Gordon Davidescu wrote this article.
I was walking around New York City with my friends Joe and Elizabeth. It wasn’t
particularly cold; in fact, it was unseasonably warm, and I was wearing a light coat and nothing else on my head other than my yarmulke.
When it gets cold and blustery I wear a wool cap of some sort and a
Joe told me he wanted to go to the Alfred Dunhill store to look at some of their accessories. My experience with the Dunhill name was with their line of tobacco products, specifically the cigarettes that I used to smoke when I was a regular smoker. Joe and Elizabeth went into the store first and I started to go in last when I suddenly heard someone yelling at me. I didn’t recognize the voice nor the person from whom the voice came.
“You don’t belong here, JEW
!” he yelled.
As if he wanted to make his point clear, he yelled again, “You don’t BELONG here, JEW!”
It shook me up and down and I went straight to the first employee I saw, who was helping Joe and Elizabeth at that exact moment. I didn’t have to repeat what had just happened because the man had yelled loudly enough for the front end of the store to hear.
The employee said that if the man bothered me again, I could notify him and he would not hesitate to call the police. He also speculated that the man likely needed medication and that was why he was behaving in such a strange anti-social manner. When I related the story to the men in the back of the store who were showing me various cuff links, they agreed that something was not right with the man to just randomly spout such a hate filled thing at me.
My mind went back to an incident that occurred a number of years before that day, on a similarly warm day during the summer. I had just come back from visiting my mother and I had a few bags of food, one of which contained a beautiful large loaf of bread with black olives; it was baked in one of New Jersey’s proudly kosher bakeries. As I was waiting for the light to change so that I could cross Columbus Avenue, a man asked me if I could give him some money to buy food. I didn’t have any money with me but I offered him the bread.
The man gladly took the bread and asked if I had anything else. I didn’t really have anything of great substance and I said as much and apologized as I walked away. He then loudly yelled, “*#$# you, yehudi!” I was quite hurt by his stinging words and was even more hurt that he chose such a term that usually meant that the speaker of the term had some kind of closeness to the Jewish people, if not being one himself. I was later upset that I had not only given up a delicious loaf of bread but I had expletives hurled at me as a result.
Both incidents came back to me only a couple of days later when I was in an elevator on my way up to Joe’s apartment. I recognized the man who was in the elevator with me and greeted him. He asked how I was doing and I warmly responded, “Baruch Hashem,” which is basically another way of saying Thank G-d. He was taken aback and said, “What a religious thing to say!” I was so stunned by his reaction that I completely forgot to push the floor button.
Have you ever been confronted with your own identity through verbal assault on the street? Do you ever feel like you have to protect yourself or who you feel you are from attacks that come from others? Do you ever try to make a connection with someone that seems like a kindred spirit, only to be rebuked by them?
This is a fine article, Gordon, and I do wonder if people respond more strongly to visual clues than utterances.
When you left the store, was the man still there?
By visual clues, do you mean like the yarmulke on my head? 🙂
Thankfully, he was long gone. I was glad to not have to see him again.
Yes, Gordon, I mean visual clues like your yarmulke — just because it so clearly identifies you without any wondering whatsoever. Now people may overhear conversation and assume things about people — like your elevator utterance — but speech is never quite as precise or as predictable as its semiotic companions.
That is so true, David. With speech there is always room for misunderstanding. 🙂
How is Elizabeth handling these sorts of confrontations, Gordon?
Is it something she understands or is it just something she will have to get used to?
Oh, she knows. She actually took it a lot better than I did and does take it better than I do – I think something like that happened to her at one point. She tells me that her mother used to say, “Consider the source” and she sticks to that. She’s great like that. 🙂
It must be hard to wonder if the insults will turn into violence, though. It can be hard walking around waiting to defend against an attack.
I fear the day that I have to physically defend myself but I don’t put too much thought into it.
Wow, Gordon! Those incidents must have left a bad taste in the mouth! It must be strange to be at the receiving end of such unwarranted hostility. Does this sort of thing happen often in New York?
If they do I hope it doesn’t turn into physical violence!
Thankfully not as often as it used to happen. I’m sure there are incidents all over that don’t get reported, however.
That’s good to hear, Gordon. I can see how most people will choose to ignore it and probably understand it as the abuser’s problem and not theirs.
Very intense article and I was feeling incredibly sorry while reading this.
I am sure those people lack proper education which resulted in intolerance.
I haven’t faced anything like this except once, where a certain woman wanted to save me by converting me into another religion.
I think if you only faced a conversion attempt once you are quite fortunate! 🙂
New York is a hub of Jewish population, is it not? There’s several agencies, yeshivas, and the like that I’m aware of and I don’t even live there.
So individuals such as yourself certainly must be commonplace, as in not unusual, to see a yarmulke-covered head walking the by ways I would think.
It’s interesting I get to read this now. Just a couple hours ago, I was musing aloud on FB that this type of behavior is something I can expect by aligning myself with G-d’s chosen people.
Baruch Hashem (Blessed be He/the Name)
He is our Shield.