I'm sure this happens everywhere in the world, but for me the most common place is the service road off the Van Wyck. You hit a red light and stop, and then one or two disheveled looking people carrying signs made of cardboard step off the sidewalk and into the street. For the 45 second duration of the red light, they go from car window to car window asking for money, and then the light turns green and you leave and forget about them.
When this happens to me, I generally keep my windows closed and wave them off. I do believe in charity, but I have specific places and people to whom I give my money and, quite frankly, I'm a broke college student with no job and living at home with his parents, so I can't exactly just give money to whoever randomly walks by my car on my commute to school. What made last week different though was that this happened while I was stopped at a red light on Main Street in the middle of Queens, and for some reason, when the sixtysomething woman in the beanie and the poofy jacket came over and knocked on my window, I lowered it to hear what she had to say. I guess I figured that the location lent this woman more credibility than the people on the rundown backroad corner. Whatever, not important.
Getting straight to the point, she told me that she was Jewish and a kidney patient and that she couldn't walk to Jamaica Medical Center for her dialysis and asked me if I could give her a lift. She then pulled out some papers that I assume were her proof though I didn't get a good look at them, but I immediately thought of those door-to-door tzedakah guys who interrupt your dinner asking for money and then try to bury you in paperwork that "proves" that their cause is the most important use of your life savings. Whatever they were, I respectfully replied that I would not be able to help her out because I was wary of letting strangers into my car. She replied "But I'm Jewish!!" and I said I'm sorry and started to close my window. Right before it closed fully, I heard her shout my way "You bastard, you shouldn't even wear a kippah!" Then the light turned green and I went along on my way, but I didn't forget about that lady like when it happens on the service road.
Because my car is made of awesome, it's got this cool Bluetooth thing with voice activation and hands-free dialing and everything, and while I'm driving, all of my calls get routed through the car and over the car speakers. It's super convenient for having a phone call while driving without either being illegal or having to use one of those irritating headsets. In this instance, while the lady didn't know it because there was no obvious way to tell, I had been on the phone with my mom when I pulled up at the light and she overheard the entire conversation between me and this woman. Afterwards, because the woman's parting shot kind of shook me up, I asked my mom, "Did I just do the wrong thing? Was that a mistake? Should I have helped her?" to which she replied, "I think that nine people out of ten would have handled that situation in the same way that you did, myself included. It's just a shame that we live in a world where we can't trust anybody anymore."
I knew the instant that this happened that it would make an appearance in, if not be at the center of today's post because it's just too juicy a story to not tear it to pieces and analyze it. However, the way I was going to attack it was entirely different from how I'm about to. I was going to take a look at this woman's final comment and the undoubtedly obvious resentment that came along with it, which is not something you have without a ton of Jewish baggage. Unpacking Jewish baggage is pretty much my specialty and, in addition to having gone through the process myself, it's something that I've actually been trained to do. The bad thing about that angle is that when it comes down to it, no matter where it came from and why, a woman that I never met before personally attacked me and, on top of that, insinuated that I was not good enough to be a Jew because I wouldn't let a random stranger into my car in a world where people make that mistake and end up paying for it with their lives. With all that in mind, not only would that discussion have turned into a rant that you've all heard from me before, I would have ended up writing myself into a rage and, given my state of mind last week, that's not an emotion I want to go near with a ten-foot pole right now. In my first moments of brainstorming for this post, I didn't see how that decision could end so poorly, so I guess it's good that a week went by and I changed my mind.
What turned this whole thing on its head was the quote from my mom that I wrote above. I did a lot of thinking about that and sadly, it's very true, especially when you're Jewish. As far as I can tell, there's a large majority of us, including yours truly, who have been brought up to distrust and stay away from anyone that's not Jewish, and even, in some extreme cases, less religious Jews. This is heading into familiar territory despite all my efforts to the contrary, so I'm going to veer hard left and take this into a less confrontational direction, for once.
I've lived in a bubble all my life. My three main places of residence over my 23 years of existence have been Israel, YU, and my parents' house in the Five Towns aka Jew Bubble, USA. As sad as this may sound, it wasn't until recently that I realized that there are places in the world where Jews live 30 minutes from the nearest kosher restaurant and there's only one shul within walking distance. Pathetic, right? But I'm a product of my environment and that's all I ever knew. I'm positive that a large majority of you guys reading this recognize that you grew up in the same exact way, and the rest of you just haven't realized it yet. This is the nature of the Jewish community, at least in New York and it's biggest suburb, New Jersey (BAM!). We're so insular and isolated and I know that I unleash arbitribe after arbitribe (you do know what "arbitribe" means, don't you?) about how we need to be closer as a global community but this is not what I'm talking about. Being sheltered is the exact opposite of what I'm always trying to get across. Yes, I think that as Jews we should love one another and have each other's backs against outside threats but does that mean that we can't love, or at least like, the outsiders as well? Accepting someone even though he's not Jewish is basically the next step up from accepting someone even though he's less/more religious than you.
Listen, before you rain the haterade on me, I'm not one of those crazy liberals that says we should love everyone unconditionally no matter what they do. I very much dislike the Arab terrorist that blows himself up in the streets of Jerusalem and takes 12 people with him. I'm not too fond of the fanatical chareidi who tosses a bucket of bleach on a poor unsuspecting girl because she's wearing a color other than black white, or grey. I take issue with the white, middle-class American man who steals from his company to pay off his gambling debts. My point in all of this is that I decide how I feel about a person based on how they behave, not what they look like or what ethnicity or religion they belong to. At least I make a sincere effort to live that way. Every now and then I get caught up in appearances, but I'm only human. At least I try.
I think that tolerance is something the world needs to be educated on. Not blind, naive acceptance of anyone and everyone; you need to use common sense and maybe stay away from the neighborhood drug lord, but only because he's a drug lord, not because of his race or beliefs. Really to sum this all up, I just think that it's important to make judgments on a person based on who they are as a person, not what they look like or what they believe in.
And now, to shift gears without using the clutch, we have some big changes coming up here at Arbitribe, so keep on the lookout for an announcement post sometime soon. You'll know it's the one because it won't be posted on a Wednesday. GASP!!
Song of the Day: Build an Army - Fightstar