Random Rantings

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The sum of silence

I should have said something… anything…
I think I was just too shocked to react…

I was in a toy store today, looking over the “buy one, get one 50% off” sale items, just to see what was there. I have several children (not mine) that I could purchase items for, including myself, the perpetual 6-year-old at heart. A woman accompanying her grandchild started up a conversation with me. Being the extrovert I am, we began reminiscing about days gone by, when toys were much more affordable, and that summer sales meant that one could complete early holiday shopping chores at a deep discount. Being a youngster by comparison to the grandmother, I don’t have memories of shopping for others, but I did remember the days of the $3 toy bin at a local retailer, where my parents could look like the gods of the parenting world for less than ten bucks.

We were getting along fine until she decided to share her vision of why toys were so expensive nowadays… I suggested “the economy” with a shrug… she countered with “too many Jews looking for more money”…

My brain grinded to a halt, completely blank at the moment, I had no idea how to respond to the woman in front of me. And then, a flurry of thoughts:

· I have never until this moment actually heard anyone verbally link Jews to greed. Sure, I knew that people thought this, but the closest I had come before now was watching an old movie that had a character who said things like that.
· Well, this just proves that I don’t look Jewish…
· Which brings up the question – did she ever stop to think that perhaps she was speaking to a Jew?
· No, is the obvious answer, she didn’t think at all about what she said, or she might not have said it.
· I’m hoping this is just ignorance? Perhaps she doesn’t know any Jews?
· I have no idea how to respond to her. Certainly this deserves some response – but I don’t want to start a scene in the board game aisle…

I’m reminded of a middle school classmate of mine who, after learning I was Jewish, asked me why she couldn’t see my horns. After a short conversation about why she would ask such a question, during which she became hugely embarrassed, I learned that she wasn’t trying to be mean. Her grandfather had always told her stories that included a description that Jews had horns. She had never met anyone Jewish – or at least anyone she knew was Jewish – and so had never known that her grandfather was wrong, or that the horn thing was a hurtful anti-Semitic remark. She always thought it was just a fact, like an Aborigine has dark skin, some Irish folks have freckles, Asians have slanted eyes, and Jews have horns…

And so, I hoped in my mind that the woman I was speaking with has just never been exposed to anyone Jewish, and therefore held onto false beliefs that were fed to her by someone just as ignorant.

She was gone before I could think of something as a response. About 20 minutes after the fact, I came up with a whole host of witty responses:

Obviously I don’t look Jewish
Do you know a Jewish toy executive?
What about the Christians looking for more money?
I’m sure I must have misheard you…

Of course, my brain has always been slow on the response time to things like this, and I watch her walk away, wishing that I had come up with something to say…

I can’t help feeling that, by my lack of response, I have assisted in the continuation of Anti-Semitism in the world.

Yes – I know – it’s only one person… and, I was taken by surprise, so it’s not my fault. Don’t think I’m rolling in the guilt here – I’m really not feeling personally at fault…

However, it’s the sum of the silence that I’m thinking about.

How many other times have people heard this woman say something like this, and not responded to her?

And for that matter, how many other people say things like this and no one says anything to them?

There’s this poster that I’ve seen that shows the different patches that identified different groups prosecuted by the Nazis. There is a quote in the center of the poster, which I would completely destroy in attempting to quote it off the top of my head. I’ll describe it instead. The quote is from the point of view of a person who is describing how “they” came for members of these different groups, and that he did not speak up against it, because he was not a member of any of these groups… until they came for him – and no one was left to speak up.

I hope that there isn’t a next time. But, if there is, I need to remember to say something – anything. And I hope that you all reading this will remember to say something too.

It’s the only way to change the world.


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