"Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom" Albert Einstein

"A dame who knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up." Mae West

Monday, November 17, 2008

Beware the Gentile at Christmas

Fellow blogger Little Blog on the Prairie often complains about being Jewish in the nearby university town, especially around the holidays.

When I attended the university there, I spent my freshman year in a privately owned new dormitory. My mother had taken a Woman's Club tour of the place and decided that was where I should live because "it was very nice and had many amenities."

It didn't take me long to discover that the co-ed dorm was 90% occupied by Jewish women and 75% occupied by Jewish men. The dorm was known around campus by a very offensive nickname (similar to Pike's Peak) and when I told new acquaintances where I lived, they asked, "You're Jewish?" I wasn't.

My roommate was a lovely girl from a predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb. She was surprised to discover that I was smart, blond, and white as a sheet. She indicated she had imagined me a black, backwards girl from the wrong side of town, maybe part of the Project 500, with my common last name and small town, "Southern Illinois" address.

I felt we got along just great. I liked her mom and dad, although I thought they were a bit too doting. We ate together, studied together, socialized together. She introduced me to lox and bagels and other ethnic foods. In late November, I had a Christmas tree and she had a Menorah in our dorm window and we taught each other our holiday traditions.

But things changed around that time. She suddenly informed me that she was moving out, immediately, before the semester ended. When I asked why, she said she was afraid of me. That I might try to kill her while she was sleeping. What?

This fear apparently resulted from a conversation we had had about heritage, and I said I had a small bit of German blood in me. My great-great-great, etc. had loaned Gutenberg money to build his printing press.

So even though we both had been born several years past the end of World War II and none of our immediate family had lived in Germany, she feared me because she was Jewish and I had some German blood in me. Some bias had been ingrained in her. Nothing I said could reassure her and she moved out as soon as another room could be found.

Perhaps I should have been happy to have that room all to myself the rest of that year, but it bothered me that what I thought was a good friendship had ended because of bigotry. There was a lot of that occurring on campus during 1968, but I didn't think I would be a victim of it.

Fortunately my other Jewish dorm mates didn't feel the same way, but then again, they didn't have to share a room with me.

7 comments:

Alice said...

Another reminder that prejudice comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Sometimes we even recognize it in ourselves. What we choose to do about it is what matters.

Catch Her in the Wry said...

alice: Amen!

Thinking Man said...

I thought your post here was exceptionally well written, and exceptionally interesting. It reminded me a little bit of a story I once read by Eudora Welty, the name of which unfortunately escapes me.

I also wanted to tell you that I like your avatar. Are you a birder?

Thinking Man said...

P.S. I couldn't help noticing that Catcher in the Rye is not listed as one of your favorite books. I find that most interesting....

Catch Her in the Wry said...

Thinking Man: Just an oversight about the book - it was so very long ago when I read it, and there is, of course, a story behind my reading of it.

I'm not an avid birder, but I do admire the hawks that dot our skies here in the Midwest. They are full of grace when flying, quietly detached from the rest of the world, their eyes ever alert to what is happening below, then suddenly they swoop down and attack their prey. I am also known as Prairie Gourmet, which I deem a fitting name for a hawk.

Thinking Man said...

Yes, yes: I hear you, Prairie Gourmet. I've always had a special spot in my heart for hawks as well; I'm not sure where it comes from, but it's been with me ever since I was a very little boy (and that was some time ago).

I've also, just incidentally, had the pleasure recently of seeing several horned owls up close, and I must say that I had no idea how large those raptors are, or how breathtakingly beautiful. And fierce-looking. They've really emerged as one of my favorites.

Catch Her in the Wry said...

There was a great horned owl living in a tree across the street from my home. I felt him watch my every move with those piercing eyes. The tree came down in a storm and the owl disappeared.