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?