Recently, a New Jersey City Council President’s used the term ‘Jew down’ and apologized. But now, a councilwoman has opined that that wasn’t anti-Semitic. To ‘Jew down’ refers to the stereotype that Jews are cheap and negotiate for unreasonably low prices. She claimed it was just a verb.
To be careful not to hurt others with your words is a verb too. And if you found you failed (a verb too), you need to apologize (try to verb-alize it).
When I was in high school, I had a job on-the-side in the kitchen of an old-age home. I didn’t learn to cook but boy did I learn to do dishes.
One day, my boss told me: “And work properly or I’ll have an old Jew take you away.” I immediately answered: “I’m not afraid of my father.” I felt sorry about being so aggressive but it popped out and couldn’t be undone.
My boss stood there in utter disbelief about what she just had realized. She grew up in a village in the Catholic South and this was a normal expression there. She had never connected such proverbial Jews to actual Jews in her life. She had Jewish friends. No one would say that she was anti-Semitic — not even my parents who were Holocaust-survivors — and they had some pretty high standards before liking non-Jews.
In fact, my boss’ name for friends was Sam. This, because she was so different from all her other family members that they said: you must be from the Jews and called her Sam. Sam and Moos [moas] (Moses) were names used in jokes about Jews — compare the German Max and Moritz.
Now, how could she talk to me about an old Jew and not think of Jews? It’s simple. It’s what you’re used to from a young age and never got to question. You probably think that ‘breathtaking’ is something wonderful. But it reminds me of asthma. Yet, in Dutch, that is ‘adembenemend,’ literally: breath-taken-away, which to me sounds as fantastic.
When we talk, we’re bound to make mistakes. We need to learn to say: “I didn’t realize what I was saying. I apologize.” Not all people find that easy to admit but it can be learned. Becoming defensive is not helpful.
In the case of the US city council, all the three culprits apologized. Yet, for one of the city’s lawyers it didn’t sound sincere at all. That is a problem.