Sunday, October 21, 2018

pretty hate machine

When does hate begin? Well, for me, it began when I was a kid. 

I grew up in a predominately gentile neighborhood. And by "predominantly," I mean you could count the Jewish families on one hand. Now, I don't mean that as a bad thing or an immediate source of hate, but I was surrounded by antisemitism at every corner. I heard it at the bus stop. I heard it while playing in my yard. I heard it while walking down my street. I even heard it from kids who I numbered among my "friends." It's not that the members of my family were particularly observant Jews (we were not), but everyone knew that we didn't have a Christmas tree and didn't put up Christmas lights and we didn't dress up on Easter. I don't think the fact that we were Jews even registered with our gentile neighbors, but more the fact that we believed in different things. Oh, and that we killed Christ.

There were two families on my block, each with numerous kids ranging in age from early teens to preschool. Their houses were a few lots apart and, coincidentally, the families were related. (I think the fathers of each household were brothers or cousins or something like that.) These two families were hotbeds for antisemitism. I would get taunts from the members of both households — young and old, boys and girls alike. In winter, snowballs would come hurtling from their backyards if I would walk past their houses, accompanied by muffled giggling and high-pitched shrieks of "Jew!" In nicer weather, the taunts would be more brazen with some of my dimmer-witted "friends" joining in because they didn't know any better.

Actually, that's the key to all of the hate I experienced as a child. They didn't know any better. This unfounded prejudice was passed down from parents who learned it from their parents. I remember a joke that I heard regularly in my neighborhood. At a time when ethic jokes were perfectly acceptable (Archie Bunker and Johnny Carson would frequently mock those of Polish and Italian extraction and Don Rickles made and entire career of it.), kids in my neighborhood would tell this one, most of them not even understanding its feeble attempt at humor:
Why are synagogues round?
So the Jews can't hide in the corners when the collection plate comes around.
Pretty stupid, huh? Let's analyze just how stupid it is. First of all, not all synagogues are round. Actually, I can't remember ever seeing a round synagogue. The only structures I can think of that are "round," are sports stadiums — and even those aren't truly round. Plus, it's not as though synagogues are built without some consultation with the folks who are going to use it as a house of worship. No one ever, during the design and construction, adamantly insisted, "Now make sure there are no corners so the Jews can't hide." Wouldn't Jews be making those structural design decisions? Makes no sense. Second — obviously, this terrible attempt at antisemitic levity, was made up by a non-Jew who had never, ever set foot in a synagogue, especially during a religious service. Their only frame of reference was their own religious service experience. If they had done the proper research, they would have known that Jews don't pass around a collection plate. Neither do Muslims or Hindus or any number of non-Christian religions. Collection plates or "offertory" are strictly a Christian ritual. 

Of course, this "joke" is an attempt to illustrate the baseless perception that Jews are cheap. In fact, as a group, they are not. Charity is a fundamental part of Jewish life, from pushkes (coin boxes) in traditional Jewish homes, to mourners vowing to make a donation in memory of a lost loved one to Jewish youth group's efforts for raise money for various worthy causes. In Business Week's list of "The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists," fifteen were Jewish. Considering that less than .2% of the world's population is Jewish, that's a pretty good showing.

Had the budding comedian who originally conceived this unfunny joke done a little thinking, they would have discovered that the basic concept and example given in the joke did not make sense, rendering it not the least bit funny. However, the kids in my neighborhood told this joke quite often and it always evoked laughter. They didn't know why they were laughing, but everyone else was laughing and no one wanted to be singled out as the one who "didn't get it."

And that's how hate begins. Hate begins by not knowing.


  1. I upset some Catholic women by pointing out Jesus was a Jew. A priest backed me up. It was interesting to watch these women struggle to accept fact. Ignorance is a big part of intolerance. I'm sorry you had to deal with this.

    1. In your defense, I find Catholic women fairly easy to upset.