On Saturday night, my husband and I went out to dinner with friends in a suburb about 25 minutes away. We were enjoying a restaurant featuring an eclectic menu of Asian fusion food. Sitting at the next table were a father, his adult son and daughter and their significant others. They were all in their early twenties. Before they arrived, our conversation had been briefly about politics, our synagogue, our kids, and upcoming holiday plans.
Once they were seated, it was immediately clear that the father was loud and opinionated, and full of liquor. I overheard him razzing the two young women at the table for voting for Hillary Clinton. According to him, she should be in jail. Then I heard one of the women say something about her right to choose and I silently high-fived her in my mind. But then their conversation took a left turn from typical political discourse to ugly hate speech. The father said, quite loudly and for the entire restaurant to hear, that all of the information these women were hearing in the media was incorrect because, “it’s common knowledge that the Jews control the media.”
My jaw dropped. I looked at my friend’s husband across the table and asked if he’d heard what I just heard. He nodded. I turned to my friend and then my husband. We fell silent listening. The daughter did offer a response to the Jewish media comment, but it was inaudible.
Our dinner conversation, now speaking in muted tones, turned to the question of what to do. Do we confront this man and declare that we are four Jews that do not control the media? Do we joke and say that we are Jews and are all in the media, and we now plan to “out” this man as one of the “deplorables?” My mind raced: even if we said something in jest, or casually, or in some way to call out this bigot’s anti-Semitic opinions, he could be carrying a gun. Remember carry and conceal? And then I thought, how could I not say something? But you know what? I couldn’t. I froze.
I haven’t personally witnessed blatant anti-Semitism since I was a kid in the seventies, when every now and then a friend’s parent commented about “the Jews” or a kid would ask me why I killed Christ. I don’t think I ever did much to stop it other than say that no, I did not kill Christ, and felt belittled and uncomfortable. I did have a horrible anti-Semitic roommate in college during freshman year. But since I had to live in the same space with her, I waited until my belongings were packed and I moved out before calling her a classless pig to her face. It would’ve been better to say it earlier in the semester, but I felt trapped in the living situation.
Since the election, it seems that those who long held racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic beliefs have been given the approval to make it public and proud; this is a new situation and new reality we must confront. This was not some fake meme or some “liberal agenda” trying to scare people: I witnessed, firsthand, a very happy Trump supporter asking people who they voted for, bullying them if they voted for Clinton and spewing anti-Semitic tropes loud enough for other people to hear.
We were so surprised. So stunned. So caught off-guard. We paid the bill and got the hell out of there. It’s very easy to say what you would have done in hindsight. It’s easy to judge us for remaining silent and not standing up to a bully, but this is a new situation within our culture, and we were utterly unprepared. None of us are passive or push-overs, and I’m sure we would handle these situations differently in the future, but this slap of reality stung. Although I live in a blue-state, there is plenty of red folk among us. I can promise that from now on, I will be vigilant against anti-Semitism, but I am also sad that this is our new reality.