I am fair skinned, with blue eyes and curly hair. I live in a city of 50,000 in a predominately rural area of Southern Minnesota. Few Jews live here, maybe 10 or 15. Even so, there are lots of opinions about us. Here are two snapshots.
- At a community meeting, thirty-five people sat around on coaches and chairs in the lounge of a one-story office building. A respected businessman mentioned the seed company, a few blocks away that had recently burned down. He ends his sentence with “Jewish torch.” I snapped to attention. At the end of the meeting I asked what he meant by “Jewish torch.”
“Well, you know, it’s when Jews burn down a company to get the insurance money.” “I am surprised to hear you speak like this.” For a flickering second, there was understanding in his eyes. Then quickly regaining composure he said: “Everyone around here says this.” “That doesn’t make it right. I hope the next time you hear someone say this, you tell them it is not okay.”
- When Somali families began moving to Mankato, a couple hundred professionals attended a presentation entitled: “Get to know your Muslim neighbors.” I learned new things from the articulate Muslim speaker. I was stunned when in response to a question about peace, he immediately replied: “If there weren’t Jews in the world, there would be peace.” After this comment, there was not even an uncomfortable silence. I felt invisible.
At the end of the presentation, I approached the speaker, repeated his comment and calmly asked him to tell me more about this. He looked at me: “Oh, you must be Jewish,” and started to make small talk, about Minnesota weather. If he could have been more honest or reflective about his feelings, we might both have learned something.
While we are all different in how we look, think, and respond to things; we are not a binary “us” and “them.” There is just “us.”
Copyright Marilyn (Mira) Frank