Monday, July 6, 2009

Ignorance North of the Thames

Hello! I'm back from vacation in (remarkably hot and sunny--thank you global warming) England and Scotland. For some reason I'm having a very hard time getting over my jet lag and still don't have the energy for a good, detailed post (or to catch up on the news) so I'm going light tonight.

I had a brief encounter in London which is sticking with me. In a small, neighborhood-type vegetable shop, I met an Afghan stock-clerk who was shocked when I told him that, contrary to his belief, the population of the United States was not 100% Jewish. I told him (unknowingly, incorrectly) that the US Jewish population was under 1% of the total US population (it is in fact around 2% of the population.) He seemed very skeptical. The conversation then turned into a truncated discussion (cut short because I and my travelling companions really had somewhere we had to be) between me, the stock-clerk and the Turkish cashier about how Jews control everything. the conversation, unfortunately, never had time to become more profound than the Stick-clerk and cashier insisting that Jews control everything and me retorting, "ummm...no, I don't agree with you" a few times. I also commented that I wished it were true that Jews controlled everything, because then I may be able to benefit from this omnipotence as well.

Also, on learning I was Jewish, the stock clerk said that I obviously was not "pure" Jewish, whatever that meant. I think he was trying to imply that I was not orthodox. I responded that I was Jewish, just not completely observant. He commented that he found that the Jews who showed their Jewishness (I assume he meant visibly orthodox ones) were better, or more respectable than the ones in the US who hide their Jewishness.

I literally do not know any more about the individuals I spoke with other than what is written above. I don't know where they were born, their politics, their religion, their education, nothing. What I do know, is that two ordinary people that I met were under the impression that the whole population of the US, the most powerful country on earth, were Jewish, that Jews control everything and that Jews who were not visibly Jewish were somehow insidious.

A few questions spring to mind. Where do these ideas come from? What gives this impression? How many other people think this way? What is wrong with a person who is Jewish who chooses not to be observant? And, even if the whole population of the US were Jewish, so what?

I don't have answers to most of these questions other than to say they reflect profound ignorance. The idea that Jews somehow control everything (the banks are a common institution referred to) is not novel. It's also simply untrue. In the Canadian case, for example, of the five major banks in this country (TD, RBC, CIBC, Scotia and BMO) not one of them has a Jewish person as its head. Do Jews work for these banks? Sure, but Jews also work in the pharmaceutical industry, that doesn't mean that they own or control it. The accusation is nonsense, but it persists. The fact is, for the stock-clerk and the cashier, Jews are the Bogey man. A Jew can "blend in" become invisible, yet still exercise their control in the guise of someone or something else. Since the Jew controls everything, anything bad that happens is their fault, and there is no free will, because it's the Jew that's calling the shots.

The manifestation of this ignorance in the two people with whom I had that brief encounter in a north-London greengrocer is frightening because, even though there was no explicit evidence of it in this case, this ignorance leads so easily to hatred. I wish I had more time to have spoken with those two men to really figure out where their ideas came from. From the short exchange we did have, I hope at least what I said about the US and Canadian Jewish population will be believed and that it will occur to them that if this supposed "fact" is untrue then perhaps other notions of what Jews are and are like will also be subject to further questioning and reflection.

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