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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Lets talk about sects

Published: January 20, 2006
Section: Opinions

Get your Jew ass outta here you fuckin kike!
As the only Jewish kid in my school in Austin, TX who wore a yarmulke (skullcap), I was often targeted with anti-Semitic remarks such as this one. I felt hurt. Then I felt mad. Then I got self-righteous and then I realized I was letting his bigotry get the better of me, wearing it on my sleeve like an entitlement to religious persecution. Needless to say, that attitude didnt make me happy. I respect and admire Kevin Montgomerys courage and his caring about the Brandeis community by writing his Memoirs of a Goy at Brandeis, even while I noticed a tinge of self-righteousness.
Perhaps because of my close encounter with religious bigotry, I was not really shocked by the comments and incidents described by Kevin Montgomery in his article. Still, I was upset. I would like to think that this was motivated by an ability to feel the emotional hurt and pain of Kevin Montgomery rather than feelings of anxiety over these remarks because they were made by Jewish people (like me), and therefore Jews would lose points with the non-Jews. But I think the nature of my reaction was somewhere in between. I do not think that my motives could realistically be detached from my Jewish identity. Indeed, I believe that Judaism commands me to speak out against and heal the wounds of injustice wherever it exists, especially when it is in my own backyard.

By the same token, I do not believe I, as an observant Jew, should have to justify my religious practice and values for any person. I have talked with Muslim people who were frustrated that after 9/11 they were often called on or expected to convince people how Islam actually does not really condone suicide terrorism. There is a word for offensive questions such as these: Inquisition (its not just a catchy song from a Mel Brooks film, unfortunately). Therefore, I dont feel the need to explain why I want to marry a woman who is Jewish. That is a personal value, and if people want to ask me genuinely why it is that I have that valuerather than telling me I am a bigot who thinks non-Jewish women are an inferior raceI would be happy to share my views and feelings about the topic with them.

On a related note, it seems that a forum or wider discussion on Jewish/non-Jewish relations on campus would be of little value unless there is also (or first) a discussion within the Jewish community about issues of group versus individual identity and what it means for us to be the part of the majority in a private academic institution while being part of a tiny minority in the U.S. Let me explain my thinking: I suspect that many racist comments which are made reflect more the insecurities of the person making the comment, particularly with regard to how they relate to their ethnic/religious group. Speaking from personal experience, an offensive comment about shiksas might be made not because someone really does not like non-Jewish girls but because they are immaturely trying to assert their own Jewish identity by proclaiming their disassociation from people who are different than the image which they are striving for, or simply because they have heard the term thrown around in the context of a socially acceptable joke.

Fortunately, an Orthodox Jewish person came up to me after the class when I made this comment about shiksas freshman year and told me that it was an offensive thing to say. They didnt ridicule me in front of the class or hold a symposium about being open-minded or embracing diversity, but they confronted me candidly and honestly and it was effective. As a Jew, I think that there is much work that is needed within and amongst the different segments of the Jewish community at Brandeis. To a large degree, I think that these manifestations of religious racism are rooted in social dynamics and identity complexes within the Jewish community.