Irene Rabinowitz
New Englander by birth, Israeli by choice.

Jewish lightning and other fine phrases

Knowing that I would be in Israel for a month, staying in Jerusalem, the editor of the weekly newspaper that serves the four towns on rural Cape Cod has given me the opportunity to write two pieces about my experiences. To meet their deadline, the first needed to be sent off just five or six days after I arrived. This normally would not be a problem, since I am comfortable writing about pretty much anything and if people disagree or dislike it, meh. It also was clear that a more personal rather than political or even religious tinged piece was appropriate for the paper, which is filled with local government conflict and local arts coverage. And, of course, supported by local advertisers.

The town in which I live is isolated at the end of Cape Cod, surrounded by bay or ocean on three sides and is filled with gay folks, artists, life drop-outs, and real estate people (gay and any of these other groups are not mutually exclusive). Provincetown is the bluest of towns in the bluest of states. There are probably 30 Republicans in the town, a handful of libertarians, and a many, many Democrats. In other words, many do not understand my dedication to Israel and Zionism and criticism of the mess Obama and Kerry are making of “peace talks”. I often hear “blah, blah, blah, apartheid” “blah blah blah, Zionism is racist”. I have become like a pet who only hears his name among all the other blather that comes out of our mouths (blah, blah, blah, Spot). To avoid arguments, I tend to walk away, “unfriend”, or for nicer people, I just agree to disagree.

So I sent off a nice piece about impressions of Jerusalem to the local newspaper that will be published (if the editor likes it) on Thursday.  What I did not mention (although this will be shared widely with the townsfolk) was that while shopping at a market off of Jaffa Street, the clerk asked where we (friend staying with me the first week of the month) were from in the United States. Upon hearing that we were from Massachusetts, she asked “Lots of Jew hate in Massachusetts?” That’s what you have to love about Israelis, cut to the chase, ask the question you really want to ask. I thought about it for a second and answered that not on the surface, but that it does happen. I used the word “understated” instead of subtle to accommodate her limited English, but in reality I wanted to say, yes there is some. She shook her head and said “terrible”.

Not being one to buy into victimhood, it was kind of strange to have to acknowledge this to an Israeli. Give me a buck for every time I have heard someone say “gee, so and so must be rich.” When I ask why, the sometimes-embarrassed-because-a-light-went-off-in-their-head person says “well, you know, the last name and all.” This has happened several times with co-workers. A couple of years ago, I was having drinks with two women who were donors to the organization for which I then worked as director. One of them, describing a fire in her New Jersey town, said “It was Jewish lightening, we all knew it.” Stunned I said to her, “So you believe that Jews are so greedy that we will burn down our own buildings for insurance fraud?” She said, “I never thought of it that way, but it does happen.” I slapped down $30 for the drinks and left.  My traveling companion once told a customer to leave her store for asking “if she could Jew her down the price” of an item. Michele’s response was to call her an anti-Semite and to toss her sorry ass out of the store.

So, yes, lovely young Israeli in the grocery store, there is “Jew hate” in Massachusetts and in many other places. What I wanted to say, but didn’t, was that she was fortunate to be born into a Jewish nation and that she had not had to grow up in a place where these incidents, although not violent, are indicative of how easy it is for bias to enter a culture. And worse, that those using these expressions and harboring these beliefs are often our co-workers, our neighbors, business associates who would never, ever believe that they harbor “Jew hate”, but these ingrained beliefs are part of who they are. Since I will be here for a while and will no doubt need more yoghurt, cereal, toilet paper, and other supplies, I will see the young woman again and I will tell her she has been gifted with living in a nation where people shake their heads and say “terrible” when they hear these stories. Not so much in other places.

About the Author
Irene Rabinowitz made aliyah in November 2014 and lives in Jerusalem. Prior to making aliyah, she lived in a small odd town at the tip of Cape Cod for 28 years. She lived in New York City for 16 years as a young adult (or old child), but is a Rhode Islander by birth. Irene has served as a local elected official and retired from a long career in non-profit management at the end of 2013, after serving as the Executive Director of Helping Our Women for 18 years. She works as the Development Resource Manager at the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center and the USA Charity Specialist at Fogel CFO and Management Services.