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Jun 9 2014

Why An Ignorant Comment At Work Made Me Speak Up

By at 2:42 pm

parking-meter

I was late. Lateness isn’t a new concept for me–ever since my daughters’ births, my whole life seems to run behind schedule–but that day, it was especially bad.

I was going to be late for work and I was supposed to represent my school at an important meeting. It was held on the other side of the city, and I knew I’d have to hustle. The weather was not helping. As I merged onto the parkway, the skies opened. Buckets of rain poured down, causing rush hour traffic to stagnate. I got lost. My trusted GPS dropped the signal at the worst possible moment, and I got off the highway at the wrong exit. I had to circle back around and hope to find my way.

Parallel parking was never my strength, but I managed to squeeze my SUV into a legal space. Well, mostly legal. I looked up at the sign, and noted that I’d have to move my car before lunch. I glanced at the time. Better than nothing, I thought.

I hurried towards the school, getting drenched despite my umbrella. My soggy shoes made squishing noises as I jogged up the entry stairs. But when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the school lobby was still packed. Apparently I wasn’t the only one that had been delayed by the weather. I greeted colleagues and waved at the administrator who would be facilitating the day’s workshop.  Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 28 2014

What I Won’t Teach My Kids About The Holocaust

By at 3:19 pm

holocaust

In 1938, my grandfather escaped Austria on the kindertransport. He was sent to England, where he lived with a family who sponsored him. His parents were sent to the Isle of Wight, where they were prisoners for most of the war. Eventually he made it to the US, where he lived briefly in Ohio before being conscripted into the Army, and sent back to Europe to work as a translator.

The Holocaust is very much a part of my family narrative. It’s part of my history, and it’s important to me, but as I build my own family, I’ve started to think about the ways I want to address this issue with my kids. Here’s what I won’t do:

1. I won’t teach my kids to fear anti-Semitism around every corner.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 3 2014

How to Do “Fiddler on the Roof” with a Bunch of Non-Jews On an Island in Maine

By at 11:47 am

jamie

In the overlapping part of the Venn diagram of my childhood–growing up Jewish in a small village, obsessed with musical theater, and without many television channels–lies Fiddler on the Roof. We owned it on two VHS tapes, although sometimes we just watched the first one, turning it off at the end of the happy part of the wedding and skipping the “demonstration” at the end. (We took a similar tactic with The Sound of Music, which made it a show about up-cycling curtains rather than escaping the Nazi occupation.)

I first saw a live production of Fiddler when I was about 11 years old, at a beautifully ramshackle community theater just north of my town. I remember Tevye’s thick Maine accent (HOSS and CAHT) and the over-the-top gleeful macabre humor of the dream sequence. I acted in it the summer before I left for college in a more polished production at Interlochen Arts Camp. I played Shprintze and Grandmother Tzeitl, and was hoisted high in the air over another actor’s head to “fly” in maternal rage. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 2 2014

Why I Refuse to Straighten My Hair

By at 4:04 pm

girl

Xiomara and Isleidy wiped tears from their eyes, Stacy’s sniffles quickly deteriorated into sobs, and even the boys tried valiantly not to cry. My tough inner city sophomores were viscerally affected by Elie Wiesel’s heartbreaking Holocaust memoir, Night, which we just finished reading. I was about to become a waterfall myself when Stacy blurted out, “Miss, when you gonna blow your hair out?” causing everyone to laugh and lifting the somber mood.

The subject of my hair was a recurring one in class; the girls desperately wanted my wild curls tamed into smooth tresses. They repeatedly offered hairdressers’ numbers, then frustrated by my inaction, took matters into their own hands. One morning, at 7:30 a.m., Xiomara, Isleidy, and Stacy marched into my class while I was getting ready for the day and ambushed me with a flat iron. I almost gave in, since the attack was so well orchestrated, but ultimately hid in the closet until they put the weapon away. When asked why I resisted, I responded with girl power clichés like “Be yourself!” and “Rock what you’ve got,” but because I never meaningfully addressed the issue, the nagging continued.

But now, inspired by my students’ connection to Night, I was ready to dive into history, identity, and why I refuse to straighten my hair. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2013

The Only Pregnant Jew in Rural Maine

By at 5:03 pm

rural

I was raised by my secular, humanist Jewish family in the woods of central Maine. We were surrounded by lakes and maples, heard loons at night and occasionally, a moose and her calf wandered into our backyard, much to the consternation of our golden retriever. There were no sidewalks in our town, no traffic lights. My sisters and I played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the backyard until dark. It was isolated and idyllic.

That same isolation became disruptive once we entered the small public elementary school in the next town. We were raised to be proud and outspoken about our heritage, to speak up when teachers talked about Hanukkah in the context of “Christmas Around the World,” to bring in our brass menorahs and wooden dreidels and explain our customs to our classmates.

You may already know how this story goes. Sixth grade boys drew swastikas on their notebooks and showed them to me. “Do you know what this means?” they asked, feigning innocence. My sister’s classroom teacher referred to Judaism as a branch of Christianity, and her classmates called her a “stupid Jew” when she corrected her. A small blonde girl in my class kicked me as I walked up the stairs to the bus, hissing “Jew” in my ear as I fell. In middle school, well-meaning friends urged me to become a Jew for Jesus, to avoid my inevitable damnation. Our bus route took us past hand-painted signs nailed to a grove of trees that read “Jews = Sinners” and “Sinners Damned to Hell.” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 3 2013

Hobby Lobby Update: An Official Facebook Apology to Jews

By at 10:47 am
Copy of hobbylobby

(via Flickr/Fan of Retail)

It had to happen, and so it has. After an employee’s anti-Semitic response to a Jewish customer asking where to find the Hanukkah aisle, I imagine Hobby Lobby’s P.R. team scrambled to post this apology note on their Facebook page last night:

Hobby Lobby apologizes for any possible employee comments that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends. Comments like these do not reflect the feelings of the Green family or Hobby Lobby. We are investigating this matter and do not tolerate discrimination at our company or our stores.

Hobby Lobby is currently working with our buyers over our merchandise selection. Our customers have brought this to our attention, and we are currently evaluating our holiday items and what we will carry in the future.

Thanks for the apology, because most Jews were offended. Although you have to take in account that the store is owned by a Christian evangelical named David Green (it’s still funny), an employee’s response to a simple question is always likened back to the leader of the pack’s attitude.

Hobby Lobby should definitely “consult” with their buyers so they can circle an item on a list which guarantees a shipment of some driedels and menorahs. Maybe next year we Jewish customers can anticipate some tiny bags of gelt…but for now, steer clear.

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Oct 1 2013

Hobby Lobby Doesn’t Cater to Jews

By at 1:29 pm

hobby lobby

Beginning your shopping list for Hanukkah gifts and decorations? If so, make sure to avoid Hobby Lobby, a swiftly growing U.S. crafts store with 561 stores, which sells zero Hanukkah merchandise, and hires Jewish intolerant employees.

On September 27th, Ken Berwitz took to his blog to explain what happened when a friend of his entered Hobby Lobby seeking Hanukkah goods. To the customer’s surprise, a sales associate callously replied, “We don’t cater to you people.”

Understandably, Mr. Berwitz had to hear this supposed truth for himself, and quickly made a call to Corporate to ask why Hobby Lobby didn’t put Hanukkah goods on their item list this year.

The response: “Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he’s a Christian, and those are his values.” Read the rest of this entry →

May 31 2013

That Future Doctor “Jewish Baby Bib” is Not Only Offensive, It’s Inaccurate

By at 12:46 pm

future doctor bib "jewish baby bib" from amazonRecently, Kveller posted this image on their Facebook page of a baby bib with the words “Future Doctor” and a pocket adorned with coins. That alone is offensive enough but the product is labeled “Jewish Baby Bib.” [Update: as of this morning, this product has been removed from Amazon.]

These societal misconceptions are the main reason that I don’t write about the fact that my husband is a surgical resident.

The stereotype of money hungry Jews flocking to medicine is based on a very complex history that at this point is almost completely antiquated. Anyone, Jewish or not, looking to make it rich isn’t turning to medicine’s long hours and dwindling reimbursement, and the very slim odds of getting into medical school are in no way increased by religious affiliation.

My husband and I met in graduate school. Shortly after, we moved to a little rental house in southwest Ohio where he worked as a high school biology teacher for two of the most wonderful years of our life. He cooked meals, we rode bikes, and took impromptu trips to Europe. He had vacation days for when he wanted to go on vacation and sick days for when he got sick. We had what I look back on as a “normal life” before he was accepted to medical school. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 20 2012

My Family’s Secret Jewish History

By at 3:36 pm

I remember a conversation I had with my grandmother not long before she died. She was in a hospital bed that had been set up in the dining room; she hadn’t been able to climb the stairs to the second floor of her house for years. I pulled a chair close, and asked her if she used to light candles on Friday night back when she was a little girl in Northern Italy.

The question had been chosen carefully, and with great intention. I knew that if I asked her if she was Jewish, if we were Jewish, she would vehemently deny it. But when I asked her about the candles, my grandmother smiled and told me about cleaning the house every Friday, about cooking all afternoon, and yes, she told me, of course they lit candles.  Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 7 2011

Westboro in My Town?

By at 3:21 pm

A protester from Westboro Baptist Church.

I noticed the police cars first. Not one, but three. An accident? A bike race? As I got closer to the JCC, though, I saw them.

Not the police. The picketers.

God hates Jews. Jews killed Christ.

Their large neon signs shocked the crap out of me. I have to admit I felt a little scared, even though it was just four adults and one child (don’t get me started on that) behind a barrier, surrounded by police on both sides of the street. Looking back, it was a pretty pathetic demonstration, but in the moment, it felt huge. I wanted to roll down my window and unleash a torrent of angry obscenities on them, but I knew that would only inflame the situation. I drove on.

Jews are going to hell. God hates Jews.

In less than a minute, I was turning into the long driveway up to the JCC, and my mind immediately went to my daughters. What if they had been in the car? Well, it wouldn’t matter much now, as they can’t read. I could have told them it was a side-of-the-road party, and we could have talked about how there were pink letters on the sign. “Pink my favorite color,” Frieda would have told me. And we would have moved on.

But what about when the girls are older? When they can read? How would I explain to them that these people are condemning us? How do I tell them that there is blatant anti-Semitism in the United States? In Massachusetts, a progressive state that I am immensely proud to call my home, and in our own town, where we are supposed to feel safe? How would I explain that?

As I made my way through the JCC, I saw a group of women of all ages in an Israeli dance exercise class. It brought tears to my eyes. F*ck you guys, I thought. You can wave your stupid little signs, but you can’t stop us from dancing.

I soon learned that this angry little band was from the Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-Semitic, homophobic, family of all-purpose haters out of Kansas who has received press for picketing soldiers’ funerals, and more recently, those of Elizabeth Edwards and Elizabeth Taylor. Their frequent and senseless protests have rendered them virtually irrelevant on the national scene, even among the bigots who might have otherwise supported them.

All of sudden, my perspective went from that of a hurt and angry mother to one of interested and disgusted spectator. “When you think about it,” I said to my trainer, “Everyone hates the Jews. Whatever. That’s such a cliché. But who protests at a soldier’s funeral? That’s just absurd. Honestly, they’re like a caricature of an anti-Semite. They might as well be wearing fake Hitler mustaches.”

Humor makes it easier, but the truth is, they were still there, a stark reminder of the hatred and violence that has tormented the Jews throughout our history. And therein lays the challenge that my husband and I, along with thousands of other Jewish parents, face on a regular basis. How do we teach our children about hate and anti-Semitism? With Purim behind us, and Passover just around the corner, a good place to start might be by telling the stories of tragedy and survival of the Jewish people, and by celebrating what we have. Yes, in the years to come my husband and I will tell the girls about their family members who perished in the Holocaust, as well as those who survived. And they will learn of anti-Semitism, and unfortunately, they will probably experience it. But for now, we will celebrate our freedom, eat Bubbe’s matzo ball soup, and know that our community and our people are stronger than any little angry group of protesters with neon signs will ever be.

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