Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Ethnic "Joke"

I've been reading a lot of blog posts lately that deal with how people have been exploring Judaism - either from the perspective of a non-Jew pursuing conversion or a born-Jew looking into increasing their observance.

I myself was born into a typical American assimilated family - our Jewish observance consisted of attending synagogue three times a year (twice on Rosh Hashana, once on Yom Kippur), lighting Chanukah candles, and holding the Passover seder. Otherwise we saw ourselves as more or less the same as everyone else.

I started to observe the mitzvot (the commandments) at the age of 17, but of course my exploring Orthodoxy started much earlier than that. It was a long process and involved a number of different events - but one stands out in my mind especially.

At 15 I attended a public high school, where the population consisted of about one quarter Jewish kids, but for some reason I found that almost all of my friends were non-Jews. One day we had an unexpected free period, so a bunch of us went to the library and hung out at a back table. The conversation meandered and people started telling jokes. One of the guys looked at me (the only Jew in the group) and asked permission to tell a joke about Jews. Being fifteen and wanting more than anything to belong, I of course assented. "How bad could it be?" I thought to myself - maybe something about big noses or being cheap - nothing I felt I couldn't handle. I didn't know what I was letting myself in for.

I have to explain at this point that I had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of Jewish history - both ancient or modern - and my grasp of what happened in World War II was rudimentary. Growing up in a middle-class household I was also protected from the knowledge, let alone the experience, of the cruelties of the outside world. So you will understand my reaction to the following "joke" that I was told now.

"How many Jews can you fit into a Volkswagon?"
"50, two in the passenger seats and 48 in the ashtray".

I reacted with neither laughter nor disgust - because I didn't understand the joke. I had never heard of the Holocaust and I had absolutely no idea what possible connection there could be between Jews and ashes.

The other kids wanted to move on quickly to another topic, but I wouldn't let them. I knew I had been insulted in some way, but not how, and I didn't want to let them get off the hook. I insisted that they explain this "joke".

In a scene of exquisite poetic justice, the kid who originally told the joke went on to explain to me the rudiments of the Holocaust, and the more he explained the more uncomfortable he became.

I sat there in stunned silence, trying to assimilate what he was telling me about Nazis, and cattle cars, and gas chambers and crematorium.

I was profoundly shocked on two levels. Obviously I was shocked at the information itself. But being a teenager, I was also shocked that people I counted as friends could tell a "joke" like that. I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me - so much so that I couldn't even muster the reaction that most people have when hearing an ethnic slur about themselves - shrugging it off and pretending that it doesn't hurt, even when it does. This of course made my friends even more uncomfortable, and it was with an almost audible sigh of relief that they jumped up at the sound of the bell and hurried to their next class.

I stayed in the library and cut my next class. I don't remember if I had any coherent thoughts then - but I do remember coming away from that experience in the library with one overwhelming feeling. I couldn't pretend anymore that I was just like everyone else. Being Jewish meant being different. How this feeling led to my making various decisions down the road is of course a longer story - but there is no doubt in my mind that the journey started that day.


Blogger Rafi G said...

wow. That must have seared an impression in your brain for you to be able to pinpoint that that is what started your journey. I am fascinated by the courage and strength you had to not just laugh it off but to actually follow it up by trying to find out what it meant and then acting on it..

1:27 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Yael said...

An incredible story. I appreciate your sharing it. We are all there in that library with you.

2:30 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

It sounds like you have a very interesting story to tell.

5:57 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

: ( My awareness of the Holocaust came earlier - but unfortunately, that still didn't change the ignorance of the students around me. When I was in seventh grade, we were discussing the Holocaust in my history class, (also public schools), and when the teacher started enumerating some of the atrocities, some kids started laughing. I hissed at one of the girls: "What's so funny about this?!" and they all turned on me and told me with the infinite airs of condescension "It's a gree country. You're not in Russia anymore." Aside from the fact that I'm not from Russia, that hurt. I can totally empathize with your experience. That must have been really difficult.

11:02 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Regina Clare Jane said...

For someone who is converting to Judaism, that was a powerful story for you to share with us. Thank you, wbm...

Even as a child, I knew of the Holocaust. And as a child with German roots, I grew up feeling acutely responsible for the Holocaust. It did not matter that I wasn't personally responsible, but I believed, even at my young age, that we were all responsible in some way. I did all in my power to read everything I could about it, to take it in to myself and to somehow try and resolve myself to never, ever utter a word of hate against any group of people.

Things like what your school "friend" said aren't jokes- they're hate. If we haven't learned by now what hate can to do to people, we're lost...

11:50 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Jerusalemcop said...

thanks for sharing with us.

i sometimes apprecaite personal stories more than random ones. It also allows us to get to know the members of the blogsphere.


12:00 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

As an adolescent (before I decided to convert) I was facinated by the Hollocaust and the attitude of "good people" to those events. I remind those who don't know me that I grew up in a country who's foreign minister is quoted as saying "One [Jewish refugee from Europe], is too many" - i.e. Canada.

What I wanted to say, it was a growing awareness but I distinctly remember hearing the VW joke. I remember that it was on that day that I decided to NEVER knowingly purchase a German product.

3:42 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Pinchas Floyd said...

the first stirrings of becoming more observant for me, came from thoughts of the holocaust as well.
i like to think that this would piss hitler off.

4:28 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

while that whole moment must have been really hard and uncomfortable, it's amazing how important it is in your personal history and how it shaped who (and where!) you are today. i would be inclined to think that that moment was supposed to play out just as it did.

7:39 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

rafi - part of my pursuing it was plain curiosity, and part of it was plain stubborness. I am a very easygoing person in general, but when something is important I dig in my heels. How else would I have become Orthodox and made aliyah?

yael - I think this story unfortunately hits a nerve with far too many people.

jack - everyone's story is interesting, in my opinion.

irina - yes, America is a free country. Which means you could tell them exactly what you thought of them!!

regina - hmmm, feeling guilty for something you had absolutely no responsibility for...are you sure you're not already Jewish? ;)

jerusalemcop - yes, I also enjoy reading these type of stories.

yoelba - yes, we avoid buying German products too. Did you write about your conversion on your blog? I would love to read it if you did.

phishaliya - wow, I never thought of that aspect - pissing Hitler off! Great! ;)

bec - of course - everything that happens in your life happens for a reason.

10:06 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger treppenwitz said...

Incredible story! A bigger irony than the joke-teller being the one to begin educating you about the holocaust is the fact that a horrible anti-Semitic joke launched you on a trajectory that would land you here! I look forward to hearing some more stories you picked up along the journey.

12:54 PM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

treppenwitz - thank you for the compliment. Little by little I will write more on personal subjects.

7:24 AM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, WBM ...

Somehow this post turned up on my Site Meter referrals, so I took a gander. Glad I did.

In some of your posts I've read over the past few months, I've noticed you're so good at pinning down exact turning points in your life, how a particular mnoment or interaction strengthened your connection to Yiddishkeit, Zionism, Israel, etc. ... I, on the other hand, no so good.

It seems that I can't recall the exact moment in 31 years when I first learned of the Holocaust ... I feel like I've always known about it, but I know at some point I must have been told. Perhaps when I was I merely wasn't sophisticated enough in my thinking to understand the enormity of it.

Never one day did I experience the horror of finding out for the first time that my Jewish brothers and sisters were cremated en masse, gassed alive and subject, in general, to the horrors and indignities of genocide.

But even before I became more observant, I do recall spending hours, over the course of years, pouring through books and the Internet, researching the Holocaust, that the shocking, brutal nature of what happened should never be lost on me, that my sensitivities to this subject never be dulled.

Perhaps to make up for my lacking that pivotal moment where I learned something so shocking for the first time in my life.

7:47 AM, December 14, 2006  
Anonymous Tinoire said...

I call bullshit. A Jewish American teenager that's never heard of the Holocaust?

Americans had that shit rammed down our throats our whole life.

7:51 PM, January 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm finding your blog and this post very late, but I could easily imagine feeling incredibly mixed emotions after a "joke" like that. Betrayal, shock, disgust, confusion, hurt. Though I wouldn't know exactly what journey I was on until I was also a teenager, mine started in elementary school when it was "common knowledge" that no one drank out of a specific drinking fountain because N drank from there. When I asked why, because I truly didn't understand it, they said, because N is Jewish (they said more, too, but I can't bring myself to write it). I didn't know what to feel, but I made it my duty to always drink from the same fountain N used, and telling N we were sisters in this together. At the time, I just thought we bonded as two girls who were picked on. I had no clue it ran much deeper.

4:24 AM, January 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...








4:38 PM, December 21, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

runescape money runescape gold runescape money buy runescape gold buy runescape money runescape money runescape gold wow power leveling wow powerleveling Warcraft Power Leveling Warcraft PowerLeveling buy runescape gold buy runescape money runescape itemsrunescape accounts runescape gp dofus kamas buy dofus kamas Guild Wars Gold buy Guild Wars Gold lotro gold buy lotro gold lotro gold buy lotro gold lotro gold buy lotro gold runescape money runescape power leveling runescape money runescape gold dofus kamas cheap runescape money cheap runescape gold Hellgate Palladium Hellgate London Palladium Hellgate money Tabula Rasa gold tabula rasa money Tabula Rasa Credit Tabula Rasa Credits Hellgate gold Hellgate London gold wow power leveling wow powerleveling Warcraft PowerLeveling Warcraft Power Leveling World of Warcraft PowerLeveling World of Warcraft Power Leveling runescape power leveling runescape powerleveling eve isk eve online isk eve isk eve online isk tibia gold Fiesta Silver Fiesta Gold
Age of Conan Gold
buy Age of Conan Gold
aoc gold

china tour
beijing tour
beijing travel
china tour
tibet tour
tibet travel
computer monitoring software
employee monitoring

3:26 AM, December 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:16 PM, April 05, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

看房子,買房子,建商自售,自售,台北新成屋,台北豪宅,新成屋,豪宅,美髮儀器,美髮,儀器,髮型,EMBA,MBA,學位,EMBA,專業認證,認證課程,博士學位,DBA,PHD,在職進修,碩士學位,推廣教育,DBA,進修課程,碩士學位,網路廣告,關鍵字廣告,關鍵字,課程介紹,學分班,文憑,牛樟芝,段木,牛樟菇,日式料理, 台北居酒屋,日本料理,結婚,婚宴場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,台北結婚,場地,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,造型系列,學位,SEO,婚宴,捷運,學區,美髮,儀器,髮型,看房子,買房子,建商自售,自售,房子,捷運,學區,台北新成屋,台北豪宅,新成屋,豪宅,學位,碩士學位,進修,在職進修, 課程,教育,學位,證照,mba,文憑,學分班,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,婚宴,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,婚宴,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,婚宴,結婚,婚宴場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北結婚,場地,結婚,場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北結婚,婚宴場地,結婚,婚宴場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北結婚,場地,居酒屋,燒烤,美髮,儀器,髮型,美髮,儀器,髮型,美髮,儀器,髮型,美髮,儀器,髮型,小套房,小套房,進修,在職進修,留學,證照,MBA,EMBA,留學,MBA,EMBA,留學,進修,在職進修,牛樟芝,段木,牛樟菇,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,PMP,在職專班,研究所在職專班,碩士在職專班,PMP,證照,在職專班,研究所在職專班,碩士在職專班,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,EMBA,MBA,PMP,在職進修,專案管理,出國留學,EMBA,MBA,PMP,在職進修,專案管理,出國留學,EMBA,MBA,PMP,在職進修,專案管理,出國留學,婚宴,婚宴,婚宴,婚宴,漢高資訊,漢高資訊,比利時,比利時聯合商學院,宜蘭民宿,台東民宿,澎湖民宿,墾丁民宿,花蓮民宿,SEO,找工作,汽車旅館,阿里山,日月潭,阿里山民宿,東森購物,momo購物台,pc home購物,購物漢高資訊,漢高資訊,在職進修,漢高資訊,在職進修,民宿,民宿,整形,造型,室內設計,室內設計,漢高資訊,在職進修,漢高資訊,在職進修,民宿,美容,室內設計,在職進修,羅志祥,周杰倫,五月天,民宿,民宿,整形,整形,室內設計,室內設計,比利時聯合商學院,在職進修,比利時聯合商學院,在職進修,漢高資訊,找工作,找工作,找工作,找工作,找工作,蔡依林,林志玲

9:19 AM, April 15, 2009  
Anonymous louis said...

It sounds interesting. I wish I could be there with you in library.

cosmetic dentists edinburgh

11:27 AM, November 10, 2009  
Blogger 芒果乾 said...

犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄 犀利人妻 狐狸精 小三 犀利人妻語錄

8:37 AM, April 28, 2011  
Blogger ninest123 Ninest said...

ninest123 09.15
burberry outlet online, prada handbags, michael kors outlet, oakley sunglasses, christian louboutin outlet, louis vuitton, ray ban sunglasses, replica watches, louboutin shoes, longchamp outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet, louis vuitton, longchamp outlet, nike air max, ugg boots, louboutin, jordan shoes, ugg boots, michael kors outlet, ugg boots, longchamp, nike free, louis vuitton outlet, michael kors outlet, ugg boots, ray ban sunglasses, michael kors outlet, michael kors, gucci outlet, tory burch outlet, oakley sunglasses, louboutin outlet, louis vuitton outlet, michael kors outlet, uggs on sale, louis vuitton, polo ralph lauren outlet, prada outlet, burberry, tiffany jewelry, replica watches, nike outlet, nike air max, tiffany and co, oakley sunglasses

5:42 AM, September 15, 2015  
Blogger ninest123 Ninest said...

north face, tn pas cher, lululemon, michael kors, sac guess, burberry, nike blazer, coach factory outlet, hollister, true religion jeans, vanessa bruno, true religion jeans, hollister pas cher, kate spade handbags, nike roshe run, lacoste pas cher, true religion jeans, ray ban uk, coach purses, ray ban pas cher, air jordan pas cher, air max, michael kors, longchamp pas cher, michael kors, chanel handbags, ralph lauren pas cher, michael kors, hogan, new balance pas cher, hermes, nike free, nike air max, sac longchamp, converse pas cher, coach outlet, timberland, north face, oakley pas cher, kate spade outlet, coach outlet, vans pas cher, true religion outlet, louboutin pas cher, air force

5:47 AM, September 15, 2015  
Blogger ninest123 Ninest said...

baseball bats, asics running shoes, mac cosmetics, north face outlet, babyliss, nike trainers, hollister, jimmy choo shoes, celine handbags, soccer jerseys, nike huarache, nike roshe, beats by dre, bottega veneta, birkin bag, ralph lauren uk, lululemon, nike air max, vans shoes, abercrombie and fitch, giuseppe zanotti, reebok shoes, chi flat iron, mcm handbags, nike free run uk, abercrombie and fitch, ghd, nfl jerseys, ferragamo shoes, wedding dresses, insanity workout, longchamp, hollister, nike air max, north face outlet, nike roshe, p90x workout, new balance, mulberry, instyler, herve leger, valentino shoes, nike air max, mont blanc, soccer shoes

5:50 AM, September 15, 2015  
Blogger ninest123 Ninest said...

louboutin, replica watches, iphone 6 cases, juicy couture outlet, louis vuitton, juicy couture outlet, doke gabbana outlet, ray ban, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, michael kors outlet online, gucci, lancel, supra shoes, pandora jewelry, montre pas cher, oakley, wedding dresses, karen millen, links of london, swarovski crystal, hollister, louis vuitton, nike air max, bottes ugg, converse outlet, pandora jewelry, michael kors handbags, timberland boots, michael kors outlet, toms shoes, vans, louis vuitton, louis vuitton, converse, hollister, sac louis vuitton pas cher, ugg pas cher, coach outlet, marc jacobs, ugg boots uk, pandora charms, thomas sabo, pandora charms, ralph lauren, swarovski
ninest123 09.15

5:56 AM, September 15, 2015  

Post a Comment

<< Home