YOU STUPID JEW

There is an old anecdote in the poorest of taste, telling about an American Jew walking into a Chinese restaurant and asking the waiter if the specialty dish “Sum Dum Goy” was on the menu.

The anecdote came to mind a few days ago, when I learned of a (visibly Jewish) driver making an illegal right turn in mid-town Manhattan, during rush hour, right in front of a traffic policeman. “Can’t you see that there is no right turn? You stupid Jew!” exclaimed  the policeman, who then immediately apologized for his uncalled for and rude remark. The driver was stunned. He immediately pulled over, got out of the car, turned on his camcorder, went up to the police officer who called him a “stupid Jew” and demanded to see his badge number. The officer refused and explained that he had already offered his apology (which he had.)

Unlike others who weighed in on the incident, (I scrolled down to the various comments) I have an entirely different take on what took place. Clearly, I come from another era, where Jews were afraid of causing any ruckus. The very fact that the driver  – albeit guilty of making an illegal right turn –  did not hesitate to confront the police officer, made me realize we Jews are no longer in the shtetl. As such, our mentality must no longer be shtetl mentality, a mentality that restrained us from speaking up and speaking out. A Jew demanding to see the badge number of a police officer? Unheard of! And the officer immediately apologizing for his unacceptable remark? Officers never apologized in the world in which I was raised. In the world in which I was raised, the officer would have yelled at the driver to get back in his car,otherwise he would risk receiving not one, but two citations: one for failing to follow posted traffic signs; one for leaving his car illegally parked. I was also amazed at how the policeman reacted to being recorded. “Takkeh a neieh velt” (truly a new world) as they say in Yiddish. I would have expected the officer to have demanded that the camcorder be shut off; I would have expected the officer to have confiscated the camcorder, when the driver refused to follow that order. Instead, after protesting that he had already apologized, the officer turned his back and walked off.

I shudder to think how I would have reacted, had I been the driver who made an illegal turn only to have a police officer call out to me: “Can’t you see that there is no right turn? You stupid Jew!” In all likelihood, I would have written a letter to either the mid-town precinct or the New York Times, or both, excoriating such an unacceptable as well as uncalled for comment. In my fantasy however, I would have borrowed from the following anecdote:  Those with knowledge of post-World War II American history are in all likelihood aware of the acrimony that existed between Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union and Senator Bobby Kennedy. Story has it, that Senator Kennedy received word that Jimmy Hoffa had just referred to him, as a “ruthless little bas*ard.”

Upon hearing Hoffa’s remark, Senator Kennedy smiled and immediately retorted: “I’m not that little.” In my fantasy, I would have gone up to the offensive police officer, looked him in the eye and told him: “I’m not that stupid!”

 

THE BENCH IS GEBENCHED*

It was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Rachel “Ruchi” Freier winning the race for civil court judge in New York City’s 5th Civil Court District, serving Borough Park as well as other sections of Brooklyn. What makes Ruchi’s victory so very remarkable is that she was born, raised and continues to live a Hassidic lifestyle. A picture of her standing together with her hassidic clad husband, son and nephew all sporting long beards and peyos (side locks) says it all. Personally speaking, I see Ruchi’s victory as a threefold blessing.
Ruchi’s victory dispels our stereotype that Hassidic women were put on this earth for the sole purpose of having babies, cooking, cleaning and keeping house and being subservient to their husbands. Aside from her law career (she graduated Brooklyn Law School), Ruchi founded B’Derech, a program that enables yeshivah educated men to obtain high school equivalency diplomas and even associate degrees, so that they have improved chances when entering the job market. Ruchi also founded Chasdei Devorah, a nonprofit relief organization and Ezras Nashim an all-female EMT organization so that Hassidic women are tended to by female EMT’s rather than male EMT’s en route to the hospital. Ruchi accomplished these feats with the help and participation of other women from virtually the same background as hers.
Ruchi’s victory being elected civil court judge should be viewed as more than yet another step in her career; it should be viewed as a giant leap for the Hassidic world of Borough Park. Hopefully it will help teach other Borough Park Hassidim, that contrary to how some of them have been raised, the outside world is not filled with evil and should be therefore avoided and shunned at all costs. Hopefully, it will convince other Borough Park Hassidim, that their career choice is not limited to either being teachers in yeshivahs or dealers in precious stones. If the outside world has neither harmed nor destroyed the neshomeh or soul of Ruchi Freier, then there is every reason to be hopeful that the outside world will neither harm nor destroy their neshomas or souls as well. Hopefully, Ruchi’s latest accomplishment will serve as a lesson to the Hassidic world of Borough Park that they can safely venture out into the world and remain Glatt Kosher.
Like all others in society, judges carry baggage to their profession. No different than Supreme Court judges, other judges tend to bring their political, philosophical as well as their religious and social upbringing with them to the bench where they serve. Ruchi’s background and education could very well serve as a major advantage. Long before entering Law School, Ruchi was raised to think analytically. At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, in all likelihood Ruchi brings a “Yiddishe kop” to court. It is a “kop” or head (actually a mind) that is not only filled with knowledge, but wisdom as well. If that Yiddishe “kop” is complemented with a “Yiddishe Hartz or heart, then any case that Ruchi decides, benefits from judicial qualities that are held in the highest esteem.
Hopefully, Ruchi will serve as a role model to be emulated by others from the same religious background. I have every reason to believe that our legal system will only benefit from Ruchi as well as from those who pattern themselves after Judge Rachel “Ruchi” Freier.

 

*Gebenched is Yiddish for blessed