally, he explains to the guys that saying “Jew-ed” is anti-Semitic; it implies that Jewish people are somehow out to swindle the world. He emphasizes that the manager, who is about to give them free tickets to Conan’s show, is Jewish. The guys are surprised. They hadn’t made the connection between the slur and the people it referenced.

“I’ll get you into my show,” Conan says, “if you promise me you’ll never ever use that word again.”

The kids promise.

My first reaction is that I wouldn’t have wasted my time with these assholes, similar to how Patrick immediately tossed the Rolling Stones ticket buyer out of his house. I always felt like he’d done the right thing (TM Spike Lee), even if it probably didn’t convince this kid that Jews weren’t the cause of all his problems.

But watching that short clip in the Conan documentary, I wonder if it would have been better to simply explain to Patrick’s friend why saying “Jew-ed” wasn’t okay. Is it worth it to spend the time educating ignorant people that they’re being, what seems to me, very obviously ignorant?

What would have been done to the people who vandalized my childhood home had they been caught? Community service? A fine? Stringing them up by their toenails and letting every Jewish grandma in Boca Raton fling blintzes at their faces? I would have reveled in hearing about any of these punishments.

As an adult, I wonder: Would it better to have them take some kind of Judaism class or make them spend time with us as we light the menorah? Would they see us as people then, and reform the error of their ways? Can you really fight actions with words?

I’m still not sure. But Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of rebirth and change, so maybe, maybe I can start here. TC mark

image – Linda Woods
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  • mp90909

    Ugh, goyim in public.

  • Guest

    This reads like a high school essay on discrimination.

    • Anonymous

      Hope I get an A!

  • Sophia

    This isn’t the best writing I’ve ever seen on here, but I still like it. I like that it is personal, and relevant, and fresh-sounding. Almost uplifting in a way. Thanks for the read.

  • RG

    I liked this, not too many other articles like this on TC. 
    I think that Conan did the right thing. Most people use that phrase  without even realizing the implications and if you just flip out on them about it they’ll not only keep using it but think you’re a over-sensitive jerk to boot. 

  • oneriver

    Please. Please. PLEASE begin that change. 
    As a California, Mexican-American going to school in a predominantly white college in Wisconsin, it is very easy to get offended and upset by racist comments. Yet, I realize that ignorance is bliss and most of these stereotypes that people have are based upon the surroundings the had growing up and they will continue to say lewd remarks if someone doesn’t explain that it is wrong. It can be exhausting, but it’s necessary. 

  • Anon

    Honestly, I don’t think you can be upset by the casual way people use these terms until Jewish folk themselves stop using it publicly. What Jewish comic does not go for the standard “hey my family’s jewish and look how we’re different from you” routine? I’m not saying people who use terms like Jew’d are justified, just that there’s a lot of give and take that’s NOT going on in this country. Everyone is running around with a victim mentality. They may not be right but there’s something to be said for having thick enough skin to not have a major life moment everytime some ignorant every-guy lets some trivial language slip. The swastikas on the house is a step too far even without the bigotted undertones, but even that was likely just a bunch of high school kids who thought they were cool more so than an actual hate motivated crime. 

    Seriously America, get your shit together and stop all this crying. What are you going to do when things ACTUALLY get tough and it’s not just words?

    • klaus

      ok, so how about you have think skin for yourself and let other people deal with bigotry against them in their own way. 

      let’s see you write this about the word nigger scrawled on a black families house. fuckin antisemitie 

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        As a black person I can say I’m pretty much down for ALL people to stop using the n word.   Including you.  Thanks!  –  A Black Person.

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        And don’t try that “I was just using it as a reference” BS either.  Lame. 

      • klaus

        I’m black. 

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        So?  You stop using it and maybe other people will too.  Try it.  

      • klaus

        not when there are teachable moments. 

        go live in a cave, if that’s what makes you happy.

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        You didn’t “teach” anything.  Don’t give yourself that much credit.  I’ll pass on the cave.  I’d rather live in a world where people didn’t toss words around just for the sake of getting some sort of imaginary cred in a comment section.

      • klaus

        ok, i guess you;re just an antisemite also. case closed. 

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        Because I said “don’t throw the n word around when this isn’t even about it?”  And you’re an idiot.  Case closed for real.

      • Anonymous

        A black fighting a black. No wonder the whites dominated.

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        I’m allowed to scold someone who shares my skin color.  You didn’t know?   But I’m not going to respond to you anymore.  Your last sentence says that you don’t deserve another minute of my time. 

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        PS-  I’m sure your ancestors who fought hard to have that word not used in a casual manner, are super proud today.

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      Hold the fucking phone there, buddy. Using the same logic you did above, I, a middle class white female, would be totally justified to use any racial/sexual/religious slur under the sun, because–and let me make sure I have this right–a comedian uses it in a sketch?

      You are just… wow. WOW.
      I can’t even break this down to make you look stupid because you already did that for me.

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        How can you make this statement but then “like” the statement below where the person calls themselves getting cheeky and using a racial slur like they own it?   I mean this article has nothing to do with racism against black families but then again, everyone’s got free will to use that word, right?  

      • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

        Either you really are too stupid to understand the idea behind the comment below that I ‘liked’ or you’re trying to pick a comment-fight on the internet.

        How’s that working out for you, btw?

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        Not stupid just sick of people trying to be bold and using this word.  It’s done.  Or did you not get the memo?  It doesn’t even apply to this thread.  But you like blindly agreeing, huh?  It seems to be the norm around here, right?  

      • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

        You can’t engage in intelligent discourse, therefore let us not engage. Thx!

    • RLS

      Awesome job marginalizing, buddy. And when things ACTUALLY got tough for my family in the fucking Holocaust not 75 years ago, most of them were fucking killed because people didn’t stand up against anti-Semitism early enough. 

      She’s writing a blog to raise awareness and give people a voice that maybe they’re too embarrassed to have sometimes, so lay the fuck off instead of spreading the message of keeping the status quo. 

  • klaus

    just out of curiosity what kind of Jewess are you? kosher and irish catholic boyfriend. 

    1)Orthodox

    2)Conservative

    3)Reform

    4)Reconstruction

    5) Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings

    • Anonymous

      The socialist summer camps is the only thing that fits from #5. I’d say I grew up conservative.

      • klaus

        was the irish catholics lips at least kosher when you kissed him?

      • Anonymous

        Absolutely not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    Lol the quality of the writing is pretty poor in places, but within this article there is a valuable discussion.

    I had been thinking about this earlier today; I’ve been called a faggot in public plenty of times without any sort of support from bystanders (Canada can be a surprising place). I guess it all comes down to teaching people how it really is? I’m a pretty peaceful person but I figure next time it happens I’ll just beat the shit out of them because the main issue is that many men and women assume gay men are “pussies”. We are not. I will fucking throw down as long as you are not a child. I can’t think of a non-violent way of teaching that lesson…

    • klaus

      this video should be added to this post up there ^^

  • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

    As someone who once had racial slurs spray painted near their house, I felt for you while reading this.  But from that early age, I realized that there is goodness in people.  One of our neighbors went over in the evening and scrubbed the offending language away so my sisters and I wouldn’t have to see it walking to school the next day.   Whenever I think about this, it always makes me feel really good. 

    But about once a year,  I walk into a bar and hear some loud idiot rattling off the n word in their common language.  And yes, it’s upsetting.  Sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t. 

  • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

    Oh and Happy Rosh Hashanah.  I hope it’s pleasant and that you can put aside bad memories as you celebrate.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you. That’s a very kind thing to say.

  • Kobayashi

    While I see where you’re going with this, you need a slightly thicker skin. I’ve been discriminated against many times in my lifetime, but you know what? I’m better than them and I pity their ignorance. Don’t waste your time being upset and move on.

    • Anonymous

      The swastikas bother me more than anything else at this point, but I understand what you’re saying. Still, I think telling them not to say it, like Conan did, might be worth a few minutes.

      • Kobayashi

        I can definitely agree with that. :)

  • http://thefirstchurchofmutterhals.blogspot.com/ mutterhals

    My favorite movie is A Serious Man, I feel like that makes me an honoray Jew. “I don’t want Santana Abraxis! I’ve just been in a terrible auto accident!”

  • Warren

    Sorry you went through this.  The crime for anti-Semitism should be death.  Shana tova.

    • Warren

      sorry, i meant the PUNISHMENT should be death.  still, shana tova.

      • Kobayashi

        This statement makes you look like an ignorant hate monger. Well done. Hating those who hate will solve nothing, and wishing death upon them is beyond appalling. Grow up.

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