The title was suggested by one of my distant American friends.
I don’t even usually think of myself as a Jew; to 99% of the people here, and elsewhere, I am a white person. I don’t even look Jewish. When pressed to define what a Jewish person looks like, I’m at a loss, as there are even African Jews and Chinese Jews out and about, not just the Protocols-Of-The-Elders-Of-Zion-Esque Long-Nosed Rabbi-Snakes curling their majestic coils about the circumference of the terraqueous globe.
As for defining their, or our, character, I suppose, after meeting many Jews across the course of my life, the one characteristic would be intelligence, of a kind that is sometimes worn upon the sleeve, and sometimes hidden, but on second thought this is also a characteristic of virtually any other—almost any person who does not quite fit in to the surrounding environs will inevitably look at them with slightly more depth than the people who feel as though they belong there. They think more often. They question more. But even then that characteristic is so generalized as to be useless. There really is no one defining characteristic. Certain groups stand out from the mass, but many more quietly blend in.
Some are funny men, like Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld; others are incredibly rich and powerful, like George Soros and Sheldon Adelson; and still others, like one of my facebook friends, are absolute fascists. I caught this post from her just yesterday:
“…so-called Jews who turn on their own people are worse than Arabs who’d like to see us dead, because they are traitors as well as being fallacious. The connection between Judaism and Zionism is undeniable- especially at Pesach. The entire holiday is about the ancient Jewish yearning for freedom in Zion- “next year in Jerusalem.” And yet, these “Jews” despise their fellows for being true to their own tradition, religion, culture, and self-determination, preferring instead to side with those who loathe us simply for having the gall, G-d forbid, to stand up for ourselves. I find this sort of hypocrisy absolutely disgusting. The facts are plain, and they support Israel’s narrative. Period.”
I spoke with this woman several times during a regrettable time of strain at my alma mater, when extremists from Students For Justice In Palestine were going at it with extremists from Israel Is Just Awesome, and she struck me as a fairly nice, sensible, polite, and intelligent human being. At the same time, I once told my Russian professor, who claimed that she was not Jewish despite having an inordinately large beautiful nose, that I’m really just a Jew for the food—and Passover for me is, like most holidays for most people, just about getting together and eating, not celebrating genocide in a faraway land. I wanted to write a frowney-face on her wall, because who are you to say that I am not Jewish, but really, what’s the point? There are also extremists from the other side of this issue whom I see writing all kinds of similar garbage—either the Palestinians or the Jews can do no wrong—while I think most of us just wish, rather simplistically, that everyone could be friends.
I was wary of mentioning my Jewishness to Koreans, as the level of racism and ignorance here is so profound that people have instantly claimed, upon my accidentally mentioning that my paternal family is Jewish, that Jews are smart, read a lot of books, and have a lot of money. Therefore Koreans admire them. Many other Koreans have just kind of nodded and said wow, how interesting. Most, like me, have absolutely no idea what a Jew is, and mix the idea up with an Israeli or an Orthodox rabbi bowing at the weeping wall.
For me, I find some of the ideas fairly powerful, especially when you go deeper into the works of some of the philosophers. A religion without an afterlife. Endless textual criticism. Some of the stories and the poems are great, and they still have quite a hold on a vast swath of humanity after thousands of years. But the whole Chosen People thing doesn’t really do much for me. Nor does faith in a talking, burning bush.
I’ve actually rarely encountered only the slightest strains of anti-semitism during my time on Earth. An acquaintance at school called me Jewboy a few times because he thought it was funny, but then apologized, without any prompting from anyone, and never did so again. Another was constantly bullied and somewhat emotionally disturbed; he expressed support for Nazism, but I think he eventually got over it. That’s all. I went to a college that was overflowing with Jews, and then came to Korea, where I’m not even sure if I’ve met a single other even vaguely Jewish person during my time here.
I didn’t expect to run into anti-semitism from the other white people hanging around this place, but in the last few months it has happened, and I’m currently turning over ideas as to how to deal with it when it inevitably happens again.
There are three individuals, one of whom no longer works at my university. Like many people who live in Korea, he was utterly bizarre, and while purporting to be the most intellectual sort of fellow you could ever find, claimed that the Bible was a fairytale, and explained the entire history of the Jewish people in a falsely sensible, falsely sympathetic manner, to a group of Koreans, while repeatedly gesturing to me in an uncomfortable manner, as though I represented the money lenders who gave Jews such a bad name in the second half of the second millennium of our lord! I was still too much of a wee little sprout to challenge him, to say, hey, wait a minute, how the hell do you know the Bible is a fairytale, and why the hell do you keep gesturing to me like that? I am not those people, anymore than you are the soldiers who mowed down the protestors at Amritsar! Give it a rest!
I mean really, how would you feel, if someone were to describe the history of your race, your culture, or your religion, to a group of people who know nothing about it, for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, all the while gesturing at you? It’s a form of tokenization. Here is a black person. Right here. His ancestors were probably slaves. Today, in America, his people are having some problems, even though one of them is the president. Right here. This guy. Here is a WASP. Her people control absolutely everything. This woman. Yeah, right here. They have all the power in America, and it’s always been like that. Don’t mess with Texas, heh heh.
Uncomfortable. Ignorant. Despicable, slippery slope. Singling out one individual for anything beyond his or her own individual character is—not good!
This was months ago. Two others have begun assaulting this part of my personality on a more frequent basis. One is a hopeless idiot, of the kind who gleefully joins in with whatever is most popular, with whatever will get people to like him the most. He would turn you in without a second thought if the Nazis were looking for you. While trying to ingratiate himself with the third fellow, whom I shall shortly describe, he made a Jewish money joke. Now other Jews make this sort of joke all the time. We make it to each other. Sometimes even our close friends start nudging our ribs the moment we balk at paying for something. But seriously. Blurting it out in a public place, to someone you barely know? That is an idiotic faux-pas. And I couldn’t stand this man before he spoke like this. He had already revealed himself to be in possession of a woefully inadequate cerebrum on countless other occasions, blurting out the most repulsive jokes, nudging my shoulders way too often even as I made it quite clear—with my body language, anyway—that I was not exactly receptive to his amorous advances.
But his personality is such that he must make everyone be his friend, especially those people who sense at once that he is a dangerously annoying human being. My brains seem to leak out of my ears every time he opens his mouth.
And the last? I’m hesitant to write about him here, because I’m afraid of being discovered. He strikes me as a good, thoughtful person, but he apparently had some kind of Jewish friend back home, and they (also apparently) traveled the world together and met all sorts of rich powerful Jews in every kind of exotic location. These people would melt out of the woodwork and give everything they needed to their fellow Jew, whether it be money, connections, or even a place to stay, because We Are The Chosen People, and there is a worldwide conspiracy involving every one of us, and we have to stick together and help each other out. Right?
I’ve been all over the place. Not surprisingly, this has never happened to me. I’ve been to about a dozen countries. I’ve met exactly one Jew. In Georgia. She was trying to get a job at a hotel. She was nice. She didn’t offer me money. We didn’t do the secret handshake.
This guy also has a rather nasty habit of saying “you’re so Jewish”, on occasion, when I disagree with him. We are not close friends. At all. We are bare acquaintances. I made the regrettable decision of loaning out a book to him once. Now if you knew a person of another race, another culture—pick any race, any culture—and if that person disagreed with you, would you say, “Oh, you’re so [race/culture]!” If that bare acquaintance did anything, and you chalked that action up to his or her race, would you feel as though you had said something witty? Really? Would you? Is that a tactful thing to say? Is it intelligent?
So the question now is how to approach these issues. The problem is that I like my workplace. I’ve had to work in a school that I hated, where at least two of my colleagues were my inveterate enemies, and I don’t want to enjoy that experience again. At the same time I have to fight back. I’m probably going to tell the first guy to stop touching me, in a strong tone, in front of everyone. It’s not even related to his ingratiating anti-semitism so much as his incredible idiocy. As for the second guy…I just need to get my book back, or get it copied (as such infringing things are easily done here in the magical Daehan Mingook!), and just avoid him. The kind of elementary school statement we learned about all those years ago, “It makes me uncomfortable when you —”, is a bit morbid, but what else can you do? Should I call up the IDF and have them launch a cruise missile at his apartment?
Maybe that’s a bit much. I may just relax, and let it go.