jewin' the fat


The Odd Couple of days
February 27, 2010, 5:07 PM
Filed under: Comment, Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I found myself recently on a road trip, heading down the beautiful south coast with a ragtag bunch of friends and acquaintances. Amongst us were 2 Labor hacks, 1 PhD student, an Ethiopian immigrant, a Torres Strait Islander, a couple of Catholics and a range of couples, singles, old flings and potential new ones, as well as a guy who seemed to relish every opportunity to point out that myself and one other in the group were Members of the Tribe – though he didn’t see fit to put it as politely as that.

But I suppose, it was kinda my fault anyway. I did discuss it with my fellow Heeb – that is, our general Heebi-jeebiness. More specifically, after a few months MIA, I was interested to find out about his life, including his non-Jewish girlfriend, and how he was dealing with the clashes in belief and religious practice (she is an atheist). Perfect pre-dinner conversation. It started meekly enough, but before we knew it, it seemed everyone had an opinion on our musings, and were being quite vocal in their appreciation, or in this guy’s case, disgust. Then we entered the twilight zone, and bizarre-0-man provided the ultimate conversation buzz-kill:

My Grandmother warned me about people like you”. (Me? I thought? what, conservative? Opinionated? Pseudo Feminist? Middle Class? Sorry?)“She warned me about Jews. Don’t Trust ’em.”

The next day was shite. More rain, rain and rain. Good thing there was take-away fish and chip shop, Rugby Union on TV and a stack of board games, including Monopoly. (side note: I am not an avid Monopoly player. I am not interested in investment, and am far more likely to be seen frittering my wealth away on rent and chance cards, landing myself in Debt and in Jail. Now Risk. There’s a game for me!) So we settled in to play. Someone nominated me as the Bank, mostly because I was sitting closest to the board and already mesmerised by the pretty colours. And away we went! Soon it became clear that Jew 2 and I had put  a foot wrong, and not because we both were hemorrhaging money faster than Lehmann Brothers.  Rather because we were so unwilling to give up without a fight for our precious coloured paper.

“Ah, the Jews are out in force today … you guys should be good at this, you know, gouging people for rent … Jews hate to lose money …Yeah you love money … well, it is what they were born to do …”

Now once again, perhaps we had led them down the garden path a bit – you know, played along, laughed it off. Pretended the 7th or 8th jibe didn’t sting far more than the 1st or 2nd. Well eventually I went bankrupt (I told you), and it was with a sigh of relief and a deep sense of gratitude to whomever bought me out and let me escape to check my Gmail. Out of the fry pan and into the fire.

After the Rugby, it was dinner time and the hordes were hungry. We shopped, cooked and feasted, and while we sat around drinking wine, licking our fingers and picking at leftovers, someone brought up the unusual topic of hazing, on university campuses. So I thought ‘hey, I’m amongst friends, a little sharing never hurt’, and offered my experience as an executive member of a Jewish university Campus group, and the spectacle we presented to the first-year group which involved four heads of campus in Sydney, our hands tied behind our back, and an apple that had to be eaten. Again, within an instant, my story about consensual adult public fruit-eating  has turned into a travesty of sexual rights and abuses, and I was being accused of being just as bad Nazis for forcing honest, hard-working Germans to vote for them in 1936.

WHAT THE DEUTSCHMARK?!

Now, I could have reminded this human-rights defender about the history of pre-war Germany, and still bristling with the desire to stick my fork in his leg and his fresh t-bone up his nose, my Jew-in-arms came to be defense, but without much effect. Apparently asking consenting adults to engage in harmless, though messy showboating for the amusement of 18 year olds is akin to supporting a dictatorship with genocidal tendencies. Thanks for bring that to my attention. Oh silly me. Isn’t my face red now, hmm?

In an effort to stop my outrage bubbling into violence, I busied myself with cleaning up, while more wine was poured, and the group wound up covered in chocolate and eating nectarine slices. Happy families indeed. The next day it was home time and I woke early to make it down to the beach for a swim before everyone woke up. As I got dressed upon my return, I noticed a familiar black white and red poking out of my bag. ‘Must’ve been her Nazi voting instruction manual’, I hear you surmise.

Nope. It was my rip-off I Heart Israel T-shirt, bought in Occupied Palestine with a serious dose of Irony and Zionism, no less. I threw it on indifferently and as I rolled up the sleeves, I realised why my anger had suddenly dissipated. I could have called this guy any number of names under the sun, most of them a reference to his lack of understanding, knowledge or appreciation of culture, history and sensitivity. I could have called him out on his disrespectful language, tone and reference, how he, as an Indigenous Australian should understand the danger of antiquated, unsubstantiated prejudice and baseless bigotry.

But it all melted away. I let it go. Because you can wear your heart on your sleeve and your identity with shame, or pride, or joy or irony or contentment. The point is, you get to choose,  no one else. No matter what they call you.

PostScript: We have booked another escape for an upcoming long weekend to that same gorgeous spot of southern coastline, and we have instituted a strictly non-negotiable ‘no bigot’ policy. That’s right. This time, this Jewess gets to choose who comes along for the ride. And I’m calling shotgun.

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1 Comment so far
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Good on you for making a mature, responsible decision about how to deal with Antisemitism. Letting anger and frustration boil over into an argument is rarely (if ever) an effective way to let the bigot in question see your point of view. Its hard to see when a counter-remark would be beneficial in any encounter, but as long as its done in a calm, well-thought-out manner, you can’t really lose.

Comment by AJ




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