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What Did You Mean By That?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

At a recent seudah havra’ah, I was approached by one of the guests who had attended the funeral service.

Woman (with accent): That was a lovely service.

FS: Thank you.

Woman: I mean, we’re obviously not Jewish but…

FS (interrupts): Obvious??

Woman: I mean…we don’t sound Jewish…

FS: I am quite certain that there are Jews in the British Empire.

Woman (rather indignant): We are from South Africa. We are not British.

FS: True. However, South Africa was part of the Commonwealth.

Woman: It is a Republic.

FS: It is now…

Aside from the fact that this woman was probably an Afrikaaner and most likely rejects the historical fact that South Africa WAS part of of the Commonwealth until 1961, I was left wondering whether I ought to be insulted by her comments.

What did she mean when she said that she and her husband “obviously” weren’t Jewish? What was supposed to be the tip-off? That they didn’t have horns? They weren’t swarthy?

We like to say that Anti-Semitism no longer exists in a liberal, inclusive, politically-correct haven such as the United States. And while we do enjoy freedoms here unmatched by most other countries, to pretend that there is not hatred (at the worst) or a lack of genuine acceptance (at the best) is just that; it’s just make-believe.

For the record, I do not think that this woman harbours deep hatred. I suspect she just sees us as different.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. hadassahsabo permalink
    Tuesday, 24 November 2009 1:18 pm

    I would not have known how to take that either… sometimes language nuances mean something totally different.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 24 November 2009 10:35 pm

      That is so true. There was something in her demeanor that just wasn’t very…nice.

  2. Tuesday, 24 November 2009 1:24 pm

    or, we could chalk it up to total cluelessness.

    ugh.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 24 November 2009 10:36 pm

      True. Which is worse? Being clueless and hurtful or being deliberate and hurtful?

  3. Tuesday, 24 November 2009 1:56 pm

    She probably meant she didn’t “look Jewish.” And before you get all what-does-a-Jew-look like on me, you know what I mean: curly hair, big nose.

    And the British thing? Well, we were once part of the Commonwealth, too.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 24 November 2009 10:39 pm

      I do know what you mean. I’ve lived my entire life being told that I don’t look Jewish. I hate that. I hate being told that I don’t look like my people.

      In the words of the Hebrew Mamita (aka Vanessa Hidary):

      Biggin’ up all people who are a little miffed, cause someone tells you, you don’t look like or act like your people. Impossible. Cause you ARE your people. You just tell them they don’t LOOK. PERIOD!

  4. Laurie permalink
    Tuesday, 24 November 2009 2:49 pm

    I wonder what she wanted to say about the service or something else, before you interrupted her 🙂 Also, I wonder if she just had some pride in her accent and that most people assume is British and not Seth Effrikan. (spelled sorta like it’s pronounced, via my frind Ken from SA.)

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 24 November 2009 10:41 pm

      Yeah…that’s a good point. I just couldn’t let go of what she had implied…er, said.

      And for the record, if I thought that she was from England, I would have specified. When I said the Empire…I meant somewhere in the Empire. I knew that it was Set Effrika. Her accent was totally Jo’burg!

  5. Jamie permalink
    Tuesday, 24 November 2009 2:51 pm

    Isn’t being “different” part of being Jewish — different holidays, customs, etc. ? We take pride in observing customs of our unique heritage, and then take offense when we’re perceived as “different”. The woman probably didn’t realize that Jewish people are very heterogeneous and live all over the world with different accents, etc.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 24 November 2009 10:43 pm

      I don’t take offense at being perceived as different. Your point about Jews not being heterogeneous is a good one. We come in a variety of colours with a variety of native tongues and accents. Because we can look like just about anyone else and sound like anyone else, there shouldn’t be anything “obvious” to set us apart.

  6. Sara permalink
    Tuesday, 24 November 2009 4:20 pm

    From my own personal experience, when I first walked into a synagogue, I thought everyone knew I wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t know the prayers, I didn’t know when to sit and when to stand, I didn’t know what to do when the Torah was close to me …. on and on. And, I thought everyone could see that about me. Now, of course, I know that is not true. So, I’m wondering, maybe she had some of the same feelings and just thought everyone knew she wasn’t Jewish.

    I would guess she was just clueless. I don’t think she really meant anything by it.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 24 November 2009 10:44 pm

      In a synagogue setting where there is so much choreography, I can see that it would seem overwhelming and that everyone else know exactly what to do. (Which is soooo not true).

      Given that we were in line for the loo at someone’s house, I can’t imagine what she thought would make it obvious that she wasn’t Jewish.

      🙂

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