What to do when confronted with such a vile phrase?

Pam Droog Jones

By Pam Droog Jones

Years ago my family became friendly with a family I’ll call the Smiths who lived on a farm near Springfield. We had met them at the Missouri State Fair where their son was showing his prize-winning hogs. The adorable, chubby boy was jostling several plaques and trophies. The scene captivated my then-husband, artist Hans Droog who took a picture that became a notable painting.

Over time the Smiths and Droogs became quite close. Hans and I frequently visited the farm to take a break from city life. We got to know the Smiths’ extended family and friends. We celebrated weddings and births. Hans designed and built their new kitchen. And when they started a breeding business we bought a dachshund puppy.

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So it came as a great shock during a visit when Joan Smith mentioned someone tried to “Jew her down” on a purchase. Her statement left me speechless. As startled as he was, Hans said, “Joan, how can you say that? Pam is Jewish!” She knew it, but didn’t consider it as she told her story. To Joan, what she said was just an expression.

Of course she was upset and apologetic, and of course I forgave her. She certainly did not mean to hurt or insult me. But in my sheltered life that was the first time I had directly experienced anything close to anti-Semitism — and it was painful.

That was many years ago. The Smiths and Droogs drifted apart and I forgot about the incident until recently when my housekeeper, who I’m fond of, unthinkingly used the same vile phrase. She also knows I’m Jewish. We have talked about it and she sees the Jewish Light around the house. Again, I was shocked and speechless, and then the moment passed.

In our society we don’t like to make waves. I was unprepared for a confrontation, even a gentle one. Has this happened to you? What did you do? What would you do?