Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jew Girl



This is my Roumanian cousin; her name and story, both lost, though I believe she died in the Holocaust.

A Jew Girl, like me.

Upstate New York, at puppy class, I stood next to the corpulent, ruddy man, each of us with our dogs--his an improbable yappy "morkie." He told me with an eye roll that his wife had picked it at the puppy shop, lest, I suppose, I should believe he'd emasculated himself deliberately. I had the manly hunting dog, handsome hound Remus. I know he wished we could swap dogs.

He asked me "where in Brooklyn you from?" and told me he had been a truck driver, often delivering to Flushing, Queens. He hated, he said, to make deliveries there. Because, you know, those people ran the warehouse there, "those people of the Jewish persuasion," his lip lifted in a wet sneer, his face too close to mine.

I looked at him.

"You know," I said mildly. "I'm Jewish."

He flushed a dark, ugly red.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean anything by it. You've gotta understand, I didn't mean you anyway. I meant those ones, you know, the ones with the weird beards. But not you."

I was tempted to stomp on his foot, tempted to pull my blonde hair back from my forehead and show him my horns, tempted to curse him with a very evil Yiddish curse and spit on the ground in front of him.

But I did none of those things, thinking of Ella, and myself, and then for a moment, in an unexpectedly clear memory-flash, of the beautiful nameless Roumanian cousin...

...horned, hook-nosed, sheydl-wearing, stingy money-horder, smelling of pickles and the Old Country, praying in a language that no one understands, that keeps me separate and strange...

Jew Girl.

35 comments:

Ponita in Real Life said...

I've never understood why people can't accept that there are lots of people who are different than they are. And that those differences are what make this existence interesting. Why do they have to be so narrow minded and pigheaded, making thoughtless, harsh judgments based on brief contacts?

At least he had the decency to blush, but trying to cover his blunder was futile. The damage was done.

Good for you for being the better person and not giving in to the urge. You are a wonderful Jew Girl, Leah. xoxo

JeffScape said...

Evil Yiddish curses can sound pretty diabolical. You should've done it.

My mother would scream at me in Japanese when I was younger (actually, still does). I've never had a clue what she was saying, but it could get a little terrifying.

63mago said...

You read something about the latest discussion here in Deutschland started by the super intellectual Sarrazin?

Old Knudsen said...

Its lucky you shaved yer beard and can pass.

nick said...

You should have uttered the evil Yiddish curse. And told him you quite like truck drivers, except of course the ones with yappy, effeminate dogs.

Brian Miller said...

if you had he would have only felt vindicated and stayed an ass as opposed to realising how ignorant he was...

Betsy said...

Aww...I'm sorry that happened to you. That is unacceptable and so ignorant, I just don't understand people like that.

The photo is absolutely gorgeous.

savannah said...

you're a good woman, sugar. this post has given me hope and a gentle reminder not to despair. you know my name and i know how you felt/feel. xoxoxoxo

willow said...

It's sad when bigotry rears its ugly head, in this nation of ours that is supposed to be a melting pot. I'm glad you creatively turned an ugly circumstance into a beautiful post. You rock, Jew Girl!! xx

Leah said...

Ponita, thank you. I always think to myself, hey, why say that out loud? What is the incredible assumption that I would definitely agree with him? It's also most interesting to me that he didn't really see me as a Jew, as I have no external markers to identify me.

Leah said...

Jeff, curses in another language! With a lot of feeling behind them, not to mention spit flying, can be utterly devastating. The mystery makes it worse!



Mago, I haven't, but I will investigate.


Old Knudsen, I can tell you, 25 years of beard growth takes awhile to saw through!


Nick, I'm still trying to come up with a vile enough rebuttal!

Leah said...

Brian, you're quite right...more's the pity...


Betsy, I suppose a lifetime of ignorance groomed him well...the picture's great, isn't it? There's more to it too...four funny little brothers behind her. I will post the whole thing for Sepia Saturday.


sav, I do know. I'm still trying to figure out the encounter. I run into anti-semitism constantly, but it's usually much more subtle.


Willow, thank you. I was trying to preserve the moment, bad as it was, while coming to terms with it...

Hunter said...

I understand what you're saying here - there's an inverse relationship between the size of one's dog and the inclination towards bigotry. That explains some things, I think.

Tracey said...

You are an adult. Congratulations. Though it might not hurt to brush up on your curses.

kylie said...

i keep reading this and still j ust dont know what to say.
jaw dropping
absolutely gobsmacking

63mago said...

A simple zerspring! would have done, don't you think? All will be good in the New Year!

mapstew said...

xxx

I have to believe, mainly for my children, that at some point in the future we will all be just us, and not 'one of them'. :¬)

xxx

C.M. Jackson said...

leah
what a beautiful story with such a powerful ending---shanah tovah!c

Alan Burnett said...

This is a wonderfully moving post. Beautifully formed and infused with meaning.

e said...

L'shana Tova, Leah! Great post...ignorance comes in all shapes and sizes.

I love your writing!

Liza said...

Stunning photo.
She was beautiful.
You handled him quite nicely in my opinion.
Love the ending.
Thanks for sharing this.

Cece said...

I never really realized there was that much prejudice against Jews in America. I mean our VP is Jewish for goodness sakes. Yes I live under a rock. It's called Arkansas. That is just awful that you have to put up with that. I'm so sorry. I believe I would have stomped his foot!

Pearl said...

SO well written.

Pearl

Anonymous said...

What, stomped his foot with yer nasty cloven hoof? Why, you might have drawn blood, which I'll admit, would have been convenient if you'd been making matzah that day, but...

YKW

Leah said...

YKW--

you'd better watch out

i know where you live

and you've had more than one run-in with my cloven hooves

Karen ^..^ said...

Ignorance and hatred live on... Very sad. I feel sorry for his children, who most certainly feel the same way he does, and who are now perpetuating that same ignorance.

Every day I see evidence of how far we have NOT come. But I still push on...

Warden Files said...

How many times I have been here and begun to comment, I cannot possibly count. Feelings run deep, and I have first hand knowledge of hatred. Perhaps an email might begin to explain my reasons. Sadly though.. not yet.

Leah said...

Warden, what can I say...except, I look forward to that day.

JASchanzer@gmail.com said...

It is good that you spoke up. To stand by and not take action is, in a way, giving permission to propagate bigotry. Sometimes this is costly -- I know -- but the cost never out weighs what you gain by being proud of who you are and what you do.

Snowbrush said...

I live in Oregon, but am from the South. In fact, I spent 36 years there, which means I've only been way for 25. My Southern roots has been a source of prejudice. I hardly mean to compare it to being Jewish because, after all, Southerners haven't faced intense, and often fatal, persecution for millennia. However, it has enabled me to experience being looked down upon, even despised, by people who thought they knew all they would ever need to know about me just from hearing my accent.

When we--Peggy and I--left Mississippi, we seriously considered two places to move to. One was the Willamette Valley, and the other was NYC. I spent a month there, some of it in lower Manhattan and some on upper Staten Island at a large and international commune. Where I had expected bad treatment in the city (MIssissippi and NYC aren't known for their affection for one another), I only found kindness. We finally decided to move here, and I guess it was for the better because I do love the proximity of wilderness. Yet, if the choice had been wholly mine, I would have gone there.

Amanda said...

Handled with grace, well done. Perhaps he will think the next time he goes to utter such ugliness.

Baino said...

Be proud. You have a rich and wonderful heritage. At least nobody will call you a 'whingeing pom'

Joan said...

Wonderful post. The little girl is beautiful. I'm so glad he made the blunder of honesty to you, who handled it so well. Lets hope he learnt something but I doubt it. If only the we could all learn to love and honour difference.

Jinksy said...

How sad that anyone can be so judgemental of other human beings...But I love the photo from long ago! :)

Trulyfool said...

As a Jew Boy, I know the background noise, the white sound. You're around New York. I grew up in L.A., sort of a cousinly attachment.

Been exploring this for some years, sort of rimming the glass to see if I can retrieve a tone.

Some writings upcoming, I think.

Trulyfool