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Friday, November 14, 2014

Prejudice and Innocence

Prejudice and Innocence

When I was eight years old, my family moved from southern California to Long Island, New York.  I was only eight, so I moved with them. 

In the first few days at my new school I met several kids who were Jews.  I was very surprised to meet a Jew, because at that time in the southern California town we had left, there were no Jews.  I only knew about Jews because we called people we didn’t like, Jews.  Actually we called them Dirty Jews, or Cheap Jews.  At eight years old those words went together.  I did not learn those words at home; they came from the Protestant middle class suburban streets of southern California in the 1950’s.

Anyway, back to Long Island.

I was very surprised to find out that Jerry Greenberg, Joel Sorkin, Lowell Lipshitz and Johnny Pear were Jews.  They didn’t seem the least bit dirty.  They were very nice.  It turns out that a Jew is just someone who doesn't believe in Jesus. Heck, I had a problem with that whole resurrection thing myself.

Ok then; let’s play ball.

One thing I learned very quickly from my new Jewish friends was a whole lot of new words.  Yiddish words were just like my new Jewish friends; in your face, nothing to hide, they mean just what they sound like they mean.

Before long, if I dropped a long pass for a touchdown I shouted out “Oy!” I admitted that “I should have caught it, I’m such a klutz.” 

I liked it when Mrs. Greenberg called me bubbeleh, and wiped schmutz off my face.

I didn’t kvetch over a glitch in the system, sometimes things were just meshugana.

Don’t be a schmo just followed anyone named Joe.  If you took your time you just schlepped.  There is a fine line between being a schmuck, a schliemiel, a schnook, a nudnik, and a putz, but each had its place in any given situation.

Sometimes one of my friends showed a lot of hutzpa and it would leave me verclempt but I learned to brush it off with a simple “feh.”

Someone that would sneak a nosh was a snur.

When you wanted something from someone you had to schmooze a bit, perhaps just kibitz a little, use your best schtick, and you might get the whole migillah.

Often prejudice is really just innocence, and words are just words.  When you are introduced to new cultures and new people, innocence is replaced by understanding and prejudice goes away.

Well, Jerry was kind of cheap…but his sister had a nice toushie.


  1. I agree that prejudice goes away when introduced to new cultures. That's why it's so important to expose our self to people different than us.

  2. Jewish people rock and you found that out. Good for you.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

  3. This is one of the reasons I enjoy traveling, to learn about people and cultures different from mine. Too many Americans hold beliefs that would vanish quickly if they ever bothered to leave the country.

  4. i was raised with a few terms in wisconsin that were commonly used but later found out they were racist and derogatory. innocence replaced with knowledge.

  5. Funny, I don't know the language, but can still get the meaning of those words.
    .... and agree with what Stephen says.... many Americans hold beliefs that would vanish quickly if they ever bothered to leave the country.

  6. I once had a Jewish friend who I jokingly called a schmuck frequently until one day he patiently explained that was Yiddish for penis. I was very embarrassed and from then on just called him the Yid kid.

  7. Until college, I'd only met a few Jews. In college, the Jews were the nice boys. Sadly, they had no interest in me.

  8. Doesn't Mrs. Cranky ever say, "You're such a schmuck"?

  9. I can't remember ever meeting any Jewish people until I was well up in my teens. I didn't have any prejudice towards them and found them to be very nice, just like everyone else. To this day I don't see why they are so discriminated against.

  10. Funny how many of those terms have become common speech for all of us.
    When I was in the first grade, I told my parents I wanted to be Jewish cause they had so many holidays. Simon was always getting a day off from school for something or another.

  11. You know far more Yiddish words than I do.. and I was raised Jewish. Fine post. :)

  12. Plus, don't forget the Jewish delis!

  13. I didn't understand a lot of those words but I did understand where we were going with the post.

    I agree with you my friend, prejudice stems from someone who does not understand and rather than learn they choose to hate.

    Excellent post Joe.

  14. I remember some of those words from my childhood and we're not Jewish.

  15. I agree with your statement "Often prejudice is really just innocence, and words are just words. When you are introduced to new cultures and new people, innocence is replaced by understanding and prejudice goes away."

    I was seven when we moved from Pennsylvania to Southern California. I remember in Pennsylvania being aware of Jewish people (in particular a seamstress that helped make some of the dresses, etc., we needed in the process of growing up). I can't remember why I knew she was Jewish except maybe my mom made a reference that she didn't do her sewing work on Saturdays. After we moved, honestly I can't remember being aware of them through the rest of my childhood, but then it was a pretty sheltered one in a Catholic school.