The other N-word

Recently, we were walking in Mea Shearim when we heard the distinct sound of metal on metal. A car trying to get through sideswiped a truck that was double-parked on a very narrow side street leaving little if any room to pass. The car had damaged the trucks side panels and ripped the side mirror off the truck’s driver side door. The infuriated truck driver who was casually standing on the sidewalk speaking with a group of people ran around to inspect the damage all the while cursing in Hebrew.

Anyone who knows Hebrew knows that there are no true curse words in the language. Oh yes, you can call someone a hamor, an ass – that is a donkey, or a tipash, a fool, or some other blasé remark that when uttered in the right circumstances is meant as a curse but real curse words come from other languages. So, the truck driver used some select Hebrew, Arabic, and even some English to vent his outrage. His decision to park in the position that he did seemed not to rise to a level of concern for him. He was outraged at the car driver and he showed it. What made him more infuriated though was the seeming indifference of the car driver who sat silently in his vehicle waiting, I guess, for the volcanic outrage to subside. It didn’t. It only got worse. The truck driver climbed on to the hood of the car pounded on the windshield and ripped off a windshield wiper that he used to crack the car windshield. At that point, the driver finally got out of his car and somewhat calmly called the truck driver a Nazi.

Last week a bill to criminalize the word “Nazi” when used under certain circumstances passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset. My Father who survived four Nazi death camps did not use the word freely. In fact, I recall him using the word only when describing actual Nazi’s and his experiences during the war. He was careful to teach us that the word had a specific meaning. Only genocidal killers rise to the level of being called a Nazi. Only people who are members of organizations that espouse genocidal ideas and ideals with the express intent of carrying out those reprehensible plans deserve the moniker. But, banning the word? I am not sure about that.

In the Arab world, the word Nazi is freely used to demonize Israel. Banning the word in Israel will do nothing to stop this atrocious assertion among anti Israeli anti-Semites. It might inadvertently give the word a heft that it should not have. I can just see the Jew haters twist this law by describing it as a method to prevent criticism of Israeli policy by Israelis, never mind that Israel is the most democratic country in the entire Middle East.

More to the point, while there is no explicit law in Israel regarding freedom of speech, the presumption for this freedom exists and has been supported by the courts. If freedom of expression is hampered democracy is challenged. I fear that this law was in part motivated by an anti Hareidi move designed to prevent the sort of civil disobedience against the government seen when children were dressed up as death camp prisoners. Such viciousness deserves a response but banning use of a word will not change this anti-government mindset.

Holocaust survivors are passing away. If we are to honor them we would do well to teach the next generations the true meaning of the word “Nazi”, not inadvertently honor it by banning it.

For those who are curious, the truck driver did not seem to react to being called a Nazi. He carried on with his cursing and hitting the car until the police arrived and did what they had to do, separating the two, and getting the paper work done.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."