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America the Beautiful
By Ted Roberts
Yes, I know july 4th isn’t a Jewish holiday. And in my heart of hearts I’m
well aware that our fondest prayers invoke Jerusalem, not Washington, DC;
but it’s entirely appropriate to briefly give thanks for the USA - this
“New” Jerusalem. And wish our kinsmen out of that ex-communist Gehenna
called Russia. Anti-semitism in the old word has been in a steady decline
since World War II - except for the ex “Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics”. Muscovy, USSR, Russia; whatever the name, this inflamed slice of
real estate has always been a Jewish death camp. Who else but Russian Jews
would have originated the expression, “if G-d lived here, they’d break his
windows”. The meaning is a “bissell” unclear; either G-d’s chosen people
would throw rocks at his house to protest his injustice or the Muscovites
woiuld stone G-d as well as the Jews. After all, if his son was Jewish HE
must be one, too.
While Russian Jews suffered progroms - American Jews were banned from the
country club and endured bad jokes about lengthy noses and frugality. Those
of us sensitive to such juvenilia formed our own country clubs. Then we
invented rhinoplasty. Finally, we made so much money we could afford lavish
donations to the UJA and still have enough left for chicken breasts every
night of the week - not just Friday.
How could Jew-haters grab a serious hold on the American heart? We’re a
nation of “huddled masses” like it says on the Statue of Liberty. All
victims - no Cossacks.
Have you noticed the attention, the respect, the courtesy extended to us by
the varied establishments of the Western World? Take a frivolous example;
more and more food products are going Kosher. Less than 2% of America is
Jewish and only a micro minority of the five million descendants of the
Exodus keep kosher. Yet universal delectables like Oreo cookies and Mars
Bar candies are going Kosher. (My sweet-toothed granddaughter may now feast
on Milky Ways, Snickers, and Mars Bars. Who needs lobster?) This
concession to our dietary sensitivity seems to defy economic explanation. I
mean the kosher Mars Bar market is - may I say - a snicker compared to
And consider this; my wife, who has a fetish for enriching kitchen
contractorsm spent a fortune on our kitchen which resulted in a few yards of
new wallpaper and a stove with a lot more buttons than our old stove. One
of those new buttons says, “Sabbath mode”. Can you believe it?
Even in the 30’s when I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, the racial climate
as warm as the Southern weather. Serious anti-semitism was not trendy.
I’ll never forget Miss Smith, my third grade teacher at Vollentine School.
large woman about the size of two of today’s fashion models, with gray hair
pulled back from a ruddy, round face. On a day that still lives in my
memory, she and I stood facing the class with her arm around my shoulders.
She looked out to her students, her eyes focused above them. I looked down.
I had just finished reciting a poem to the class and before I could return
to my desk, Miss Smith came to my side.
“Children, Teddy is Jewish. And I
like Jewish kids. Teddy’s people have made some major contributions to the
South. How many of you know of Dr. Joseph Goldberger who cured Pellagra?"
Not one kid knew of Goldberger or Pellagra, whereupon Miss Smith went on to
tell her class how the Jewish doctor had deduced that this scourge of the
rural South was caused by a dietary deficiency. She was a good story teller
and told the tale of Goldberger’s medical sleuthing with gusto.
people (meaning mine and Dr. Goldberger’s) are having a bad time, ‘specially
in Germany, because of an evil man named Hitler. Here in America we’d just
send the dog catcher to pick up a fleahound like Hitler.” According to Miss
Smith, the Anti Christ had come to destroy the Lord’s people, the Jews. It
was Armageddon time.
This talk made me nervous. I’d never heard of Joseph Goldberger, either.
was only Teddy Roberts, 3rd grader in Vollentine Jr. High; not the
certified representative of the Lord’s people; or the Jewish race; or a
warrior in the battle of Armageddon.
“I like Jewish kids,” she repeated. “It’s a shame we don’t have more of
here in Memphis.” That’s what she said.
The classroom was full of giggles because of “Hitler and his fleas”, I
and not at me and the fact that in Tennessee, Jews like me were as rare as
polar bears. Miss Smith’s speeches made me uncomfortable - like singing
Christmas Carols. But I did like the feel of her big hand on my shoulder.
Afterward, we sang America, the Beautiful. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.
from the July 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine