“CHEAP JEW!”

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” is one of myrude favorite quotes.

Does it apply, I wonder, to jerks in coffee shops?

Was way early to a meeting Friday, so stopped for coffee and bite. It was an upscale grocery store with attached coffee shop. Although there were lots of empty seats, the group of three or four in the corner was so noisy I it didn’t matter where I sat.

The coffee was okay. The bagel warm. The conversers behind me loud. I tried to concentrate on my sustenance until the phrase, ‘he was a CHEAP JEW’ leaped out at me from behind my back.

Did the guy really say that?

Like ‘nigger’, that expression is one I have seen only on paper, and then used intentionally for effect.  Now it was a rock in the shoe of consciousness.

What, if anything, to do about it? Would saying anything matter? Not really.

But if a dog pooped in my living room, I’d do something about it. And that guy had pooped in the living room of my consciousness.

Also in my living room is the fact that we are burying my father-in-law today. He was a difficult man. A man who had a hard life, unbelievable struggles for the first half. And was fierce in loyalty to his family and to me. In recent years he told me he loved me every time we talked, a fact so seemingly out of his cranky character I have to remind myself that there were other aspects of him we rarely saw. A Holocaust survivor, the immense struggle of his early life came about because he is a Jew.

He was a Jew. I’m still working on my verb tenses.

I despise confrontation and conflict. I didn’t want to upset myself further with unpleasantness at the coffee shop, so I thought about it before doing anything.rude

“Many people object to the term ‘cheap Jew’,” I said, with a hand on the shoulder of one of the men behind me.

“I didn’t say that,” he protested.

“Then you did,” I looked at the other man.

“I didn’t either.”

“Yes, you did,” the lone woman in the group had also noted the comment.

“So what if I did? Everyone knows Jews are cheap. What are you, a Jew who objects to the truth?”

“I am not Jewish. But I do object.”

“I’m Greek. Everyone knows Greeks won’t bend over to pick up a bar of soap. So what? I accept it. And we’re regulars here!! The next time you should wait for an invitation before you interrupt a conversation.”

As I went about my day, I mulled over the interaction. Did I change him? Certainly not. Did I have the best rejoinder? No.

But society advances only because of individuals. No one spits any more because it is flat out unacceptable. Same for smoking. If I hadn’t said anything I would have felt bad about it.

Off now to the service for my father-in-law, a complicated guy with a complicated history and a complicated life. He had many strengths and many weaknesses.

He wasn’t cheap. Neither was he reticent. I’m really glad he wasn’t at the coffee shop or things would have gotten really ugly.

The very best rejoinder in this department is one my former husband Jeff came up with it on the spot in front of a huge audience. We had moved to Switzerland and he was the new president of Swissair. It was a big whoop-de-doo that an American was to run their company. And a Jewish American at that—he was Jewish, right?—was running the company.

It was a giant room. A press conference for the new Swissair president. One of the first questions to him was:

“What kind of a name is ‘Katz’?”

rudeJeff had the perfect answer and the perfect end to subject.

“It’s my father’s name.”

About Karen Ray

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