Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Black and Jew

When we first moved to our current home, my boys were in elementary school. The Jewish high holidays fall at the beginning of the school year and on Rosh Hashanah I kept the boys home as we did our tashlich and celebrated the new year. That afternoon, the boys were outside when my next door neighbor came over. "Thanks a lot" she said, clearly teasing, "now my son wants to be Jewish." I looked at her, unsure as to what she was saying. She explained that her son saw mine miss school and thought this was the religion for him. We laughed, but it did not escape me that this child's reaction was exactly what our world needs, a basic, simple, nonjudgmental approach to addressing differences, even those we don't fully understand. Before they learn discrimination and bigotry, children see the unknown through inquisitive eyes, with the ability to seek out a way to relate it to themselves.

Unfortunately, this was the last innocent laugh about our being in a minority. It really was not easy for my children to be the only Jews in their school, but for me each experience was a way for me to instill empathy in the boys, for all who are seen as different. 

I believe we'd made strides in our country, not only towards equality, but in shaming bigotry, bullying and discrimination. We still had far to go, but there had been a calculable difference in the attitude towards diversity just in my lifetime. We were, to a great extent, shoving intolerance into the closet. 

But much like Pandora's Box, that closet has been opened in the past year. Discrimination has been pulled out, dusted off and made to feel at home. We've taken large steps backwards in our collective treatment of Muslims, LGBTQ, African Americans, Hispanics. According to an article I recently read, antisemitic incidents have risen by 60% in the past year. Charlottesville fallout, twitter bullying, and the general change in tone here has done immense harm to the progress made.

Before I go on, let me tell you about what happened to me recently, and how it's made me consider not just the vulnerability of marginalized segments of society, but that vulnerability has levels:

I was on vacation recently and I'm the first to admit that there's a lot I love about going away. You may think that I love to cook, and I guess I do. It's a way to use my mind, to stretch my creativity and (bonus) feed my family. But I enjoy every minute of an extended period of not being the chef, of sitting in a restaurant, choosing my meal and being waited on. This is one of the many joys of vacation.  

French Onion Meatball Casserole: noodles, vegetables and meatballs baked in a creamy onion sauce. | Recipe developed by www.BakingInATornado.com | #recipe #dinner

French Onion Meatball Casserole
French Onion Meatball Casserole: noodles, vegetables and meatballs baked in a creamy onion sauce. | Recipe developed by www.BakingInATornado.com | #recipe #dinner

Over the past years though I've found there's also a lot I hate, travel, even the anticipation of travel, brings on extreme anxiety for me. What used to be a day of anticipation of the trip ahead (or of getting back home) has become a "what's going to happen this time" day of dread. Lost luggage, flight bumps, overnight diversions, all of these experiences used to be the exception. Now they are the norm, and it ruins not only the trip itself but the joy of anticipation.

When booking the trip to Marco Island, I did it on a travel booking site. I was trying to not only look at dates and prices (often using one airline going down and another going back) but I was coordinating the time of our arrival and departure with PurDude (who I was flying to and from school, not home). It wasn't until it was booked and I got a direct email from one of the airlines that I realized I'd booked some super frills-free new fare. We would not be able to choose seats ahead of time and most likely could not even sit together, the airline would assign us seats at the time of the flight. I think this is to get out of having to pay people off if they bump them. Having never assigned them a seat to start with, there would be no social media video of someone being dragged off a plane, they just wouldn't let you on at all. Perfect, I'd signed up for us either to be bumped or, if I was lucky, to sit in middle seats. That won't add any stress (yes, sarcasm).

Despite the stress, on both flights down, College Boy and I were assigned seats together and it actually went well. We arrived on time, as did PurDude. Phew.

Two weeks later, on the way back home, the 3 of us were on the same first flight, then we split up for the second flight, College Boy and I going home and PurDude going back to school. It was on the second flight that this incident occurred. The configuration of the plane was two seats on each side of the aisle. College Boy and I had windows not near each other. I asked about changing seats but the best the agent could do was to put me in the aisle seat across the aisle from him and suggest I just ask whoever was in the aisle seat next to College Boy if they would switch seats with me to the aisle seat just across the aisle (phew, that's a lot of "aisle"s, did you follow that?). 

There was an African American woman in the aisle seat next to the one College Boy had been assigned. I stopped and asked her if she would be willing to move to the free aisle seat across the aisle. She looked at me and I was shocked to see surprise, then pain, then she looked down. She said "you don't want to sit next to me". I continued, explaining that the seat across the aisle was mine and the seat next to her was my son's, but if it was any problem at all to move, I'd be happy to sit next to her.

She looked up and gave me a big smile. A genuine smile. "No", she said, "it's no trouble at all to move". 

As the enormity of what I had inadvertently momentarily done set in, I felt the need to be clear. As I settled into her former seat and she into mine, I looked across the aisle and said "well there you go, we're sitting next to each other after all." We both chuckled (I hadn't realized we'd had an audience, but so did the stewardess and the people in the seats behind us). I offered both College Boy and her a piece of gum.

Black and Jew, a discussion of vulnerability and equality. | www.BakingInATornado.com | #politics #MyGraphics

Back to the beginning of this post. 

I do know what it's like to be discriminated against, even to feel fear based on being a minority (I once had to call the police because of a frighteningly threatening religion based letter). Although I hope I alleviated the situation on the plane, it was and remains painful to me that I caused even a minute of pain to a stranger. And I now see that her reality is a level of vulnerability far above what I see as my own.

Although I'm proud to have raised 2 young men who are not bigoted, I'm disheartened at the way we, as a society, have taken such large steps backwards in the fight to make all Americans comfortable in their home.

Some say I look Jewish. Others say I look Italian and still others say Greek. Bottom line, I don't wear my minority everywhere I go. I think it makes me a little less guarded than say a Muslim who wears a hajib or an African American who wears, everywhere she goes, the ultimate home . . . her skin.

Baking In A Tornado signature | www.BakingInATornado.com | #MyGraphics

French Onion Meatball Casserole       

Printable Recipe

1# ground beef
1 egg
1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 TBSP grated parmesan
3/4 tsp minced garlic
1 TBSP minced dried onions 
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 TBSP dried parsley
16 oz package garden rotini
10 oz frozen peas
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1 can French onion soup
1 cup sour cream

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Gently mix together the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, 2 TBSP parmesan, garlic, dried onions, seasoned salt and parsley. Form into 12 balls, place in a baking pan and bake for 25 minutes. Remove to paper towels and set aside to cool slightly.
*Leave the oven on. Grease a 9 X 13 baking pan.
*Cook the noodles per package directions. Drain well. Mix in the peas, mushrooms and remaining parmesan cheese. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Cut the meatballs in half and place, cut side down, in rows, on top of the noodles.
*Whisk together the French onion soup and the sour cream. Pour over the meatballs. Cover tightly and bake for 35 minutes.


  1. Some great thoughts to ponder this morning. Thanks.

  2. I'm so glad your new friend's pain was only momentary. How many experiences like this happen now when the insult was intended? It breaks my heart. How glad I am you are raising un-bigoted children. Your sons will be a force for good in this world. I, too tried to raise my children to see others for themselves. We are looking into the next generation now. Last year, one of my kindergarten granddaughters was trying to describe her new friend at school to her mother. "She has curly hair like mine!" she said excitedly. "And she sometimes wears pink. And she's a little shorter than me." She ran out of descriptors there. That afternoon when her mom walked her to school, Granddaughter ran and grabbed her friend's hand and pulled her over to introduce her. The little girl had beautiful black skin. The one thing Granddaughter didn't think of in her attempts to describe. I think that is significant.

    1. Your granddaughter's innocent acceptance brings tears to my eyes. You're right, we are indeed looking into the next generation now, and that gives me hope.

  3. I recently read about some fierce antisemitism in White Fish Montana of all places!! Ignorance!! Glad you set the woman's mind at rest.

    1. Bullying has become a daily norm. Sadly, nothing surprises me any more.

  4. Through work I attended a conference about the reality of breaking down institutionalized racism in our society....and to say it was eye-opening was beyond an understatement. We watched a short video (that can be found on YouTube) about Microagressions being like Mosquito bites...how little things add up, like the stings of many mosquitoes for those people in marginalized areas of society and how the majority (say those who are or appear to be Caucasian) do not necessarily notice the 'stings' as those who are in the marginalized sects of society deal with on a daily basis...because they are not getting 'stung', and don't have to deal with the reality of the pain.

    Your last line though sticks with me...about others who cannot hide their identity because their skin. I have been told I do not look Hispanic, but if you look at my sister's there is no doubt about it about their identity. Our relationship isn't great to begin with and there has been a point of divisiveness regarding that honestly. I go through the world with a privilege (albeit unfair and ridiculous due to a skin color) that my sisters don't get that luxury because we have different mom's. I cannot see through their eyes and they cannot see through mine as our experiences were completely different growing up. Okay, I', rambling....but that's a good thing right...since your writing is thought provoking.

    1. It's a very good thing, and I always love hearing your perspective. I'm glad this piece made you think. The experience did the same to me.

  5. Very thought provoking. It's interesting to me that as I was reading your post, and got the the response from the lady on the plane, it did not dawn on me that she said that because of her race (or yours). My thoughts went to either an odor or illness.

    It is very sad that we live in a world where 'anti' is on the rise across the board. We try to raise our children to be good people and look at those who believe differently or look differently as, simply put, people. Not better, not worse, just people. Yet more and more often, we hear horrendous vitriol spewed at those who are different from the one speaking. Please God, this changes.

    1. Yes, my friend, from your mouth to G-d's ears. We need to get back on the right track.

  6. I was so happy to be reading this post. Easter is a painful holiday for me (I must add here that I am Jewish, married to a Catholic of Italian heritage) due to childhood experiences. Then, when we started to date in our late teens...that was its own story. What saved us from a lot of grief is that some, seeing us together, would think "oh, they are both Jewish" and say "oh, what a nice Jewish boy!" and others would say "oh, what a nice Italian girl!" But not always. Alana ramblinwitham.blogspot.com

    1. I knew you were Jewish, but didn't know that like me you are married to a Christian.

  7. It is so sad that such horrible attitudes still exist in this day and age

  8. Beautifully written Karen. It breaks my heart what we are doing to each other. I want to make sure that my grand babies that everyone is equal. I was raised in a racist, bigoted family and I was determined that it wouldn’t have a place in my family. Kids don’t know to hate their taught by ignorant people.

    1. I have so much respect for you, Rena, having grown up in that environment and to have seen it for what it is and rejected it.


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