The other day in my creative writing class, a student delivered an essay which, for all its good qualities and potential, came to focus on stereotypes and caricatures of Jews. It was a humorous essay, and it was funny. But the joke came to throw the piece out of balance, shifting the essay’s subject. I was curious to see how the class would respond. One person cheered, “They’re just like that, those New York Jews. I’ve been to New York six times, and they’re just like that.” She was gleeful. I reminded her that I am a New York Jew.
“And you don’t think they’re like that?” she asked.
“No, I don’t,” I said.
A few looked at me to gauge where I was coming from. I offered them nothing more. I was not going to relieve them. Though I did wonder if those who cast those furtive glances, as though they did not know whether or not to let loose some secret, considered for an instant what it meant to feel that way.
Or would you call that my “Jewish paranoia?”
No one said anything. That bothered me more than the piece did. After all, the things we write should cross lines. And I like the student writer. I like them all. I’ve a great bunch of people. I try to remember where I live.
I wondered how the class would have reacted had the piece instead focused on caricatures of Africans or Italians or homosexuals or some other group. Somehow, I believe the reaction would have been different. I don’t know that. Actually, maybe not with homosexuals. This sort of thing is still generally acceptable when it comes to them and Jews.
What’s a Jew to do? Say anything, and you’re exhibiting another stereotypical trait: hypersensitivity. You know? The bit about how Jews see “anti-Semitism in everything.” Shit, “Jew ‘em down” is only an expression. Why do we get so upset? And, come on, “every Jew I ever met really was cheap.” I love that one. How do you argue with testimonies of personal experience. Yet every racist and bigot I’ve ever known–pick the target minority–has used that line.
You know how it is with the Jews: They can’t handle the truth.
Sometimes I hate that word “truth.” In the hands of some folks, it’s a revolver. Jews with their great noses and ugly attitudes are a given. To point out otherwise is like challenging a self-evident fact like gravity or the laws of thermodynamics. Fuck a duck.
Coincidence: The next morning, I stopped into Publix and went up to the counter where a woman I’ve known for years was working the cash register. It’s my local grocery, so we smiled at each other the sort of smile people of long but mild acquaintance have, the kind that is sincere enough but doesn’t make it all the way to your eyes. “When I look at you,” she said, “I think, ‘a Jew in Cowboy boots.'” Really, I thought. That’s what pops into your mind? For the past fifteen years?
“Right on both counts,” I replied and rode off.