I had an interesting experience this morning.
I drove my son to a town about 20 minutes away to take his road test. When we arrived I had to get out of the car and wait outside. I decided to walk into the nearby Mobile station to use the Men’s room. The room was situated inside the building, but down a short hall off to the side of a food kiosk. When I came out of the bathroom I said a blessing under my breath and then headed the ten feet down the hall to the kiosk. And there, just before I turned the bend, was a man telling the Indian lady behind the counter taking his order, “The Jews are taking over.”
He was a 50ish, graying, well-dressed man and as he said the words “taking over” I emerged from the hall. He obviously didn’t realize I was there until that moment and looked a bit mortified for a moment when he saw me.
I didn’t have time to react. In that flash of a second I think I considered all the alternatives between just walking past him silently to cursing him out. What I ended up doing was saying very cooly the following: “Well, thanks for telling me that. I didn’t know.”
And I walked past.
Later, when I saw my son return, I walked out of the kiosk and saw this guy getting into his car. It was a very nice luxury car. Mine is a beat-up economy car. But I’m taking over the world.
In any event, I’m not naive. Believe me, I’m well aware of anti-Semitism. However, this is the first time I’ve experienced it directly in more than ten years, as best as I can remember.
I don’t necessarily have anything more the say now other than relating that.
On the other hand, it is interesting that just yesterday I heard Rabbi Orlowek on a tape talk about how he reacted to a couple of incidents of anti-Semitism directed at him: “As long as it doesn’t touch me it’s his problem, not mine… I know I have something inside. A Jew who does not have any connection to Judaism [gets terribly upset, on the other hand]…. It’s like a person who walks into a store to buy something, puts money down on the counter and walks out. It’s a terrible feeling: to pay money and walk out without the merchandise. [Being Jewish but having no connection to Judaism] is analogous to putting money down and not walking out with the product. I have the product. I know I have to ‘pay.’ I’m not crushed over the fact that they don’t like me. Because I know I have something. It’s true I’m paying a price. But I have something. I have the product.”
I don’t know if I lived up to this madrega this morning that Rabbi Orlowek talks about. I think I was a little incensed. Maybe a little more than a little. And certainly it reminds one of countless mussar shmeussim about how insecure the Jew is in the world; how Esav hates Yaakov, even as he dresses in a nice suit and acts politely toward you; how thin is the membrane separating us from real anti-Semitism; how we have to remember we only have our Father in Heaven to rely upon. And so forth.
But it was unnerving. At least for a moment. Baruch Hashem I have Rabbi Orlowek to listen to. Baruch Hashem I have him to remind me that I have the product. And that even though it comes with a price it’s better to have the product than not.
Baruch Hashem we lived blessed lives, much more secure than our great grandparents. May we never forget that and may Hashem continue to protect us and consider us having paid for and earned that protection.