Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More Injustice: Jewish Stereotyping

I’m not sure when I started to return things to stores that didn’t work. “Buyers remorse’ for me is most often the realization that I'll need to spend time returning the item.

My family was Jewish, whatever that might mean.

My parents and sisters never returned things. My mom was a smart shopper. She’d buy the best and keep it forever. We still have her lawn chairs, which are over 50 years old. My wife replaced the canvas seats about 30 years ago. They will probably last another 50 years if someone is wise enough not to sell them for scrap aluminum.

My grandfather was the only cheap one I knew. His job as a kid in Russia was to stand by the scale in his father’s grain business and make sure no one put their foot on the scale. When he came to America he would buy day-old bread. And he’d fill up gas cans in Portland and drive them to the beach where gas was more expensive. Yes, I know, it was stupid. He was generous to his children and even strangers in supporting their education, even though he only had an eighth-grade education.

My father was a lawyer, and could figure his clients way out of any mess. He barely ever spent money. He’d complain when my mom would buy me books. Was he cheap? I think my sisters would say he was. After my mom died, he wouldn’t buy any new clothes. He did join Costco and bought a few things he probably didn't need. Perhaps that was his mid-life crisis occurring in his 80s. But his needs and interests were about things but about ideas. He was savvy in business, with most of his life owning linen stores. The last 25 years of his life he gave free legal advice. He never was ambitious about making money. And he didn’t like to talk about money. He got mad at me because when the ambulance was taking him to the hospice to die, I asked the EMT what the starting salary was for EMTs. I was interested for our college students who always are looking for ways of making a living. My dad scolded me on his deathbed and said it wasn’t polite.

I had a student who was working in some kind of business when she said to a customer that he was trying to “Jew” the business out of some money. She was fired on the spot.

Yesterday, I was talking to one of my wife’s friends about returning things, and she started talking about how it was my being Jewish showing up. She felt that Jews are cheap and therefore like to return things.

I felt hurt by her stereotyping. It seems to be a prevalent perception the Jews are cheap.

My Catholic neighbor growing up, who I played with often, when he was teaching economics at the Kansas University, gave an annual lecture, The Art and Joy of Cut-Rate Living. Perhaps he was an influence, though I don’t remember any money dealings with him.

I’m near the end of Sopranos now, and a little Jewish stereotyping has just reared its ugly head in these clips. The joke in the second clip is about Jews by a Jew.

I understand that Christians weren’t allowed by the church to do money lending. Christ threw the money lenders out of the temple. Some say now that the issue was not the money lending itself, but the fact that they were doing it in the temple. In any case, Jews were restricted from engaging in many occupations, so money lending became one occupation that they could engage in.

Here’s a couple of web articles on Jewish Stereotyping:

Are Jews Cheap & Selfish?

Wikipedia on the Stereotypes of Jews

In the last article I was interested how initially the stereotyping came from non-Jews, but more recently from Jews. In Oliver Twist, the character Fagin is referred to as “the Jew” 257 times in the first 38 chapter. Wikipedia claims he finally came to his senses late in life. In his novel, “Our Mutual Friend,“ the character Riah says, “Men say, 'This is a bad Greek, but there are good Greeks. This is a bad Turk, but there are good Turks.' Not so with the Jews ... they take the worst of us as samples of the best …”

It feels like an injustice to be stereotyped. If returning what you don’t like or what doesn’t work is being a jerk, I hope my friends tell me. But the suggestion that you do that because you are Jewish seems offensive. The subtext I hear (and probably not intended) is one of being a dirty Jew.

As to Jews being “cheap,” here’s an interesting article, “Muslims ‘Give Most to Charity,’…” that suggests that Muslims give the most, then Jews, and then Christians.

Enough said?

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