“Hey, Shalom, how are you doing?”
I am at a teacher-parent function at my son’s school, and the man—let’s call him K— is smiling broadly as he approaches me. K’s daughter is in my son’s class; he is in his mid-50s, with a small beard and a pot belly that hangs over the front of his pants. He smells of coffee and office machines and paperwork. I reach out to shake his hand, which he bypasses instead for an adolescent shoulder bump and a hearty slap on my back.
“Good to see you,” he says.
The thing about K is that I hate him. Hate is a strong word, but not strong enough. Abhor? Revile? Something to do with nausea? There’s not much time; let’s go with hate.
I hate K so much I can’t believe how much I hate him. He’s never done anything to me, never said anything bad about me, we’ve never been anything but cordial to one another. But I hate who K is, I hate the way that he is; I hate, I think, his soul, assuming he has one. None of this would be a problem for me except for this: K is a Jew.
The worst thing about being Jewish, for me, is that you can’t hate someone else who’s Jewish without being accused of being a self-hating Jew, even when his Jewishness isn’t the reason I hate him. I’d hate K if he was a Christian. I’d hate K if he was an atheist. I’d hate K if he was a labrador retriever. He happens to be Jewish, so all of a sudden, I’m self-hating? It really is unfair. Tell me I can’t eat bacon, tell me I can’t drive on Sabbath—but don’t tell me who I can’t hate. I can only tolerate three or four people in the world to begin with, and there’s something like 15 million Jews out there. That’s not a lot of overlap.
The situation is further complicated in K’s case because the things I hate about K happen to be the very things an anti-Semite would hate about Jews: he’s stingy, he’s sneaky, he cheats.
For the record, I don’t associate these qualities with Jews; I associate them with people, with mankind in general. I find it almost sweetly optimistic of anti-Semites to suggest that only Jews are stingy, that only Jews obsess about money, that only Jews lust for power. If only, Hitler my man, if only.
So, I’m torn.
What can I do?
It’s as if the SS or the Klan or the Tea Party (trust me, they’ll get there) handed K a checklist of “Reasons We Hate Jews” and he spends his every waking moment trying to check them all off: Sleazy lawyer? Check. Obsessed with money? Check. Loose morality when it comes to business? Check. He hasn’t yet made matzo out of Christian children’s blood, not that I know of, but maybe 2012 will be the year he does so and completes the list.
“Good,” I say. “Good. How are you?”
He cheats at everything and loudly decries anyone else who does so; he manipulates teachers and coaches, donates heavily to the school in order to influence their decisions regarding his daughter; he skirts every regulation, bends every rule, he is the first one to arrive at every school function and the last one to leave, and never without a conspiratorial whisper to the principal, a calculated aside to the teacher.
“Good,” he says. “Nice to see you.”
I try to remind myself that I hate all people.
I try to tell myself I hated K before I knew he was Jewish.
And then it happens: The teacher walks in, asks everyone to sit, and while everyone else does as they are told, while everyone else plays by the rules, K approaches her, and whispers in her ear. She listens intently, pats him on the back, and says, “We’ll take care of it,” and then K takes his seat—front row center—sits upright, winks at her, gives her a thumbs-up, and she nods back. I hate her, too, now, just for falling for it.
I don’t know what they were talking about, but I know what they were talking about: some special treatment his daughter required, some special attention, some grading on a curve, some handout of a position—class president, group leader, blackboard wiper—that all the other children would have to honestly work for. And I stare at the back of his head, and I think, despite myself, despite everything I just thought before:
You fucking kike.
I feel bad for this at first, but it doesn’t last. It doesn’t last because not all Jews are kikes, but some are. It doesn’t last because I see the other parents who know K, and who have seen what I just saw, and I see them look at each other and frown and shake their heads in disgust. It doesn’t last because shouldn’t the Jews who don’t fit the stereotypes—who strive, in fact, to prove those stereotypes false—be able to call out those Jews who make them all seem true?
Listen to him, so concerned about what the goyim think.
I hear on the news that a man has stolen billions of dollars, and that he lives in New York City, and I hold my breath and I think, Please don’t be a Jew, please don’t be a Jew, and then they say his name—Madoff—and they show his doorman building and they show his synagogue, and I think, You fucking kike.
I hear Chelsea Clinton is getting married, and I hear that her father-in-law was in prison for financial fraud, and I think, Please don’t be a Jew, please don’t be a Jew, and then I see the wedding photo in the newspaper and there’s the groom, the ex-con’s son, and he’s wearing a goddamn tallis, and I think of Chelsea’s new-father-in-law, You fucking kike.
Sure, sure—all he can see is the bad Jews. God forbid he should say a nice word about his own people.
I know, I know—one person doesn’t represent an entire group. But then why are we so vocal in demanding that “good” Muslims speak out against the bad? Why do we applaud when Bill Cosby reprimands African-Americans for not being good fathers? Why shouldn’t we police ourselves, too?
Police ourselves? You hear him, police ourselves? He’s nothing but a lousy Kapo, that’s what he is. A self-hating Kapo.
Oh, well. A thousand words ago I was worried I was a Nazi. I guess I’m doing better than I thought.
Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament and the novel Hope: A Tragedy. He is also a frequent contributor to This American Life.
Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament and the novel Hope: A Tragedy. He is also a frequent contributor to This American Life. His new novel, Mother for Dinner, will be published by Riverhead this September.