To give my wife some freedom to finish cooking for Shabbos, I took my two year old daughter to the local playground, located in a park less than a block from where I live. As my daughter joyfully headed for the slides, I noticed a group of eight or so teens, two or three girls and the rest boys, on average about 16 or 17 years old, gathered by the park clubhouse. There was nothing remarkable about them, as they stood there chatting and sharing cigarettes. They were dressed in sneakers, baggy jeans, sports team t-shirts, and hoodies, emulating the last “urban” fashions. I paid little attention to them as I watched my daughter trying to walk up the slide, enjoying the last hours of daylight before the beginning of the seventh day. Suddenly I heard one of the male teens say “He’s a fucking Jew!” while pointing at me. He seemed to have said it loud enough for me to hear intentionally. I heard some of the teens giggle.
I wouldn’t say that his statement was born from some brilliant flash of mental deduction. I was dressed in a white shirt, black pants, and black kippah. My tallit katan and its tzitzis flowed freely in the light breeze, as did my untrimmed beard. I would have been one of the unremarkable many, had I been at a playground in Tsfas or Meah Sharim, yet here I stood out, and stood out as a Jew. However, surprisingly, this isn’t obvious to many. I often have people mistake me for Amish, in which case I am often greeted with big smiles, or as Muslim (perhaps based on the beard), in which case I am usually ignored. In all fairness, people are often pleasantly surprised to see a traditional Jew in the middle of California. But “fucking Jew”?
I looked at him and the rest of the group for a few moments. Most of them averted their eyes, although he glared back. Studying the group, I noticed one of the young girls. She was my neighbor’s daughter. I am not close with my neighbors, I don’t even know their names, but the daughter had usually been friendly towards us, giving us a short “hello”, and an occasional smile when she saw us in front of the house. And here she was, not saying anything to the young man about his outburst, just blending in with the rest.
I turned away from the group, not wishing to spoil my daughter’s fun. I followed her as she ran to another section of the playground, oblivious to what had taken place. While I physically left the group of teens behind me, they stayed with me mentally. “Fucking Jew”? To an MTV generation that has been spoon-fed cultural sensitivity and understanding, and brought up singing multi-lingual versions of “Kumbayah”, I am just a fucking Jew? When the bearded, black hatted image of Matisyahu dancing to a groove flashes on their screens, do they even make the connection? When my neighbor smiles and says hello, is she really just thinking “fucking Jew”? I teach an English class, with students ranging from teens to people in their 50’s. I enjoy interacting with my students, who are from the same socioeconomic and cultural group as the teens in the park. We have a good time in class, filling it with fun and laughter. Yet now I wonder. When class is over, am I just a fucking Jew? When I have to give someone a D or even an F, do they take a moment to think about their performance, or do they just blame the fucking Jew?
My daughter and I return home to a home filled with the delightful smells of Shabbos. I shower, washing off the spirit the mundane, and dress in my Shabbos clothes. Candles are lit, angels are greeted and sent away, praises are sung to my wife and the Shechina. Testimony proclaiming that G-d created the world in six days, completed it in seven, and took the Jews out of Egypt is given over a cup of wine. As I savor the Shabbos meal, I ponder the events of the day, looking forward to the day were all will be Shabbos. A day where we no longer will be just fucking Jews.