Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays, If Possible

One holiday season back in the 20th century my groceries had been bagged in a grocery store and I was about to leave, and the check-out lady smiled at me and said, "Merry Christmas!"

And I yelled at her: "I'm Jewish!" (I'm not, actually.)

The lady went wide-eyed and stammered, "S-so?"

So, I had been thinking about what it must be like to be Jewish in most parts of the US. I've kept thinking about what it must be like to Jewish here, or Muslim, or black, or black and Muslim, or Asian, or Native American, or gay, or paraplegic, or to stand out from the herd in some other way.

I don't know anything about that checkout lady. For all I know, she could have been sorry she upset me, and might still be sorry, and might have learned a lot since then about Hanukkah, and made a few Jewish friends. Or possibly she was antisemitic and my outburst made her dislike Jews more. Or maybe she herself was really Jewish.

I didn't notice Bill O'Reilly in the store that evening. If he was there, and he heard me, did he think of my outburst as an example of the war on Christmas?

If the war on Christmas is a struggle against the right for Christian Americans to continue to treat non-Christians like 2nd-class citizens or worse, then, yes, it exists. How many Christians, if they read something like that, would go all wide-eyed in surprise, because they really don't believe that non-Christians are discriminated against in the US?

Some years before my holiday outburst in the grocery store, I told a joke making fun of Moses and the Jews wandering in the desert, and a woman who heard me immediately said, "I'm Jewish." I responded to that by immediately launching into a joke making fun of evangelical Christians. I was trying to say that I was not a bigot, that my comedy style was equal-opportunity offensive. She didn't laugh at either joke. In the decades since then I've spent a lot of time wondering what she thinks of me. And I've spent a little time wondering whether she actually is Jewish. Maybe she is, or maybe she said she was as a way of confronting me, because I seemed to her to be an antisemite. And in retrospect it seems reasonable that she saw me that way. The same way that I assumed that the makers of "Family Guy" were bigoted the first few times I watched the show. She and I barely knew one another at the time. We still barely know each other.

And also since then, I've occasionally lied and said I was Jewish. Sometimes when confronted with antisemitism, and sometimes for no particular reason at all. But I'm trying to stop that because I've come to realize that that pretense is offensive to some Jews.

Anyway, Hanukkah was over 10 days ago this year in case some of you goyim were wondering.

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