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On being a shiksa at Brandeis University

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: Opinions


shiksa. noun Offensive, used as a disparaging term for a non-Jewish girl or woman. The American Heritage Dictionary, Houghlin Mifflin Company, 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen, two years ago I encountered this word my first week at arriving at Brandeis University. I can remember the face of the young man, a student I had never met before, holler towards me, Hey shiksa, come on over and give Daddy some love! Coming from a rather Christian Midwest background, I had never come across this word before. When I asked one of my friends what this word meant, I was told it normally refers to an attractive gentile woman who seduces Jewish men. At first, I took this event to be a one time event. I dont like being called names just as much as the next person, but, upset as I was, I tried to let it go.

Until it happened again.

About a month or so later, I was asked out to lunch. I was excited because I thought I was going on a date of some sort, and I wanted to get to know this person better. It started out well enough. We sat down all smiles. But before I had even picked up my fork, he reached over for my hand and said, I just want you to know, I dont date shiksas, ok? Again with that word! Yeah, sure, I replied, my voice cracking just the slightest bit. I hid my disappointment as best I could with a weak smile, and left pondering about what had just happened. Was I upset because I had been rejected? Was I upset because I had indirectly been referred to as a shiksa? Or was I upset that I had been rejected because I was a shiksa?

Now, I have softened towards this word over the course of two years. And on any given night when I am looking particularly well dressed, having one of my friends come up and say, lookin good shiksa is taken most definitely as a compliment. But what I cannot stand is the serious use of the term when it is used and meant in a veritably disparaging way.

While the word shiksa, may not be offensive to many on campus, when the word is applied to you, it is an entirely different story. Before coming to Brandeis, I was just another white protestant girl in the Midwest. I was one of a majority. I chose to come Brandeis because of its rich history in social justice. And here I am, living and breathing the experience of a minority. I get stared at when I wear a cross;

and every time I say I am an Episcopalian, most people confuse it with Evangelism, a faith highly contrary to my own. My first month at Brandeis, I was criticized even humiliated for making a mistake as simple as mixing up kosher and non-kosher trays at Sherman. Yet after two years, I have discovered a bittersweet truth about my experiences: I am not alone.

The purpose of this column is to elucidate the everyday experiences of life as a non-Jew at Brandeis University. There are dozens of us whose voices have yet to be heard, and whose opinions have yet to be appreciated. Shiksa Diaries aims to voice some of those yet untold stories.