A resident of a shtetl east of Terrell came up to me as I was standing at a display in the Perot Science Museum last week (my grandchildren were visiting). What developed into a most interesting conversation for both of us began with his approaching me and initiating the it in the following manner: “I have a question I would like to ask you and I don’t know how to phrase it. I hope that you don’t take any offense.” After I encouraged him to ask me whatever he had on his mind and assured him that no offense whatsoever would be taken, he proceeded to inquire about the uncut strands of hair that my two older grandsons wear in front of their ears. Five minutes later, we were still talking, as I handed him my card and offered to drive out to his church and speak about Judaism and or Israel.
Despite wearing a kippah on my head at all times, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one who has been approached by a non-Jew. Chances are that a goodly number of us have been approached by a total stranger who asked: “Are you Jewish?”
Please don’t take offense at such a question. I beg you!
Unless a non-Jew accosts us or even approaches us with “Why are Jews so cheap?” or “Why do Jews have all the money?” let not our hearts be troubled. “Why are so many Jews, doctors, lawyers or accountants” ought not to be interpreted as being anti-Semitic. This is a legitimate question which deserves a legitimate answer. I highly doubt that any disrespect is meant by asking such a question. And a legitimate answer is that our European ancestors were forbidden to own land (farms) and work the land. Instead of concentrating on our brawn or manual dexterity, as Jews, we concentrated on our brain and our mental acuity. Incidentally, David Klein – whom I have known since I was fifteen – is a plumber in Oak Park, Michigan.
By virtue of our being Jews, we are all ambassadors to the outside world. It’s a position we never asked for or in all likelihood never wanted. But that’s life. As such, getting our noses out of joint when we perceive that there is some anti-Semitic undertone to a comment or question coming from a non-Jew can only make us look bad. Somebody asked us a question. Chances are that nothing was meant by it. And even if the question or comment reeked of anti-Semitism, we can only lose by lowering ourselves to the standards of the one who asked the question or made the comment. If we really want to make a statement, then let’s do so by ignoring the question or comment. No one likes to be ignored.
Anti-Semites rarely sound off at Jews. Anti-Semites typically sound off at other anti-Semites. That way, their views are validated. At best, anti-Semites mutter under their breath. Such was the case some twenty years ago, when I took the train into Manhattan to attend the annual Salute to Israel parade. The train was packed with scores of others traveling into New York for the very same purpose. As we walked out onto Seventh Avenue, a middle aged man walked toward us. It was clear that he knew who we were and where we were headed. He so much as said so, as he muttered “f*****g Jews” while passing us on the sidewalk. It’s highly doubtful that he would have extended that very same “greeting” to our faces.
According to recent studies, 9% of Americans harbor anti-Semitic views. Stated differently, 91% of Americans harbor no such views. As a Jew, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get much better than that. As for that 9%, few if any of them have any desire to engage us in conversation. Anti-Semites have little, if anything, to say to us. Let’s not ruin it by being overly sensitive to the other 91% who mean no harm and no disrespect.