Surly Snobby

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Beer, Buddah, & Buddha

“But you don’t look Jewish!” Even though I’ve been hearing this since I first realized I was supposed to look like something else, I’m still a little taken aback by it. And I heard it again last night.

Now, my usual response is to ask what a Jew looks like. I find this is a much better approach than what I did when I was younger. I would stammer as if I had been given a compliment and go on to explain that, genetically, half of me isn’t Jewish (which half?), thereby demonstrating how much I actually do fit in with normal, polite society. Now I ask what a Jew looks like and I wait to see what the response is.

Most people don't say this thing to me. The large majority of those who do have the good grace to realize they’ve said something slightly silly. With these ones I put on a ridiculous New York accent (“It’s like buddah!”) and talk about my father’s shnoz (admittedly, a significant one). It’s part gentle mockery and part silly comedy to put everyone back at ease.

Some, however, actually go on to describe to me in vivid detail what a Jew looks like. What they describe to me is invariably the image of a money-lender on some Nazi propaganda poster circa 1933. These are the people who often go on to describe with distaste their impressions of the Hassidim of Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood or Toronto's Lawrence & Bathurst, for example, astonished that people could live in such a manner. Is it worth it for me to tell them that almost all of these people are the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and see a good reason to cloister themselves, to use a Christian term? I usually give them about 60 seconds to pull themselves out of the hole they’ve dug before I cut off any possibility of further communication. It’s just not worth it.

My good friend and occasional character in this blog Alef Alef is a Jew of Moroccan origin. He is often mistaken for an Arab, much to his bemusement. My friend Really Tired Mommy is an Ethiopian Jew and she really doesn’t look anything like that horrible character from Oliver Twist. And then there’s my mother, who converted to Judaism and is thoroughly Jewish, although she certainly doesn’t look Jewish. Actually, she’s a Buddhist now and she seems much happier. She doesn’t look Buddhist, either.

Then there’s my friend Works Too Much, an Arab of Syrian origin, who looks like one of the guys I used to play with in front of the synagogue when I was a kid and our parents got tired of our bored squirming during prayers. When I was over at his place last week I reminded him how Jewish he looks. He told me to stop "occupying" his couch. We then had a food fight. I think only and Arab and a Jew could play with this topic without it being distasteful.

So because I don’t look Jewish, I knew that the spate of graffiti in my elevator a few months ago, swastikas surrounded by writing in Arab script, wasn’t directed at me, tenant of apartment ####. But it was generally directed at me as a Jewish individual. When the spate first started (it lasted about a month), every time I took the elevator I felt as weak as I did when I was a kid and first realized what “jew” meant when used as a verb. Then I grew angry as it continued until I wanted to do like the Hassidim and cut myself off from all goyim (non-Jews) except when absolutely necessary. Finally it stopped and my anger faded. I never talked about it with my friends, even the Jewish ones, or family because I didn’t like the violent emotions it brought up in me.

And I also recognize that it is, thus far, a random occurrence and not evidence of some larger plot.

Besides, some of my best friends are goyische.

And so to the repugnant lush from last night who thought that telling me I don’t look Jewish would make me want to sleep with him, who then went on to tweak my nose and say that it didn’t look so big, I say that I may not look Jewish, but you certainly do look like a pathetic insect who is probably at this moment vomiting his guts out, whose beer I could barely restrain myself from spitting in when you weren’t looking. You seemed to think my language was too strong, but you’re really not worth the explanation. Other people are.


Haphazardly thrown together by Surly
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