Not OK, Not Ever?

As a Jew in 21st century America, I live in a blissful bubble where anti-Semitism hasn’t reared its nasty, scabby head in my face for many, many years. It’s so far removed that it’s actually hilarious:

Sure, it still exists. Ask my main main Abe “Foxy” Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League: Swastikas still appear in suburban neighborhoods, Europeans still think cartoons starring big-nosed bankers are funny, Iran is still is balls out trying to create a nuclear sponge big enough to wipe Israel off the map.

But in most circles, slagging Jews — or for that matter, any historically maligned ethnic group — is socially unacceptable. You could lose friends over certain comments, maybe even your job.

But apparently, not everyone knows this.

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine — we’ll call her Marjorie — were discussing a business transaction that contained a price that was not originally to her liking.

“But it was fine, I just Jewed him down,” she said, waving her hand dismissively.

I literally choked on my own spit.

“No. No. You did not just say that,” I gasped.

Marjorie looked surprised. “What? Was that offensive?”

“Yes!” I hyperventilated.

I must admit here that even after more than four decades on this planet I have a hard time knowing how to react when someone says something horrible in my airspace about Israel or President Obama (I live in the South, and you would not BAH-leev the sick sh*t people put on their bumpers) or how gay people are dirty. I’m not talking about disagreements on policy; I’m talking straight-up ignorance and hatred.

Maybe it’s cowardly, but usually, I walk away. I simply don’t want to get into it with stupid people whose opinions were clearly shaped by porn and inbreeding, and sorry, I just don’t feel like it’s my job to educate them.

But I don’t consider Marjorie to be one of these people. She’s intelligent and hard-working, someone who seems savvy about the ways of the world. So I didn’t walk away or let it go and lose her number.

By doing my yogic breathwork and clenching my fists so hard my nails left little moons in my palms, I stayed patient and calm and explained that Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years across every continent, and that using the term “Jew someone down” to mean haggle for a better price is in fact extremely offensive to Jewish people and anyone else who thinks stereotypes suck.

“But I have a Jewish friend who says it all the time,” Marjorie said, flabbergasted.

“Well, he has a serious problem and his great grandparents are probably rolling over in their graves,” I said. “If I were you, I’d jettison the term from your vocabulary permanently. As in forever.”

“Omigod, I had no idea!” Marjorie did look earnestly flummoxed. “I have nothing against Jewish people. I mean, I have tons of Jewish friends…”

“Stop right there.” I raised my hand. “You’re making it worse.”

She looked stricken and apologized profusely. I told her that I pretty much didn’t want to ever visit the subject with her again, but she could tell her friend, from me, that he’s an asshole and a shanda to his people.

Now, personally, I would never, ever use this term. But do other Jews, really? Is “Jewing down” an example of owning the bigotry and making it our own, as the N-word has been reclaimed and used among our African-American brothers and sisters?

I know, not really a 911 call to my man Foxy and the ADL. But it burst my bubble. Will my children really have to encounter and educate this kind of simple ignorance?

5 thoughts on “Not OK, Not Ever?

  1. Greg’s cousin said it in my presence once. I couldn’t speak, so Greg took care of it. At first she explained that it was complementary. But she seemed to get it about a minute later, and appeared genuinely ashamed of herself. But I’m 100% sure she’s used the term lots of times since then, just not in my presence. And according to Ta Ne-heisi Coates’ piece in this month’s Atlantic, Wheeling, WV is the most racist place in the USA, so I guess it’s par for the course (this occurred in Wheeling.)

  2. In my experience it is mostly used by idiots. People who do of have lots of Jewish friends. And otherwise assholes who can’t think for themselves. Blacks who use racist terms are not reclaiming it from racist whites, they are just idiots. And otherwise assholes who can’t think for themselves. They should not get a pass and don’t from me. I would never be friends, partners, or do business with someone who does. One way to get blacks to stop using it would be if whites started using it. Instead of giving them the right to be hateful because they are only being hateful and antisocial to themselves is ridiculous. It is a behavior that says it is OK to be an ugly human. It is not. And it creates a pervasive atmosphere of hate anger and violence. You don’t see dignified, educated, people of any color or religion acting or speaking that way. I guarantee that if all white people used that term and justified it because we heard it used, it would not be so cool.
    And you should have slapped that dumb bitch in the head :)

  3. Any reference to any religion or culture in that type of conversation is a sign of ignorance and immaturity. Just use adjectives and adverbs that describe the behavior. Great response, I would have been fuming, as you can’t prepare for these situations and would hope I would have an articulate response like yours!

    I just looked up the word “philistine” and although the word fits this situation, it is also a cultural reference. Oxymoron much?

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