Tag Archives: Judaism

New Orleans Diary: Weeks 13 and 14

7 Mar

Goal: Fuck the goal. I missed another week (I blame Mardi Gras) and now rather than writing on Fridays and also Mondays I am randomly posting on a Tuesday. Things are all out of whack. Also I don’t think anyone really reads these posts anyways so it’s become sort of like that thing about the tree. You know the thing: if a tree falls in the forrest and no one hears it does it make a sound? If my blog gets published and no one reads it do the words in fact form sentences? (I need to work on that but you get the picture.) So in summation I am just going to write when I want and not hold myself to any sort of schedule which is counter to the original purpose of this series (to force myself into a publishing schedule) but whatever. Fuck it.

Face Tattoos: There are a lot of face and head tattoos here. A lot. In April of 2004 I made out with a dude in Mexico who had a face tattoo. And one time when I was in the Poconos visiting The Aunties the craziest thing happened. We were walking through the parking lot towards the We-Is (local supermarket actually spelled Weis) when we found ourselves walking behind this guy who had his own face tattooed on the back of his head. But really. I know it was his own face because I ran around the front of him (by way of ducking behind cars because I figured someone with his own face tattooed on the back of his very own head was maybe scary) and confirmed. There he was in the front and the back. Very weird.  I’ve never really been the same.

As I was saying, there are a lot of face and head tattoos here. And I’ve been thinking about it and it seems like a face tattoo is a larger commitment than tattoos other places. Your face is the first thing people see. And usually the thing people remember you by. I mean, do you for sure, but it’s a commitment is all. Anyway. There are so many face and head tattoos that I almost don’t even notice them anymore. Back in Brooklyn there was one guy with face tattoos. He had some sort of tribal something or other that covered his whole face and whenever I saw him I thought to myself

Wow. That guy does not give a fuck.

I also thought to myself

That guy is on a whole lot of drugs.

Which had more to do with his style of walking and his glassy eyes than the face tattoos.

I got distracted. The point is that there are a lot of people with face tattoos here. I don’t know exactly where I was going with all this so I guess I will sum it up thusly: I have never seen more face tattoos in one place ever in my life.

White People Dreadlocks: There are so many White People Dreadlocks here it’s unbelievable. So many. I have to say that I try to stay away from their congregation areas as best I can. That might make me an asshole but it’s the truth. They all have pitbulls which normally would be like whatever but I think they have the pitbulls for protection so I don’t really want to fuck with them. Also I am pretty sure they are armed. Not the pitbulls, the people. As far as I can tell they spend a lot of time (all of their time maybe?) on the streets and the streets here are not safe and so I am certain that they have knives and things. I want nothing to do with knives unless they are being used to cook me food so if I believe someone has knives for reasons other than cooking me food I stay away.

Let me be more specific. Because this is what it really is. Yesterday as I was walking from one job to another I saw a White Boy Dreadlocks sitting on the street and he was holding a cardboard sign that said

I need a guitar

and I literally almost lost my shit. Like no, mother fucker, you need to chop off your culturally appropriative haircut, get a goddamn job, get out of my fucking way and buy your own guitar! Or call your fucking parents. I don’t know but give me a fucking break. Give me a break! You are white. You are male. You are able bodied. The system is built for you. If you need food that’s one thing but a guitar? You are on the street with a cardboard sign begging for a luxury item? Like, what, should I sit down next to you and hold up a sign that says

I need a plane ticket to India so I can fuck off for awhile

Or

I need to go out to Pesch for dinner

Or

I need a new computer.

No, asshole. What you need to go is get a fucking clue. Ugh that shit makes me so mad. It’s like, you can’t be all “woe is me I have no money” but also look at me I am so privileged and I am owed this thing that I want. I don’t only want it I need it and therefore I will have it and you will help me to buy it. The privilege is what gets me. And now I will stop being that old white lady yelling “get off my lawn!” at the neighbor’s kids.

Antisemitism: It is real and there is a lot of it here. I hear casual antisemitism at work on the regular. I am not going to really go into it because it is the same bullshit. You know, Jews are cheap, Jews run the government and the media, Jews are basically trying to take over the world. Nothing ground breaking there really. My favorite though is when one person makes an antisemitic comment like “oh you’re so cheap…you’re such a Jew” and the person next to them then starts discussing the first time she met a Jew and how the Jew was actually a lot nicer than she had expected! Little do they all know that their drinks were made by a Jew in person right then and there! That’s right, folks, that Sazerac was stirred by the horned devil herself! The Jewess! You sure you still want to drink that? I used the cheap whisky, you know, like a Jew would.

I don’t know, it’s crazy. It’s crazy in part because there has been such an uptick in open and unabashed antisemitism since SCROTUS took office. A friend of mine actually texted her dad to see whether the cemetery in which her grandparents were buried was one of the ones vandalized (it wasn’t). But that’s a real concern right now. Shit is fucked. It’s also crazy because I grew up in a very Jewish area. I am used to being around Jews all the time. I am used to feeling normal. But down here, and in this current political climate, I feel everything but. I have never been more aware of my Jewishness in my entire life. For the first time ever it actually feels like a liability. Which I suppose it always has been. That’s part of the fun of being a minority.

The other day a dude came into my bar. He was down from Philly, originally from Newark. We identified one another right away. It was the accent (or the lack of accent as he assured me), the look and just, I don’t know, the way. It took us about 30 seconds to get into what has been happening. I mentioned to him the antisemitism I have been experiencing since being down here and he just looked at me and said

Yup. Everyone hates us.

Just matter-of-fact. Just like that. And I was like, yeah, it’s true. He said what I have been thinking, what a friend of mine and I have been talking about for months. The fact that everyone hates us. It’s a quiet hatred, made louder recently, but it is always there. We thought we were safe. We’re not. And people make sure to make it known. Especially down here. And what can I do?

Conclusion: I should have posted about Mardi Gras and all that because it was really fun. Maybe I will save that for another week. This one took a somber turn and after all that it just doesn’t feel appropriate. I did, however, put on a lot of glitter. I think it probably entered my blood stream through my pores. I hope it did. We could all use a little more glitter these days.

We Spoke in Hushed Voices

20 Dec

Yesterday was the day of the electoral college vote. Yesterday was also the day I decided to go to the National World War II Memorial here in New Orleans. This was premeditated.

***

I have been somewhat quiet these past few weeks on issues outside of my observations of life here in New Orleans. I’ve been mulling over a number of different things, unable to really put into words what was happening around me, around all of us, and how it has been making me feel. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself – did you hear that, Libby Chamberlain? – and so I will use this space, my space, to share with you, if you care to listen, about what’s been happening in this confused brain of mine.

I have felt silenced.

I am not entirely sure why this is. Is it because Tr*mp was elected? Is it because of all of the hate that he unleashed in this country over the past 18 months, give or take? Is it because I left my comfortable, knowable home in Brooklyn and moved South? Is it because I realized, once again, the seemingly unending depths of misogyny that exist in this world? Is it because I am Jewish and, for the first time ever, I feel markedly unsafe in my own skin?

It is, in a lot of ways, that last one. Although the other ones are notable as well. I have lived a privileged life, all things considered, and so I do want to underscore all of this by stating that I do know it could be worse. I am 33 years old. I have been Jewish for every single one of those 33 years. And now is the first time I feel unsafe sitting in my own reality. This has not been true for a lot of people. And so before I continue, I just want to express my knowledge about my own privilege and express my sadness about the world that so many people have occupied their entire lives, and my respect for them for getting up day after day and moving forward, and keeping on, and for writing and speaking and sharing and singing and for simply living. Being afraid sucks. And so with that, here goes.

***

Yesterday I decided to go to the National World War II Museum because I recalled an article I read in The Washington Post following Richard Spencer’s Nazi-inspired speech in DC. In it was a statement put out by the Holocaust Museum following the conference which read, in part,

The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.

Just to give you an idea of what exactly is meant by that, here’s an excerpt from the Museum’s piece on the Nazi rise to power.

Hitler was a powerful and spellbinding orator who, by tapping into the anger and helplessness felt by a large number of voters, attracted a wide following of Germans desperate for change. Nazi electoral propaganda promised to pull Germany out of the Depression. The Nazis pledged to restore German cultural values, reverse the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, turn back the perceived threat of a Communist uprising, put the German people back to work, and restore Germany to its “rightful position” as a world power. Hitler and other Nazi propagandists were highly successful in directing the population’s anger and fear against the Jews; against the Marxists (Communists and Social Democrats); and against those the Nazis held responsible for signing both the armistice of November 1918 and the Versailles treaty, and for establishing the parliamentary republic.

Sound familiar? Because it should.

Words and propaganda were what brought the Nazi party into power in the 1930s; they were what created an environment in which an entire infrastructure could be built with the express purpose of shuttling people to work and, ultimately, their deaths; they were what emboldened a population to exterminate 11 million people. The words and propaganda of Hitler and his Nazi Party were what led Raphael Lemkin to coin the term used to describe what had been done to the Jews and other groups during World War II. He called it genocide.

The article from The Museum came out around the same time Jessy and I were in Chattanooga, Tennessee, about 3/4 the way through our drive to New Orleans. We had spent a lot of time sitting in the car, in our Airbnbs and hotel rooms, walking through national parks all the while talking about the election, what it meant, how we felt, what world we were living in. It had all been sort of academic. Analyses of things we had read and heard, fears we had about how empowered some people suddenly felt to disempower others, how groups that had existed only in the deepest recesses of the Internet were suddenly mainstays of the news. But then, our first night in Chattanooga as we sat at the bar eating dinner and having a much needed glass of wine, it all became suddenly more real. I looked up at the screen and on CNN during primetime I saw the Nazi salute. And then I saw it again and again and again as it was played and replayed. And I watched as the hosts talked it down, rationalized it, normalized it, tried to make it less that what it is: an expression of unbridled hatred and antisemitism and an embracing of all that the Nazis stood for and did in the 1930s and 1940s. And it made me wonder. Have we forgotten our own past? Do we owe nothing to the 11+ million people lost?

There is a word that is used often when talking about the Nazi era. It is Gleichshaltung and is translated from the German as “coordination” but more often refers to the act, politically speaking, of getting in line.The political theorist Hanna Arendt, who escaped Germany in 1933 explained it well in one of her last interviews. She said,

The problem, the personal problem, was not what our enemies did, but what our friends did. Friends ‘coordinated’ or got in line.

Shawn Hamilton expannded on this idea in his article published by The Huffington Post.

People rejected the uglier aspects of Nazism but gave ground in ways that ultimately made it successful. They conceded premises to faulty arguments. They rejected the “facts” of propaganda, but not the impressions of it. The new paradigm of authoritarianism was so disorienting that they simply could not see it for what it was, let alone confront it.

This is what scares me. Every time an act of hatred or violence is talked down, is normalized or excused, those acts, and the people that carried them out, are empowered. The problem is that when we make concessions for the small things, we are accepting the larger message. Remember: before there were the camps, there were the words. The words prepared people to accept that which would previously have seemed unimaginable. In his book, Germany: Jekyll and Hyde, Sebastian Haffner said,

Outside of Germany people often wonder at the palpable fraudulence of Nazi propaganda, the stupid incredible exaggerations, the ludicrous reticences concerning what is generally known. Who can be convinced by it? They ask. The answer is that it is not meant to convince but to impress.

It is not meant to convince, but to impress.

From where we sit in our discussions of history and in the comfort of our homes, Nazi propaganda seems utterly insane. How could this have come to pass? How could people have swallowed their morals, their ethics, their humanity and gotten behind such a hateful, murderous regime? A solution to all their problems. We are living it right now. We are seeing it again. Otherwise decent people willing to accept this lie of why we are where we are, and who specifically made it come to pass. And to then hold those people accountable for something which was not their doing. As Hamilton points out, it is not illegal immigration that is to blame for the downfall of the white working class, it is mechanization, globalization, the disempowerment of unions. Blaming immigrants is demagoguery, not reality. And deporting immigrants will not bring those jobs back. Those jobs are gone. But continuing to propagate this argument, continuing to excuse those who stand by it through silence or the ballot box, can only prepare us for words to become action.

***

Yesterday I went to the National World War II Museum because the Holocaust Museum is in Washington, DC and I am here in New Orleans. I went there because I wanted to be in a place where I was free to remember, to grow teary and tired, to educate myself. I know there was more to World War II than The Holocaust. But I needed to be in a place that actively recognized that The Holocaust happened, that was just steeped in an acknowledgment of what humans are capable of doing, of what we can grow accustomed to, of what we normalize. And I wanted to be angry. I wanted to be angry about all the lives lost and angry that, all these years later, all these lessons later, all these deaths later that we could still, as humans, Gleichshaltung. That we could, again, fall in line behind the propaganda. But instead of feeling angry, I felt physically ill when I saw a few swastikas on the side of the airplane of a Tuskegee Airman who had, as the tour guide explained to us, had “a few German kills.” Those swastikas almost made me vomit because all of a sudden they don’t feel like a relic of the past anymore, they are a part of our present.

Tearful I turned to a woman in the group who stood next to me. A woman who had family who had fought in all the wars starting with World War I. A woman who had traveled down from New Jersey with her family to enjoy New Orleans, to visit this museum and to remember. And, in hushed tones, we talked. We talked about Tr*mp and the election; about racism and sexism and antisemitism; we talked about our fears for the future of this country; we talked about all the lies, the propaganda and how people were just eating them up. It was good to have an ear, to have a conversation with someone who was feeling some of the things I was feeling. But still, we spoke quietly. And today I am forced to ask myself why.

Rebekah… Shalom.

5 Nov

So one of the things about tending bar (that rejiggering of words is for you and your hoity-toity preferences, Ben) is that you have to deal with The Public.  Tending bar is not the only profession in which this is the case, obviously.  I could work for the Department of Motor Vehicles, say.  Or I could work in a retail store, as a police officer, or perhaps be a park ranger.  Although in some of these other professions I might be forced to deal with The Public while they are under the influence on occasion, as a provider of liquor the odds of my dealing with slightly to majorly intoxicated people increases exponentially.  It just goes along with the territory.  Sometimes, this is both horrifying and funny, like the time that I was accused by a legitimately crazy man of stealing his Budweiser when I confiscated it after he attempted to drink it on Atlantic Avenue right in front of my bar while mounting his bicycle.  Other times, I am threatened with violence like the time this really small lady attempted to punch me over the bar after drinking her weight in Brooklyn Lager.  And occasionally, it results in me attempting to break up a Fireman brawl by dousing them all with water and the only result is confused/angry Firemen and a soaked coworker.  When I walk into work I never know what sort of events the day might bring.  What I do know is that I will have to, at some point, deal with some incredibly annoying people.  And that is where this story begins.

As a quick aside let me just say that most of my customers are really great.  They teach me all kinds of things.  They make me laugh.  They gossip with me about the neighborhood staples.  They ask me, over and over again, what I plan on doing with me recently acquired degree.  (The answer, still, is that I will do something…eventually.  Just as soon as I figure out what that something is.  I’m fairly convinced that I’ll know it when I see it.)  Sometimes, they even become my real life friends.  Some of my customers, though, are really hard to deal with.  I don’t know if they are really lonely or if they don’t understand what the word “interesting” means or if maybe they make a sport out of seeing how many times they can make me raise my left eyebrow or cause my eyes to glaze over due to complete and total boredom.  I mean, these people are skilled.  There is one person in particular who fits this mold.  I will call him Tim.

This is a customer who has annoyed me late night pretty consistently for at least 2 years.  He turns up right when I think I’m safe.  Sometimes he’s alone, sometimes he brings in people who are way too drunk for me to serve and then he tries to secretly buy them drinks.  Other times he stands in the corner for prolonged periods of time and weeps.  (Okay, that only happened once but it was very bizarre.)  What he always does, every time, is talk a lot and say very, very little.  On a recent evening he came into the bar and asked me literally a half a dozen times in a 10 minute period what was new.  Finally I got frustrated and said to him,

Nothing.  Nothing is new.  So if you want to ask me again in the future what is new, I would like you to refer back to my previous responses of nothing.  Save us both some time.

Then something amazing happened.  For the first time ever in the history of me and Tim interacting on any level whatsoever, he took the hint.  He realized he was annoying me.  It was a revelation.  He gave me a big, final-seeming salute and marched his way out the door never to be seen again.  Or so I thought.

The following night, much to my dismay, Tim was back!  My coworker and I were absolutely shocked by this unexpected turn of events. I approached him and asked him if he wanted a beer.  He ordered a Heineken.  And then the following interaction occurred:

Tim, while staring at me with a very odd expression: I was told today that you are a member of The Tribe.

After a pause of about 30 seconds in which I stared back at Tim with my head cocked to the side in confusion sort of like a small puppy he continued.

Tim:  Do you know what I mean when I say you are a member of The Tribe?
Me:  Yes.  I am just trying to figure out under what circumstances my religion would come up in conversation.
Tim: No, it’s good.  You know what? I have never met a Jewish bartender before!  This is just great!  I mean, this is breaking down barriers!
Me:  Um…? I’m sorry.  You’ve never met…
Tim: You know, I went into a bar nearby and tried to get a job and they wouldn’t hire me.
Me:  I don’t think that had anything to do with the fact that you are Jewish (I wanted to add that I could think of a few other reasons but I thought that unnecessarily rude.)

At this moment, thankfully, some other customers came in and I was able to abandon my conversation with Tim and go about my evening.  Eventually, seeing that we weren’t going to discuss the Torah or sing the Hava Nagila, Tim went on his way to, I can only imagine, torment some other non-Jewish bartender in close proximity.

Fast forward about 2 hours.

The owner of a nearby bar (and a friend and occasional blog reader and commenter under the assumed email “OBTampons”) walked in, sat at the bar, ordered a Bud Lite and decided to unload his guilt.

OB Tampons: I think I might have done something wrong.  I told Tim you were Jewish

Well, at least the mystery was solved.  After a bit of verbal berating I decided to just accept my lot in life.  I was stuck with Tim.  I would just have to deal with the unavoidable face-melting at some point every single Thursday night for the rest of the foreseeable future.  But the thing was that on this particular week I was working two night shifts in a row.  And wouldn’t you know it, the next night at 9:30pm, a little earlier than usual, in walked Tim. He ordered a Heineken from my coworker (but not until she checked with me to make sure I serve him because “he seemed like a person I wouldn’t serve..” She clearly knows me too well).  I walked over a few minutes later to check and see if he needed something else and he looked at me, with a very serious expression and said,

Rebekah…Shalom.

He promptly walked out into the night.  My life.  Sometimes it is just too much.