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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

And you, Rabbi, have a beanie in every colour

A couple of uncomfortable chuckles. Then the conversation moved to the next topic. Hawaiian shirts, I think. Maybe. I don’t really know because I was still stuck on the beanie comment.

I wasn’t the only Jew in the room. There were a couple of others. Through down-case eyes, we exchanged uncomfortable glances. And we said nothing.

We said nothing because no one wanted to make anyone else feel uncomfortable. We said nothing because no one wanted to make a big deal out of a throw-away comment. We said nothing because at the end of the day…it is sometimes just easier to say nothing. Because to say something might uncover an undercurrent that continues to run through polite society.


The undercurrent. That’s what it is. Anti-Semitism.

Aw, Rabbi, lighten up. He didn’t mean anything by it.

Maybe not.

Then again…

Anti-Semitism doesn’t have to be violent. Or physical. It doesn’t necessarily have to be intentional. By definition, anti-Semitism is simply the hostility toward or prejudice against Jews. In its worst form, it becomes policy. In its more subtle, though no less destructive, form, it is attitude. A one-time comment may be, in fact, just a one-time comment. Today’s comment was one of several pointed Jewish remarks, comments, etc in a space of twenty-five minutes.

Not a one-time, throw-away comment.

I am ashamed that I did not speak up. Or speak out. Or…. or what, I don’t know. But I feel know that doing nothing was wrong.

I am ashamed of my fear. Of my hesitation.

I am ashamed of failing the title bestowed upon me at my Sinai moment, as a leader and teacher of our community.

I am…



7 Comments leave one →
  1. Elisa permalink
    Thursday, 7 April 2011 8:25 am

    It is a tough position to be put in. I’m sure you felt like a deer caught in the headlights. I often don’t have the right comeback at the exact moment when something like that occurs. This just happened to me in a conversation with a volunteer that left me unintentially speechless. I emailed her later with a reply but it was so awkward.

    Don’t be ashamed. We are all human. I think that it is okay when we don’t know what to say saying nothing is the best policy. While we’d like it to be a teachable moment, in a crowd – it may not be worth it. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again but if it does I’m sure you’ll have an answer ready to go.

  2. Thursday, 7 April 2011 11:46 am

    I read your post when it went up and am still wondering how I would have reacted.

  3. Sarah permalink
    Thursday, 7 April 2011 3:56 pm

    Forgive me if this is an ignorant question, but what about that comment was anti-semitic? I think maybe I’m missing something about the meaning of the word beanie, which I had thought was a generic term for a hat with no brim.

    • Saturday, 9 April 2011 10:56 pm

      He called the rabbi’s yarmulke -the head covering worn by the Jewish during prayers- a beanie, which is a snug, brimless hat or skullcap. It would be like calling a Catholic priest’s cassock a “dress” or “bathrobe.” You just don’t do that, even if your priest wears combat boots and heavy metal concert t-shirts (like mine does.)

      I’m sorry you were put in this position, Frume Sarah – but most sad for this person, who probably thought he was funny or clever.

  4. Saturday, 9 April 2011 8:33 pm

    “Today’s comment was one of several pointed Jewish remarks, comments, etc in a space of twenty-five minutes.”
    That’s the key to this.
    After talking to you and getting more detail: Anti-Semitic? Possibly. But the person is absolutely a bully. Were you to challenge him, he would most likely turn it around at you. I doubt that such a conversation would have the outcome you desire.
    My opinion is that you failed no one!

  5. Sunday, 10 April 2011 1:16 pm

    Know what? You put your shame and regret out there, for the world to see. That shows remorse and tells me you have learned something from this. We make mistakes and poor choices every day of our lives, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. So you learned a lesson about the next time someone takes your faith lightly, which is to speak up. Educate from a place of caring, don’t defend from a place of anger or humiliation. “Actually, it’s not a beanie, it’s a yarmulke and they are different.” See? Then you open it up for education, discussion and exchange of ideas. My guess is that he probably had no idea he was being so disrespectful, he probably thought he was being witty. People say stupid stuff all the time in the name of humor. Please don’t beat yourself up, you had a moment, that’s all. Forget the incident but not the lesson.

    I found you through TRDC and I’m so glad I did! I’ll be back.

  6. Sunday, 10 April 2011 2:06 pm

    I would have to know more about the situation to say for certain what I think regarding intent and action.

    However, there is something to be said for not jumping as well. You know that I am not someone who fears to speak my mind. I have had similar encounters that moved from verbal to physical relatively quickly. I’ll attribute some of that to being male and at the time “younger.”

    The question I ask is whether there is something that you should have done because based upon this I haven’t seen it. Would it have educated someone or helped others stand up for themselves.

    Or might it have escalated into a “no win” situation.

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