I have sitting on our kitchen counter a wonderful smelling cake. It came wrapped in tinfoil, a sure sign it was homemade, which in fact it was: El Yenta Man brought it home yesterday from one the regulars in his Senior Power Hour class, a collection of five or so 80 year-olds who show up twice a week to have him take them through arm circles and leg lifts and whatever other exercises their bodies are still able to handle. He always speaks of these clients with much affection, particularly the little old lady who gave him the aforementioned cake, who probably spent two days mixing and baking and wrapping the two dozen loaves she gave out to her mailman, neighbors and other favorite people for the holidays, including her wise-ass personal trainer.
So why the hesitation, you ask? Why don’t I just slice off a nice hunk and slap a nice shmear of cream cheese on it and snarf it down for breakfast? Why not serve it up with a pot of tea and nosh on it all day? Because, dear readers, the cake has been tainted.
Not literally poisoned, but the gift loaf has been rendered toxic with words:
Yesterday, during the transaction that involved giving the cake and all its “Merry Christmas” niceities, El Yenta Man tactfully worked into the conversation that we actually celebrate Chanukah, but our family would be so very grateful for the Little Old Lady’s cake because Jews love snacks and we can feel so left out around these holidays (absolute bullhockey – we looove Christmas, watching everyone else spaz out over relatives and fancy dinners while we eat fish sticks and watch Miyazaki movies – but El Yenta Man is polite and considerate of others’ feelings and wanted the Little Old Lady to know how much he appreciated her baking in spite of how it must have taxed her bum hip.)
And then the LOL followed up EYM’s bumbling gratitude with this: “You know, I like you a lot, you’re all right…you’re not like all those other kikes.”
Yes, you read that right. El Yenta Man was still in shock about it when he recounted the story in our kitchen that night, the cake still wrapped in its crumpled tinfoil, smelling like heaven but radiating a certain evil.
Now, I haven’t even heard that word in so long it had fallen off my Jewish epithet radar. According to Wikipedia, Yiddishkeit guru Leo Rosten says it started off as a term of affection between greenhorn Jews from the Old Country:
“The word kike was born on Ellis Island, when Jewish immigrants who were illiterate (or could not use Roman-English letters), when asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary ‘X,’ refusedand instead made a circle. The Yiddish word for ‘circle’ is kikel (pronounced KY – kel), and for ‘little circle,’ kikeleh. Before long the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an ‘O’ instead of an ‘X’ a kikel or kikeleh or kikee or, finally and succinctly, kike.”
It seems to our ancestors, an “X” resembled the cross worshipped by the Christian persecutors they’d been trying to leave behind, and Jewish Americans continued to use an “O” as a signature for decades after the large European emmigrations. The term stuck, though it was mostly “used by Jews to describe other Jews” and only developed into an ethnic slur later on. (An eerie linguistic parallel to the N-word, nu?)
So I grilled El Yenta Man: What did you say? Did you tell her that word it totally, completely inappropriate? Why didn’t you give her the cake back and tell her us kikes don’t eat doorstops? Since she has an Irish last name, did you tell you forgive her ignorance because she’d obviously been drinking?
But it seems that my husband, whose wit is normally sharper than Emeril’s fillet knife, was rendered speechless by the racist remarks of an 88-year-old Southern belle. He said nothing, just stuck the loaf of tinfoil under his arm and came home, where he made excuses for her: She’s old, she’s lived in Savannah her whole life, she would be totally crushed if he brought it up again because she doesn’t know better, she probably was drunk…
But I’m not having it. I don’t care how old someone is; that kind of speech and behavior is unacceptable. I think he should figure out how to respectfully let this LOL know that that word might have been a part of her vernacular for the first nine-or-so decades of her life, but she needs to excise it immediately if she would still like El Yenta Man spot her while she does armcurls with 1-lb. dumbbells.
What say you, dear reader? Am I overreacting (it would not be the first time)? Should we let LOL live out the rest of her life (seriously, how much longer can it be? Five years? Ten years? She does exercise – it could be 20) spreading her antiquated anti-Semitism? What if EYM does confront her and she gets defensive and angry, thereby activating a hatred for Jews that had been latent for half a century?
In the meantime, I’m not letting anyone in my family touch the F’kn Kike Cake. But because I don’t like to waste, I think I’ll re-gift it to my gentile neighbors before it gets stale.