The Jewish Headache

I must first establish that my parents and their parents and beyond were all completely Jewish. In spite of that, I am a committed Atheist, and pleased with my Jewish heritage. Anyone born to a Jewish mother is accepted as a Jew.

Comedian/commentator Bill Maher was born to a Jewish mother and was raised Catholic. He has chosen to be an avid atheist. See his documentary film, “Religulous.”

I know a man whose family’s roots are in Hungary. Although he was born and raised in French Canada, his mother and grandmother are Jewish. He was not raised Jewish, and is very emphatic when he insists he is not Jewish.

When I was a child of ten, I only thought of myself as a Jew when I had to go to “Jewish School,” every day, after all day in regular grammar school. All my gentile schoolmates were playing in the streets and parks, while I… we Jewish kids had to learn some Hebrew language and history to prepare for our Bar Mitzvah. When a Jewish boy turns thirteen, there is a big deal in the synagogue and a party afterward, to certify that he is now a man. We thirteen year old ‘men’ have nary a hair on our faces. We are instead plagued with pimples like any confused, pubescent kid would be.  It’s just tradition.

Back when I was only about ten, I was a pudgy kid, a little darker skinned than the surrounding Scottish/Irish based kids. To earn a few bucks on a Sunday, I distributed fliers for a newly established kosher meat market in the neighbourhood. I’d go through the neighbourhood putting fliers into mail boxes or on door handles. I came to a house where a kind-looking old man was raking his small lawn. As I approached, he smiled at me, took the flier from my hand, and said thank you. I turned to walk away and I heard him snarl, “This is for the Jews.” I turned to see him furiously tearing up the flier and throwing the pieces onto his pile of leaves.

I went to grammar school in 1940s Toronto suburb called York Township back then. The school was primitive, and the neighbourhood was working-class Christian. I was the only Jew, and I looked Jewish, compared to the lanky, wiry, blonde and red-headed kids. So walking to school in winter meant snowballs were sure to come my way. In warm weather, rocks were thrown at me, and when available, horse manure was thrown. In the ‘40s, there were still horse-drawn delivery wagons on the streets.

My father began to succeed in his business ambitions. He traded his old, well-worn Dodge Business Coup for a lovely, new, shining black Buick Special. It was nice to have a seat, because the business coup had no back seat, and I had to lie on the shelf beneath the back window.

One day I was playing in the driveway behind my father’s Buick. The son of the family next door was about 20 years old and was the ring announcer at the wrestling matches. Anyway, he stood on his porch, looked down at me, and said, “I see your father bought a JEWICK!” I ignored him as I ignored all slurs.

Finally, some friends and I, all teenagers from a group of family summer cottages, went to a nearby country dance hall. We each matched up with a local girl and sat together at a table away from the dance floor. The conversation, for some reason, turned to religion. When I was asked my religion, I said, “Jewish.” Immediately, the girl beside me put her hand on my arm and said, “Don’t feel bad. I’m sure there are some good Jews.” That sixteen-year-old girl wasn’t born with her bigotry, it was taught to her by her parents. That’s why this stuff continues throughout history.

Jews have to be ‘there for each other’, because possibly nobody else will be.


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