As an American, I’ve known that I was different since I went to public kindergarten and was the only kid who didn’t celebrate Christmas. Many of the residents of my hometown were of Scandinavian descent in those years, so if you look at class photos from the public school I attended through half of 3rd grade, I’m easy to spot with my dark, curly hair, light-olive skin, and ethnic features among a sea of lily-white towheads.
The kids at that school would pick on me—if not for my ethnicity then for the shape of my eyes, with their prominent lids in comparison to their slanted, lidless ones that I think were referred to as Norwegian folds. They called me names since I was Jewish and I didn’t understand any of it. I was always a small, thin girl who liked art and books and they were so big and tall and sporty.
I remember that when I had a bad day, I would go home and look for my father. On a day that I was teased about my eyes a lot, I recall I found my father primping in front of the mirror in the master bathroom—a testament to his vanity. I told him about what the kids were saying to me at school. I have my father’s eyes—right down to the unusual color—and he told me, “Actually, our eyes are very attractive,” while he continued to pick out his kinky hair. I no longer cared about how different my eyes were after that.
However, the slurs got worse and I was sent to a private school halfway through 3rd grade. Suddenly, there were Chinese kids and Persian kids and Jewish kids, too. It was a Montessori school, which was a really good fit for an independent-type like me, and my father even entrusted me with the big, tuition check that I was instructed to drop off at the principal’s office.
I remember the Persian girls at my school, and there weren’t any boys for some reason. They had come in ’79 with their families, fleeing for their lives after the coup because they had connections to the Shah. I knew something had happened in Iran; I recall watching the blindfolded, American hostages and the huge banners of the Ayatollah on T.V. and thought Iran was the scariest country in the world, but my Persian friends were so American and they looked somewhat like my father and me. They had different names, but they didn’t have accents and I had no idea they spoke Farsi, but they must have. So, I never have really had a problem with Persians in the U.S., despite what people probably think due to Iran’s intolerable stance towards Israel. In the end, this is America, and I’ve always felt more comfortable around other minorities.
After a lifetime of passing for so many ethnicities: Italian, Arab, half-black, Latina, Spanish, Greek, and yes, Persian, I found myself at my new, Persian kabob restaurant this week with the masses who don’t celebrate Christmas, as Christmas has somehow become a week-long holiday nowadays. A party had been booked and the small, casual restaurant was packed full of Persians. Most I have known aren’t religious, but all the women had their hair covered. They were dressed a bit more like Muslim-Arabs, but spoke Farsi.
I found this new spot a couple of weeks ago and after chatting with the owner, I learned he came to my city in the desert in the ’70s before the coup. After I explained my food allergies, we haggled over a price for 3 orders of beef shish as they say—a shortened version of shish kabob. It’s the only protein I get, so I’m a bit particular. I didn’t want salad with mystery dressing, rice (mine is better), grilled onions and tomatoes, sumac, or secret sauce full of spices, all of which leaves me scratching my skin open for days due to some bizarre complication from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
However, when I made my way to the counter to order this time, a woman with very curly hair like mine was working, but it was naturally blonde. She had an accent, but I wasn’t sure where she was from with her hair color and light skin. She asked me in English if I was with the party and I said that I wasn’t. She looked like an Israeli to me or possibly a Persian Jew since she worked at a Persian restaurant, but I had no time to ask since she was trying to charge me full price for only ordering the beef shish. I was back to explaining my special order and haggling over the price, so I showed her my last receipt that I’d saved in the event the owner wasn’t in and then I saw him working in the kitchen and got a smile and a nod and all was settled. I had my sclerals in since I had to drive and while I was waiting after I ordered, something amusing happened that represents my experience as a minority in America.
I was leaning against a curved, deli case at the side of the restaurant stretching out my achy back and I could see all the patrons who were gathered for this party. Everyone had light-olive skin and dark hair, or at least the ones who didn’t cover their hair. They had facial features that were not so different from mine and while they didn’t look like my people exactly and I didn’t see my eyes anywhere, there was a familiarity as there often is. Yes, my sclerals work quite well at certain distances in dim lighting, even if my eyes hurt so badly I want to rip them out of the sockets.
I remembered how a former friend’s mother had once told me to become a spy because I could pass for so many ethnicities. I wondered if this huge group of people—all Muslims of Iranian descent—knew that I was different like all those kids back home did. Was my Jewishness blinding them? I felt at home with so many people who shared a similar look and regardless, the huge flock of Persians in Los Angeles ask each other if they’re Muslim or Jewish out of curiosity when they meet, so I wondered. Would I pass for a Persian like I had so many times before? Did I fit in, even if I was different?
Suddenly, an older woman with a headscarf looked at me a few times and then got up from the table and approached me. I’m petite, but I seemed to tower over her. She was very close to me, such a taboo in America, and spoke in Farsi. I had a feeling she wanted to know where the bathroom was, but I don’t know any Farsi at all—only some words in Arabic. I told her apologetically, “Only English,” and she repeated a heavily accented, “English,” and we smiled and she found the woman with the blonde, curly hair and big eyes like mine and off to the bathroom she went. I guess I should have gone with my gut and just pointed, but she quelled my curiosity: I passed.
Finally, my take-out order of beef shish was ready and the blonde woman rushed it over to me, apologizing for the wait. I asked her if she was Persian and she said that she was. She asked me if I was and I told her that I was Jewish, but people often think I’m Persian. I said that I thought she was Israeli, but apparently not. Then, she wished me a Merry Christmas—the two words I’ve heard non-stop the whole month—but she quickly corrected herself. I gave her a big smile because for once, I didn’t have to do it myself.
I’ve never been much of a patriot, but the one thing I love about the States is that on the most boring of weeks for non-Christians, so many minorities can come together and find commonality. At the end of the day, we all want to fit in one way or another in this country called America.
It’s Yom Kippur today, or was: the Day of Atonement and the holiest of days in Judaism. I’ve been very sick the past two months due to the never ending monsoon where I live and its affect on my body due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, on top of other issues in my life. It’s been very difficult, painful, and depressing, so my mind has wandered to my father as I’ve sat for months in utter isolation, even though we are estranged yet again and have had no contact in months. Last night, before the sun set on Erev Yom Kippur, I sent him an e-mail.
This is a time for reflection: to think of where one has erred and where one can improve. I wasn’t expecting a reply to my e-mail; I just wanted to share my thoughts at this time. I was raised Reform and am not overly observant, but there are traditions I choose to follow.
I wrote in the subject line of the e-mail the traditional greeting on Yom Kippur: Good Yontif, my father—anglicized Yiddish for Good Holiday. The rest was highly personalized on purpose, as I know how to get my father to understand my point, if nothing else. So, I wrote:
My thoughts this Erev Yom Kippur:
My father taught me to be strong and tough, so I am.
My father taught me to be outspoken, so I am.
My father taught me to be responsible, so I am.
My father taught me to be the squeaky wheel, so I am.
My father taught me to be funny, so I am.
My father taught me to be a Jew, so I am.
My father taught me to be affectionate, so I am.
My father taught me to love doo-wap and Motown, so I do.
My father taught me to not let others disrespect me, so I don’t.
My father taught me about tzedakah, so I give back.
My father taught me business sense, so I use it.
My father taught me to speak up against injustice, so I do.
My father taught me to be stubborn, so I am.
My father taught me to talk down to people, so I do.
My father taught me that asking for help is a weakness, so I don’t.
My father taught me to hold grudges, so I do.
My father taught me to not rely on people, so I don’t.
My father taught me to cut people out of my life, and so I do.
I learned all of these traits—both good and bad—from you. I atone the latter: these horrid traits that go back generations. My mother taught me very little that I can recall going back to 1977 and I have few memories of her and so many of you, a man who is long gone now and who has no memories of my formative years. I have many traits that you don’t have and vice versa, but I am my father’s daughter, and it wasn’t from mere observation. You wanted me to be like the man you were years ago before you lost interest, and so that is what I became and still am, despite becoming debilitated and disabled so early in life. I don’t know who you are now, but I knew who you were back then: a father who, despite having many flaws, loved me and who I could always rely on, and who I loved in return.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life this New Year.
My father replied to my e-mail today and let me preface this by saying that list was abridged and purposely focused on the good traits he taught me. He apologized for some things, which was unheard of, and made excuses for others, but then the e-mail turned sour and was focused on how my family had reached out to me and that this was the time to not be so strong and tough and to let others in, which is just absurd and completely false. I was also told I needed to learn how to apologize. To whom do I need to apologize—my grandmother who told me I was “the broken tile in our family’s mosaic?”
My father stopped talking to me, and by that I mean by e-mail, because I hinted at the fact that my physical therapy benefit was cutting out and as my income is mainly from SSDI—federal disability that pays for my prescriptions and little else—I would need help paying cash for my much needed physical therapy. My father was a successful businessman who lives a very comfortable life, so this was not asking for much.
I won’t even touch on the lack of emotional support from the bulk of my family in general or the verbal assaults thrown my way simply for falling ill due to a genetic disorder. As the day progressed, the back-and-forth e-mails got downright offensive and I was told to not contact him again—all for speaking the truth.
I tried and failed and the impasse continues, and on a day when things should be resolved, as is our tradition. I’m left with a heavy heart and am as frustrated with this relationship as I am with this disease, both of which are utterly incurable.
I wear a large, gold pendant on a thick, gold chain around my neck. My hand frequently gravitates to the pendant to make sure the necklace is still there. When I am nervous, I rub the six points and the intricate grooves on the surface and feel the smoothness of the two Hebrew letters—Chet and Yud—that spell Chai. I never take it off, unless I need imaging done and the techs force me to unclasp it and then I hide the necklace in my purse, as it is really worth its weight in gold these days. The large pendant—a popular style from the late ’70s and designed for a man—has sat on my chest for almost 25 years, but the chain is not the original and was replaced less than a decade ago.
The pendant was my father’s. He bought it for himself most likely to follow the trend and display his pride of being a Jew when most men had large crosses, and wore it until the disco look went out of style in the early ’80s. The pendant is solid gold and heavy—far too heavy for the near 30 years of wear on the original, thinner, gold chain. I never noticed the links were wearing down in spots or that the chain was slowly weakening, like that old bridge on I-5 in my home state of Washington that just gave way and collapsed into the river below.
Around 7 years ago, I was living in a dumpy, rental condo across town. One afternoon, I was standing in the living room next to the laminate pass-through from the kitchen. I bent down for some reason and when I came up, one point of the pendant caught on the edge of the pass-through and the chain ripped off my neck. I saw it fly through the air in slow motion in a state of shock—as the necklace had so much significance to me. I picked it up off the floor and saw that there were numerous thin spots in the chain that I had never noticed, but it was that one spot—the weakest link I suppose—that had broken the chain in two. I knew at that moment that like the chain, the relationship with my father would never be mendable, and thus far, I have been right.
My father and I were estranged, as usually is the case, when the chain broke. We have semi-mended ways and then become estranged again at least a dozen times since that fateful day. He stopped talking to me—and by that I mean via infrequent e-mails—two weeks ago. I had responded to one of his chain e-mails, usually something Jewish: a little humor, a story of the Holocaust that he adds a memorable comment to, or some randoms facts that come his way.
I told him I was about to reach my insurance’s limit for physical therapy for the year and that I could not get an override, despite numerous attempts to do so. My Ehlers-Danlos and subsequent tendonosis is getting worse and I need physical therapy like a diabetic needs insulin. I have not been able to work for years and despise even hinting that I need money. He gives the same stock answer to any problem I mention, even though he would never really do anything. The e-mail came back with the familiar, “What can I do to help?” It sounds so wonderful and caring, like the father I knew as a child who I would search frantically for in our house after a day of being called derogatory slurs at school, but it is just smoke and mirrors now and I already knew the game we would play.
As he would never part with a dime to pay cash for my physical therapy, I gave a smart-ass reply and asked if he could grow a money tree outside of his home—the one that is half a block from Lake Washington with a 180° view of Seattle and the lake. The argument ensued. He claimed he was broke, his other stock answer, and I asked how a broke man has that home, and a custom Mercedes, and two country club memberships, and takes vacations every year. I would have mentioned shopping at Nordstrom’s and his young, gold-digger girlfriend, but that gets very messy. He replied with, “How easily you forget.”
That was a reference to my childhood: growing up as the daughter of a successful businessman who bought me rabbit fur coats and diamond earrings for holidays, living in the beautiful homes that he, a high-end contractor, built, and taking vacations to warm places with palm trees and swimming pools. The poor-little-rich-girl saga that he loves to put me in lately. I suspect the gold-digger, pulp-mill-town girlfriend is behind this as my father would never insinuate such things about me. I was as self-made as he was and he knows that.
How easily he forgot that he, my only real parent, emotionally abandoned me by middle school, made me start working when I was 14 so I would have a work ethic, that I never had anything in common with the few, spoiled, Jewish girls I knew growing up, and that if I wanted something as I got older—I bought it myself. Let us not forget that I rarely even lived at my home once I was a teenager due to the dysfunction swarming inside it.
I have had enough of this Jewish-American-Princess story he has invented over the past few years to avoid looking like the horrible father he has unfortunately turned out to be. His story is almost laughable considering I am on SSDI and live in a motel, but I suppose this is how he saves face while golfing with his old friends who have the princess daughters who aren’t even disabled. I ended the e-mail argument by replying, “I do not even know who you are anymore.” I really do not know this man who was so great at times in my early childhood—memories that have nothing to do with material possessions.
Before the price of gold went through the roof, I replaced the broken chain with the thickest twist chain I could find that would fit though the loop of the pendant. It is strong and sturdy and has only had one weak spot that I had a jeweler fix for next to nothing. The newer chain—of a lower karat and different style—is like the father I remember: the rock in my life, the bridge that would never crash down into the cold Skagit River north of Seattle. The old chain, with all the weak spots that eventually broke due to the heavy pendant, is my father now. He is a damaged version of his former self, unable or unwilling to carry any load, and like the chain that was beyond repair, so is he.
What to do when confronted with hate speech—whether in the spoken or written word? I shall save the former, a TKO tale, for another day, but as for the latter, I turned to the host of this blog—WordPress. They can and do suspend sites, although they shy away from the tricky subject of hate speech, which has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless, when it comes to offensive posts and blogs, they suggest you reply to them and also that you write your own post and “speak you mind,” and thus, here we are.
In America, hate speech has often been found to be in violation of the First Amendment, which grants us the right to free speech, among other things. For those who are non-Americans, take the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment with a grain of kosher salt. To put it in layman’s terms, you cannot falsely yell, “Fire” in a crowded movie theater (Schenck v. United States). Cases involving libel and slander can be legally pursued and often are.
While some of us in the world embrace diversity and accept others who are not like ourselves, there are those who are intolerant—usually due to their upbringing and the biases of those they surround themselves with. There are those who turn a blind eye to these types and those who fight to the bitter end.
I am not interested in fighting; I am interested in righting a wrong. The person whose hate speech started my ordeal on WordPress is not being much of a nuisance anymore—not surprising to me at all. It takes real chutzpah to speak up, yet that is all I know. However, the snowball began with this one individual and then the true colors of others came out—also not surprising based on personal experience. However, to get it from a fellow, non-white person was surprising for this round-the-way girl.
This past week, I was included in a hoax—a prank post if you will—on someone’s blog. I do not care for pranks as they make fun of the innocent and are juvenile. As my blog and I were linked to the prank, without any knowledge of it or any forewarning, it made my former post look like a hoax, too. I tried in good faith to rectify the problem and make amends, but it appears this blogger, who is possibly posing as 2 people, was simply stringing me along until they could post again.
I revisited their blog, as I normally do, only to find a nonsensical post on grammar, which then alluded to the written word and English, which is not their native language, and prefacing all this was a quote by Hitler from Mein Kampf, to prove their point that the spoken word was more powerful than the written word—per a madman who should be taken seriously and quoted. Wow! The quote, which also had punctuation errors, contradicts the entire post regarding the linkage between grammar, English, words, and writing (written word) and how they are so “good” at English, which is a rather pompous statement, but good for them—go take a course in 20th century world history now. The most ironic part is Hitler would have despised this person as much as me, as their race from a far away land was once referred to as “colored”—a disgraceful term but part of not-so-archaic English.
Following WordPress’ guidelines, I left a long comment regarding the quote and referenced the Nazi Party’s use of written media—via 3 reputable sites—as the primary source for spreading their propaganda in the 1930s until their defeat in 1945. I received a rude reply that they had read Mein Kampf—something to be proud of—and other “controversial books,” such as The Da Vinci Code, which I could care less about reading, is oh-so high brow, and is on the .99¢ shelf at your local bookstore in the States. I was told I would not get an apology, not that I asked for one. If you write inflammatory posts, expect critics to call you out.
I have numerous quotes on my blog now, and all from admirable people. My life’s motto comes from a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, this person intentionally chose to quote from a madman, no different than if they had quoted from Ted Kaczynski’s Manifesto. Should I refer to the doctors I dislike as Nazis—or worse—Mengeles? Oh, yes—they referred to being Nazi-like with their English if I recall. Should I quote from Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge who massacred at least one million of the intellectuals in Cambodia as they were a threat or perhaps from the Akazu—the Hutus who masterminded the killing of more than half a million Tutsi countrymen in Rwanda simply to make a point that contradicts my post?
I would not and I will not, as doing so is hate speech and simply goes against my values, not to mention the golden rule (from the Christians!)—and forget the fact that the mention of these subhumans makes me want to vomit. This post at hand is not hatemongering—something WordPress dislikes. It is calling a spade a spade, which is what they suggested I do: write a post about the issue before involving them in the matter. Thus, I did what WordPress suggested and I also asked this individual to stop following my blog, which they finally did after the 2nd time I asked and numerous comments sent my way.
In summary, as the wise Buddha said, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or evil.” What a wonderful quote on the spoken word, instead of one by Hitler, which referred to the persuasive abilities of the spoken word to commit evil.
Like the wise Buddha, I choose to do good, even if I had a laugh at the expense of a dark-skinned Nazi sympathizer.
An example of spoken word in all its glory and yes, “I am Jewish.” Thank you, Andrew—bring on your mastery on the anniversary of the day I became a Bat Mitzvah:
This photo is of the Holocaust. This is how my family who did not make it to America, and primarily came from Russia near the Polish border, was killed. As Jews of the Diaspora, this is where my ancestors ultimately fled to following our expulsion from Judea—modern-day Israel and our ancestral homeland. The fact that this photo is presumably from a concentration camp is irrelevant. In the Pale of Settlement, or Western Russia, the Nazis entered the shtetlach—small towns Jews were forced to live in, made the men dig large pits in the forest, and in two days, they lined up and shot every Jewish resident. They threw their bodies into the pits and covered them with dirt whether they were dead or alive. The Holocaust was the result of intolerance of those who were different and new findings I have read from reputable sources put the mass murder at close to 20 million now—non-Jews included. These were my people.
Due to an intolerant evangelical among us on WordPress, I will be moderating all comments from here on out. I assumed this would be the price I would pay for revealing a core part of my identity—the fact that I am indeed a Jew and damn proud, just as my father taught me to be. It was after much thought, and 7 months, that I revealed this through a post after my younger brother said, “If you were black, you couldn’t hide your skin.” Good point. I was tired of hiding.
If this individual continues to be a nuisance, I will reblog their post and my reply to it. Then, everyone will know who they are, while they currently hide behind their public blog that is not attached to their Gravatar. If you visit my blog due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, please be forewarned, as they don’t care for anyone that isn’t like them and are quite frank about it.
I have no problem with Christians and some of you may be surprised to know that I’m often commenting away on the blog of a wonderful, devout, Christian woman who is almost a diplomat she is so neutral. I recently called her a mensch and she assured me this behavior was against her Christian beliefs. She, and her plethora of followers, are aware I am Jewish and we all get our turn stating our mind. It’s a wonderful blog for me. Of course, I have lived in a Christian country my entire life. However, cyber bullying is rather juvenile; it’s quite cowardly in my opinion. I have endured much worse in the public schools I attended by the Christian kids, but as an adult, I will not sit by while the intolerant, anti-Semitic right-wingers in the U.S. try to have their way.
Long live civil liberties; long live in memory my heroes—the great founders of the Civil Rights Movement, and long live being a tolerant person, regardless of one’s culture, race, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, and so forth. By all means, I will continue to write from a minority perspective and make jokes at the expense of others, but this is in good humor. Oy vey! There is no room for bigotry on this blog, period.
I love you all and you know who you are–my best blogging friends–and just friends–in the world! You may still comment away… Your comments will just be waiting for approval, unfortunately. I hope to see you soon, as I will be posting my oddities per usual. Life goes on…
*This post has been slightly altered from the original as I finally figured out how to provide links!