It’s important to defend Jewish ‘family’ against hate

BY DAVID RUBIN

Has it ever happened to you that someone you barely knew started telling you “what’s wrong” with — your brother, your mother, or your son? What was your first reaction? Did you congratulate the busybody on his insight and add in some criticisms of your own, e.g. “you are so right — and not only that, let me tell you, Stranger, what other terrible and embarrassing things my daughter does…”

I’d be willing to bet you don’t respond like that, and in fact, even if the stranger has a point, your first instinct is to tell the busybody that you disagree and that you don’t appreciate her comments. After all, there is a larger issue at stake. Just who is this person to be criticizing you and your family?

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I bring all this up in response to Karen Aroesty’s excellent piece in the Light recently, regarding a St. Louis County court case now on appeal. Evidence revealed that a number of jurors agreed the defendants should pay the plaintiff, specifically because they are Jews. At least one juror referred during deliberations to one of the defendants, as a “cheap Jew” and a “penny-pinching” Jew. Most surprising, the Jewish judge in the case didn’t see anything actionable about the jury’s misbehavior. Now, we will see what the appellate court says.

Karen, regional director of the ADL, did an excellent job in laying out the facts of the case and placing it in a larger context, articulating that anti-Semitism is still out there. She rightly urged us to “work to challenge” it “with confidence”. What I found unsatisfying though is first, that our community leadership generally does not appear to be addressing this at all. I have seen no evidence of “community outrage” of any kind — no call for interfaith unity or dialogue — nothing. Several years ago, when someone threw a rock at a window containing a menorah, many Billings, Montana citizens of all religious denominations put menorahs in their windows as a sign of solidarity. Shouldn’t anti-Semitism in a jury room trigger a similar response? After all, this means that a Jew in St. Louis County must be concerned that he may not get a fair trial. That seems like something our leaders should be alarmed about, doesn’t it?

My other concern is that even Karen’s well-written article did not provide us with “next steps” on how to address this terrible problem on an individual day-to-day basis. In other words, what exactly should each of us be doing to fight back?

This is what got me thinking about the family example above. The fact is we really already know what to do.

It starts with us doing a better job of thinking of all our fellow Jews as “family.” Many non-Jews do not

distinguish between us. To the outside world, we have a lot more in common with each other than we have differences. And of course, what’s wrong with seeing our fellow Jews as our brothers and sisters?

Once we have accepted the basic Jewish tenets that all Jews are responsible for one another and that if we don’t look after ourselves then no one else will do it for us, we can go on to acknowledge that when someone says something hateful about some of us, he is really saying it about all of us. And then we know what to do. Our reaction should be the same as it would be any time someone criticizes a family member. We politely tell them they are wrong, and that we don’t appreciate their comment.

If, as Karen suggests, we stand up to the criticism with consistency and confidence, then we communicate to the anti-Semite and more importantly, to those who are watching, that anti-Semitic observations and provocations are socially unacceptable. If we model this point consistently on a one-on-one, and on a community-leadership level, then ultimately in a civil and caring society such as ours, the offensive behavior should be modified.

The ADL offers an

excellent program called “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” and this is precisely what they have found, i.e. that Jewish people often stay silent or join in the criticism because they think that if they do, they will “fit in.” Additionally, they found that many Jewish people simply lack the knowledge to separate anti-Semitic myths from truth.

The ADL program trains Jews to know the facts about Judaism and to have the confidence to speak up on our own behalf.

I can attest to the success of this approach. In my work I am frequently on a number of listserves (group discussions on the computer) with lawyers from all over the U.S. One would think that we would be discussing law — and that is mostly what we do. But on several occasions, lawyers have engaged in innocent anti-Semitic “observations.” Even worse, on some occasions active hate speech has shown up in which the Jewish religion has been mischaracterized and Talmudic references are quoted out of context — usually in ways taken straight from hate Web sites. In these instances, I have had to consider whether I want to introduce my Judaism into what should be and usually is a strictly work context. Do I want to be known as one of the smart lawyers in the group who is there to provide a legal insight, or am I willing to insert personal information and be viewed in the future as “The Jew” in the group?

In the end, I have on every occasion chosen to defend my religion and my “family.” What I have not done is get angry or tried to bully or shame anyone. I believe that approach may temporarily stifle the comments and questions, but it also breeds resentment without enlightenment.

What I have done instead, is carefully shown with specifics, in those public discussions with everyone watching, where the other person was simply incorrect. I have then provided other comments that show the true facts and the Jewish religion in a positive light. Being realistic, I am not sure that what I did necessarily changed the mind of the “hater” — sometimes there is nothing any of us can do about that. But I have found that on every occasion, others who were watching and trying to learn, would contact me privately and ask me other questions about Judaism. Sadly, some of these people were afraid that if they even asked the questions, they would be labeled as “anti-Semitic.” In reality though, they sincerely wanted to know and they needed me to create a climate that made it comfortable for them to ask.

The bottom line: As Karen has suggested, let’s educate ourselves and our children to know the details of the Jewish religion, to be proud of it, and to be proud of our fellow Jews as well.

After all, you don’t really need me to tell you what you’ve already been telling your kids for all these years. The best way to get others to respect you, is to first show respect for yourself. Let’s all resolve to “make lemonade from the lemons” these

reprehensible juror/haters have given us. Let’s use this opportunity to re-double our efforts to stand up fully to anti-Semitism when it appears, and to react with pride instead of fear. After all, it’s our “family” they are

talking about.

David Rubin is a St. Louis-area attorney.