Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Are You Jewish?"

I get that a lot, which is funny, because I'm not Jewish (ethnically or otherwise).

I did spend half of my childhood in a Jewish neighborhood, however, and it did affect my mannerisms. From my experience, when people tell me I "look Jewish" (ugh! What does THAT mean?) I find they really mean I "act Jewish."

What brings this up? A short meeting I had with a co-worker, who happens to be a naturalized citizen originally from the other side of the world.

He was nervous as he asked it, which sent up a red flag for me. I also knew, as he asked it, that if I told him I held no religious convictions he would think even less of me than if I were a Jew.

So I used my pat answer when confronted by potential religious bigots in the workplace: "I was raised Catholic."

Which is true, but you would be surprised how rarely I am asked to clarify that statement.

Or maybe you would not be surprised.

I don't always hide behind that answer. I did admit to one co-worker - a Muslim - that I am an atheist. He was surprised.

"How can you be an atheist?" He declared. "You're the most open-minded and moral person at work!"

Yeah, imagine that.

Anyway, back to the tale my other co-worker, who was concerned about my potentially Semitic heritage. I gave him my pat answer and he breathed a huge sigh of relief and laughed. He told me how my hair, nose and "way of talking" made me seem Jewish to him. He apologized. I told him I was not the least bit offended, and that I would not have been offended had I actually been Jewish.

But if I had been Jewish, I would have been deeply suspicious of him. And it turns out with good reason.

For the next fifteen minutes I was entreated to a rant about his Jewish neighbors and their spending habits, and an elicitation of stereotypes about... Greeks...?

I stopped my co-worker and asked him to clarify: was he talking about Jews, Greeks, or Greek Jews?

He looked at me, a little confused, and said: "Aren't all Greeks Jews?"

That gave me pause. I strongly recommended he keep his views to himself because we do have some Jews and, yes, Greek Orthodox Christians, on staff, and that they would take offense to some of the things he was saying.

His eyes went wide when I mentioned we had Jews on staff. He also asked me to explain what "Greek Orthodox" means. Thankfully, he did not ask me to name any of the Jews on staff. I'm sure he can find that out from someone else, anyway...

What did I learn from this? The anti-Semitic jokes in the movie Borat are not really jokes. People really do seem to believe such extreme, richly horsefeathered nonesense.

And now I'll try to find some way to introduce my errant co-worker to this fine organization.

No comments: