It wasn’t until I was 22 that I experienced words of anti-Semitism and even then they were overheard.
I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant in Chicago. Two middle-aged businessmen at the next booth were talking and one of them said, and then he tried to Jew me down.
I remember being more shocked than called to action. Then I considered what to do. I know what I’d do now but back then, in the late seventies, I weighed the options and chose the path of least resistance, which was to ignore it.
After all, it wasn’t my conversation and I’d be starting something in the middle of a public place that likely would escalate and certainly wouldn’t solve anything. Clearly, those guys were idiots.
These days, I’d give them a what for and say something like,
Can you clarify that for THIS Jew?
Or, well, perhaps something wittier, and hopefully something wiser.
Decades have come and gone and over the years I’ve personally heard and experienced a lot more anti-gay stuff than Jew-hating comments. Nevertheless, Nazism is on the rise and once again we Jews, whether practicing or not, have once again been thrust into the social forefront of populations of people to be hated.
My Hebrew school teachers tried to warn me back in the sixties but being a kid living in the boroughs of New York City you didn’t get a lot of swastikas, Jew me down invectives or public physical pummeling.
Only a twenty-something born and bred in New York City could be surprised to hear something anti-Semitic said out loud in the late seventies. It just wouldn’t happen in MY neighborhood.
More likely I might have heard some invective about the Blacks.
Not from any of my friends (Note: I can swear to that) but from the mouths of some of their parents, grandparents or random group of that groups’ friends.
Of course, this was a problem but at the time I was sure the world was changing. I used to get into knock down, drag out fights with elders whenever I heard them say something I considered even vaguely, and certainly outwardly, racist. I didn’t hear it often but enough to be enraged, enough to call them out on what I considered their ignorance, stupidity and offensiveness.
Yeah, wouldn’t you have liked to have known me as a 12, 15 or 18 year old? I’m speaking to every adult reading this who has a relative that…well, you know.
Anyway, here we are well into the 2000s and the shit talk ignorance once spoken quietly or privately in most major cities, though a lot more vocally in rural areas, especially in the south and Midwest, has gone viral.
Instead it’s become part of the public discourse.
We actually have global music stars, billionaires and former presidents openly and proudly spouting stuff teenage me would have gone apoplectic on.
So naïve and dangerous are the ways in which the teenage mind operates. And yet, how well-served would society be if it occasionally spent a little more time (Note: Or any time) occasionally listening to the outbursts of kids who haven’t yet learned how to lie or remain silent about what they really think as craftily as their elders.
This is not a problem as 2022 sputters to its much awaited conclusion (Note: For this Chair, anyway. It was a terrible year as 12-month periods go). Social media and global interconnectivity (Note: Whether we like it or not) has made it impossible to hide the rot and emboldened the rotten.
That being the case, we all get to be unruly teenagers daily, if we so chose. Though like young people learn, constant angry verbiage gets tiring and after a while all you want to do is tune out (Note: Take your choice of vices), rock ‘n roll (Note: See previous note) or have sex and do drugs (Note: See previous note once again).
Or, when you get to a certain point in life…ahem,..simply go to sleep.
Though one of the few things Hebrew school taught me is that when you see Jewish stars and swastikas being merged together, it’s no time for sleep.
Rather, it’s time to speak. And fight. A lot.
I like coming-of-age movies about young Jewish boys as much as the next Jewish person. Heck, I even wrote one back in the day. (Note: Google Family Prayers).
However, the way new films like Armageddon Time and The Fabelmans show us what it’s like to experience Jew hating (Note: And they do it far better than I did in my movie, since I don’t recall any Jewish trash talking as a boy), now comes across as positively quaint.
Time for, as Woody Allen once stated in Annie Hall, bricks and baseball bats because a satirical piece in the Times doesn’t cut it with Nazis.
Right, I know, we’re not supposed to quote him anymore, but, well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Or am I jumping the…gun…I mean, shark…before it’s bad enough for what he proposed way back in 1977?
I mean, how bad does it have to get and how does a lifelong pacifist like me, who thus far has only fought back with words, weaponize for this?