Have you ever been an accidental spy? There you were, just minding your own business when suddenly, people around you start talking about you – your people – without knowing you are “one of them?”
I had been invited to a fundraising luncheon through a friend, who had been invited by a friend of hers. Neither of us knew much about the organization we were breaking bread with, but we went in the good Jewish spirit of “either way, we’ll get to eat.”
We arrived to an explosion of elaborate decorations and live music. This was quite the shindig for the middle of the afternoon. The people were friendly, the check-in folks were very organized and we easily found our assigned seats boasting fancy tableware. I was immediately offered wine and I started to feel a little bit special having such an unexpected, swanky experience.
As the room filled with folks dressed in their Sunday best, a young man approached the microphone and began singing “Amazing Grace.” He was a very handsome kid and his voice was absolutely beautiful. While others around me teared up with sentiment, I was thinking to myself, “he must get all the girls,” while furiously texting my husband under the table that along with bagpipes, someone must sing “Amazing Grace” at my funeral.
When I looked up our singer had been replaced by a man of the cloth. Suddenly, we were saying Grace. The entire room was a sea of bowed heads. We were the only Jews! I looked nervously at my friend and then at my hands that were clenching my telephone. I took a deep breath. Realistically, no one was looking at me and no flashing “she’s a Jew” arrow was pointing at my head. So I waited it out, head bent respectfully toward my lap.
The main speaker followed – a plucky, well-spoken and clearly passionate person. In the speech, however, when giving examples of the hurdles that had been jumped for the mission of the organization to be realized, there were references to Jewish people and Jewish practices – and they were not positive. We were portrayed as a sexist people who don’t take women in business seriously without a man’s hand and that when the rent is due with a Jew, you better pay it or end up on the street. We were also perceived as self-congratulatory, proclaiming, “no one will outdo the Jews!” in our generosity.
I became lightheaded. My lunch began to bubble up in my throat. What was this person talking about? Why was this a part of the story? If the speaker knew there were Jews in the mix, would the speech have been different? In a lucky coincidence, we had already planned to leave early. I was sweating as I pulled on my coat.
I felt faint in the parking lot. When I got into the car I collapsed into the seat, my heart heavy with a combination of shock and sadness. How? How could someone say these things? When I got home my hands were a blur on the keyboard. I wrote what I considered to be a very impassioned email that concluded with:
“…You have hurt, offended and saddened me. In a world that has so many hurts to heal, it is beyond disappointing that you used your time with a captive audience to fan the flames of division and anti-Semitism.”
I received an almost immediate response. It was a combination of authentic shock and remorse. The speaker genuinely seemed to have no idea that what had been said could have been heard or interpreted the way it had been in my ears. I received a sincere and authentic apology, and the speaker said they would never, ever, use those words again as the intention was never to hurt or offend anyone. They concluded by saying the Jewish people are their brothers and sisters and thanked me for my courage in coming forward with my experience.
Call it courage, but I could not be silent on this one, nor do I believe we should we ever be silent.
We have the luxury of hiding our Jewishness – being able to conveniently tuck in our Chai necklaces, not reveal our last names, or be vague around what kind of G-d we believe in. But the times when we feel most inclined to hide, those are exactly the times that we should proclaim our presence. We cannot take the easy road as a minority and camouflage ourselves amongst other white folk. We ARE a minority. We need to take courage in our Judaism and the responsibility to educate those who for whatever reason don’t know the power of their words to hurt, however unintentional they may be. We must stand with other minorities that are unable to “hide” in a crowd. No one should suffer in silence. We should thrive in our collective humanity to ensure “never again” for us and for all people.