Feh, It’s Got Walnuts Anyway

nofruicakeI 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,’ refused—and 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.

24 thoughts on “Feh, It’s Got Walnuts Anyway

  1. I wrote something else but it was probably too negative. I also live in the south and this doesn’t really surprise me. Once, I overheard the boss’ son (speaking on speakerphone-idiot) say that to get a better price on parts, we should “Hebrew” our vendor. I think the difference is he was using the word in an attempt to be funny and I doubt he thought it would be offensive (not that what he said was acceptable) but the LOL prefaced the slur with “you’re not like all those other.” She may have grown up in a different time where words like “kike” and “n*****” were okay but take away “kikes” and substitute “Jews” and it’s just as offensive. Granted, she’s old and has probably been a Jew hater her whole life. Hopefully her grandchildren know better.
    I wouldn’t eat the cake either. Do you have dogs?

  2. You are NOT. Overreacting. This pales in comparison, but I feel my cheeks burn when people talk about Appalachian “country hill people” from “my parts.” The difference is that I’m comfortable making those jokes about myself, or with fellow Appalachians cracking them, whereas NO ONE should be using the word LOL threw about so casually. As a native Savannahian with all those southern manners (read the irony) might EYM have a hard time correcting her?

  3. Yenta, Yenta, YENTA! You’re right, but poor
    Yento has a biz to run. It’s no excuse, but still. Also, decades ago, there I was, a nursing student (that’s right, I’m an RN who no longer works in health care), sitting in a hospital eatery, waiting for the troops to assemble, when 2 nursing instructors sidled through the door and sat down. As I shoved my almost first-thing-in-the-morning blueberry muffin into my mouth, what came out of one of their’s? ‘Those kikers at Long Island Jewish Hospital…’. They caught themselves in mid-yap, eyeing me in semi-panic. I played oblivious, and they continued their
    spiel, but cleaned up. This is the first time I’ve mentioned the matter. In the annals of Jew-hatred, there’s much, much more, as you well know, and I’ve been confronted with Gd knows how much of it.
    Fuck the cake.

  4. I spent most of my life in the South and experienced plenty of anti-semitism, but never heard the work “kike” used. Usually it was just “JEW” with the sound of hatred behind it. “Jew ’em down” and “Christ killer” were the norm. But words of hate travel well.
    Don’t even re-gift the cake. Gifts should be given with some affection and that isn’t possible knowing the origins of the cake.

  5. Hey Yenta,
    1. IMO, if it was just plain old dumbness, she wouldn’t have said “you’re not like all those others…”
    2. MY SO always says, (and I’ve come around to believing him over time) that’s it’s actually more disrespectful to elderly folks to assume that just because they’re old, they can’t grow and change. If Yento believes that she really does like him, and that she’s worth saving, he should sit her scrawny butt down and have a gentle – not accusatory- talk to her about using words like that and making assumptions about people based on their ethnic/etc orgins.
    And IMO, being from Savannah has nothing to do with it. I’ve known plenty of lovely gracious people from all kinds of backwaters full of racists – and Savannah does not qualify as such, anyway. Plus, it’s staple of Southerness (having grown up in MD, which is not the deep south, but is southern enough for southern manners) to know better than to insult people to their face. Even if she’s a racist, if she’s a southerner, she should have learnt at her mama’s knee not to use language like that. And if she’s a “belle” that goes twice, thank you very much.

  6. Hey Yenta,
    It’s El Yenta Man. Yes I am using your computer again even though you’ve made subtle hints that you would prefer that I wouldn’t. Sorry, but I had to comment and my HP lapshit won’t suddenly start working. I love you.
    My client, the LOL, has made several off color comments in the past. Including referring to brazil nuts as “nigger toes”. Her ancestors have been offending Jews and Blacks since Jamestown. She is “old school.” Who says kike anymore anyway. She is formally educated, raised proper, widow of a federal judge and mother of a single 63 year old son who lives alone and plays dungeons and dragons. What she meant as a compliment was phenomenally ignorant and clearly rude. I was more flabbergasted than offended and was momentarily rendered speechless by it. She got an unintentional pass. In the future I will be better prepared to fend off the verbal barbs of the very, very, very little old women of my community. On the brighter side, I am not like those “kikes” and the mailman got a homemade cake.

    Merry Christmas to you all!
    El Yenta Man

  7. Yo, how about you send LOL a copy of the Hip Hop Hoodios cd???

    Check out the uncensored version of “Kike on the Mic” on our Myspace site (www.myspace.com/hiphophoodios)

    gotta luv ’em!

  8. El Yenta Man-

    She IS very lucky to have gotten an unintentional pass. In the future if it is the verbal barbs of the very, very, very little old women of your community or anyone else I hope you can think of it as an opportunity to educate. I know that you can be a world class smart ass, but you are also very well spoken and can be so calming and kind that I feel sure you can address this in a positive way and make us proud!!!
    I know she is a client, but I believe some things are unacceptable no matter who you are and what the relationship is….

    Keep fighting the good fight Yenta and increasing awareness!!!

  9. Ok the LOL is a lousy antimsemite. But out here in yon Boro we got a pressing dilemma:

    1. All the Chinese restaurants in town are closed tomorrow. No joke: the the Chinese in this here bible belt town will be in church it seems.
    2. No matinee at the movies.

    Is this borough deep red goyishe or what?

  10. You know me woman,I would make a surprise visit to EYM’s work in the next week or so and without telling the old bat how I’m connected to EYM I’d get some good Jew conversation rolling until she said something disgusting and then I’d slam dunk her racist self and put her in her place.
    Allllllzzz I know is I will now make yet another mental note and add this to the list of why you must move back to Fairfax.
    Loving you!!!!!

  11. Ha ha, Heather, ’cause there are NO anti-Semites in Marin, right?! I seem to remember those Palestinian luvin’ a-holes out in the valley, hmmm?

    And Dan, I’m with ya! What’s up with NO Chinese today? Ah, I guess they gotta assimilate just like the rest of us…

  12. Dan:
    My Vietnamese hair cutter and her cohorts watch TV evangelists on Sunday mornings while in the shop; my Vietnamese auto mechanic has a crucifix on the wall of his shop. I guess assimilation goes with the turf. I wonder if they know what I am.

  13. Schvach: The very immigrant nice Chinese & Christian lady who runs a Japanese restaurant (closed on xmas) knows we’re Jewish and seems to assume that we’re the only other people in town who are really serious about our kids’ education — a little mutual reinforcing ?positive? stereotype if you will at the expense of the locals.

  14. My very FIRST day on the job for the City of Savannah, I attended a pre-construction meeting with a property owner and his two sons. They were building a warehouse on the west side.

    They looked pretty normal but something during the meeting didn’t sit right with me. One of the sons had his head shaved. No big deal, so do I – I’m balding. OK, the black shirt in 90 degree heat seemed strange but hey, in NYC this was a hip statement. Maybe he was the architect? But architects don’t wear Doc Martins, do they? Then I got a glimpse of his arms. Ah, the boots, the shaved head, the black shirt…the white power tats. Junior was a Nazi skin. Welcome to Savannah?

    I called the wife and said, “Honey we’re going back to Bklyn.” But after a few deep breathes I was reminded of all the many racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic garbage I’d heard over the years in the “enlightened” north – including my beloved Jewish grandmother who used the ‘n’ word when mad. Racism has nothing to do with region or religion but everything to do with ignorance and perhaps generation.

    P.S. Mr. Skin (the racist, not the nudist)didn’t know it but he shook the hand of a liberal, New York, hippy, JEW! Take that pal.

  15. David:
    One fine day I walked into my hair cutter’s shop, and who/what was sitting in her chair? A youngish sorta guy having his head shaved, tattooed up and down with iron crosses and Gd-knows what else. He looked at me; I looked at him; we both kept our mouths shut.

    Dan: Please forgive my ethnically-directed non-supportive statements, but I’m a confirmed pessimist and critic. Lashon harah is my specialty in life; what can I say? I meant no offense to you, the blog lady, or to my hair cutter or auto mechanic. By the way, on one occasion, my auto mechanic’s wife asked if I had served in the US military in Vietnam. I said no, and that I was glad to not have been required to go to war and kill anyone. She seem to care for my answer.

  16. Look how much emotion was generated just from that one sentence. Imagine the negative feelings generated over 90 YEARS from this woman!

    Saying something to her might not accomplish anything–but it would give her pause perhaps.

    That’s fertile ground, that pause.

  17. In defense of El Yenta Man, he was just being a guy.

    Many of us are just genetically programmed to say to ourselves, “Wait a minute…what did she say? No, she didn’t. What the F*CK did she say?! She couldn’t have said that!”, and then we just stand there or turn and walk slowly away dumbfounded like someone whacked us in the head with a frying pan. We’re so nice, that we simply can’t respond. We’re so puzzled that we can only relate the story later.

    Yes, everyone above is correct in their response to the story, but, don’t be hard on El Yenta Man. Only he was there, and he reacted just like a true mensch would.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *