I never realized that I was different from most kids my age until I was at least 4. Sure, around Christmas time, I wondered why we didn’t have lights or decorations. My mother just said that we celebrate Chanukah (yes, it really does have a Ch). I also wondered why Santa didn’t visit us, and she told me that we had a special dot on our door that told Santa not to deliver gifts to our house. Being gullible, I looked for that stupid dot long after I realized that Santa wasn’t real. I never did find it. Just another little disappointment that I’ve had to learn to live with. Anyway, I was born in Montreal and raised in Sydney, a small city in Nova Scotia. Being Jewish wasn’t the rule, it was the exception. Once, when I was about 4, I was playing outside and an older boy, or should I say bully, from around the corner drove his bicycle over my feet. He did this simply because I was a Jew. Luckily, I told my older sister and friend Paul what happened and my sister knocked him off of his bike, and Paul jumped on him and pulled his ears until he apologized.
There were other incidents as I was growing up. One boy kept yelling “Jill is Jewish” in the playground. I didn’t get too offended, because even though it was meant as a slur, it was just a fact. A couple of other kids told me that they knew that I was rich because I was Jewish. I had no idea what my parents had, all that I knew was that I never did get Superstar Barbie because they said that they couldn’t afford it. My friends were all very respectful though and defended me when bullying came up. Interestingly, my closest friends in high school were Muslims and Hindus. None of us cared about what made us different – we grew up in a very similar way. The most uncomfortable encounters actually were with adults.
My neighbour, who seemed like a perfectly nice man that let me take his dog for a walk when I was walking my own puppy, later became a bit of a terror. He got fired from the bank when he told a Jewish customer that he wished Hitler had finished all Jews off. He held a bit of a grudge. When I’d walk my dog, there were times that he would follow us around with his car getting a little too close for comfort. He threatened to “take a stick” to me and my dog if I ever let Rascal on his lawn. I was 8 years old at the time, and finally realized that there really was something different about me, something that certain people may not like.
My grade 12 English teacher was the second adult that made things uncomfortable for me. Just my luck, we were reading “The Merchant of Venice” and he felt it necessary to discuss the character of Shylock’s Judaism for longer than necessary. Some of what he said absolutely was important to the narrative of the play. Throwing in his opinion that all Jews are rich, that you never see a Jewish cab driver or maintenance person wasn’t. He directed comments about Jews being doctors mainly, looking right at me (my father was a doctor) when he said it was just a little slice of heaven. There was more, but he’s not worth any extra time than this. Again, most kids and teachers were great. People from the East Coast (of Canada) are very friendly and welcoming. Most of the time when they’d make comments or ask questions, it was curiosity, not malice.
When I moved to Toronto, I experienced far worse. Here is a small smattering of things that I rarely have spoken to anyone about:
- A woman walked up to me walking along the street with a friend, and said “Excuse me, do you think you are in Jew-town?”. Me, “Pardon?” thinking that she couldn’t have said that. The woman retorted, “You heard me” and walked away.
- A person, not realizing that I was Jewish, joked about my part time job as a cashier at a card store saying that I was playing “the Jewish” piano.
- Sitting with a group of friends and acquaintances watching TV one day, a skit came on featuring Hasidic Jews. It was funny, and if you can’t laugh at your own people, who can you laugh at? One person took it one step too far and he said exactly these words, “I f%$king hate f$#king Jews with their f$#king big noses and f#$king big wallets.” He went on to say more, but stopped after a minute more of his tirade when the room got very silent. He turned to me and said, “Your not Jewish, are you?”. The last words that I ever said to him were “As a matter of fact, I am”.
- “You are such a nice person Jill, it’s really too bad that you are going to hell because you don’t accept Christ as your saviour. Sin is sin in God’s eyes.”
- “Oh, when I said that Jews were obnoxious and horrible, I didn’t mean you Jill, you aren’t like that. I meant other Jews.” If I had a dime for every time someone said some form of this to me, I’d have a couple of hundred dollars at least.
- I’m not religious, but out of guilt (it’s one of the stereotypes of my religion that’s actually true), I go to synagogue twice a year on the High Holidays. Every time that I go, there is security that has to check my purse before I’m allowed on the premises. Imagine going to church and needing to have it checked by bomb-sniffing dogs and needing police protection? That’s our normal.
The list goes on and on, as it probably does for everyone who is a visible or invisible minority. There have been times when I’ve seen what it’s like for someone else. I was in Memphis with my friend when we were waiting for a car rental place to open up. An African American woman came out of a bus with a whole bunch of children who also happened to be African American. She was distraught, because the store was late opening and they had to be on the road and she wanted to return the keys for a car. We offered to do it for her, and she looked like she was going to cry. She explained that it was just such a nice thing to do after she had such a rough day. Her group was on a high after taking the kids to the National Civil Rights Museum. When she checked into her hotel, the front desk clerk told her to keep her little (insert the “N” word here) quiet. It was traumatizing for her to go from the extreme of how far her people had come, to how much further there still was to go.
Another time, I was on a bus, and there was a young-ish black child (maybe 11 or 12) on his own. A mentally ill woman starting walking up and down the bus shouting derogatory things about black people. It was awful, and I just wanted to die for this child. I talked to him and said you know what she saying isn’t true. She’s mentally ill, right? He slowly nodded, but it was so heartbreaking. I just kept talking to him the rest of the bus ride so that he wouldn’t feel so alone.
All of the things that have happened over the course of my life didn’t prepare me for what I saw in Charlottesville. The march by the Neo-Nazis and KKK sent chills down my spine. Watching them take over the streets with their tiki-torches and Anti-Semetic signs was a horrible reminder of what it must have been like to be a Jew (or any minority) in Germany in the 1930’s. The weekend’s festivities where they spouted hate against African Americans and all other minorities was a reminder that there are home grown terrorists in the US (and Canada) too. They are being enabled by a President that doesn’t understand moral equivalency because he is completely immoral.
Here is what I have to say to the KKK, the Neo-Nazis/Fascists and haters of all kind. “Jews will not replace us” (coming from a Nazi Germany and Neo-Nazi saying meaning basically that whites will not be replaced with immigrants and non-whites) makes zero sense. I have no desire to replace a racist, sexist low-life who spends most of their time hiding behind a hood. What am I supposed to replace you at? Marketing for the KKK? I can imagine the campaigns now: “Wearing White after Labour Day – a Klan do”; “Waterproof Eye Liner – How to paint a Swastika on your face without smearing it.”; “The All White/Alt Right Food Diet”; “17 Different Woods That Are Best for Burning Crosses”. I could go on, but I won’t, they aren’t worth it.
If you hate people because of their colour, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender/gender orientation or any other reason, you are a loser. Really, just a big, old loser. All of the people marching in the streets for “their country” and “their land” should remember that by ancestry, they too are immigrants. The only Native Americans, are just that, the Native Americans. You know, the ones whose land your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents took away? The Confederates lost the Civil War – get over it. The Nazis lost World War 2 – it’s time to get on the right side of history. The side that embraces people that are different than you. The side that Trump seems confused by. There are no “fine” Neo-Nazis or KKK. There are fine people that may be white or black or gay or straight or trans or Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Native American/First Nations or Chinese or Japanese or South-East Asian or Arabic or even a mix of all of the above. We need to learn from history so that the devastation of events like the Holocaust never happen again.