We’ve all seen movies in which an old-timer hears a phrase, and suddenly his thoughts take him back in time to when he heard the same words as a youngster. This is starting to happen to me.
The other day, when someone wished me a happy Hanukkah (it’s still allowed, I think), I thought of an incident from 1962 (probably) involving a friendly acquaintance I’ll call Bob and a friend I’ll call PE.
Bob was basically a good guy, but very rough around the edges and not a good student. PE was the toughest kid in our grade. He would later be a star defensive tackle for the high school football team.
Bob didn’t like PE. One day in class, he looked across the room and said to me, “I should wish PE a Happy Hanukkah.” Bob meant this as insult to PE, who wasn’t Jewish — for some at our school that’s what calling a kid a Jew was. What Bob didn’t know was that (1) I am Jewish and (2) PE was my friend (an understandable mistake, since I was a scrawny nerd and PE was a tough guy with no intellectual pretensions).
Bob’s remark didn’t send me looking for a safe space, but I didn’t appreciate it. Later that day, I relayed the comment to PE.
I quickly realized I had made a mistake. I asked PE not to say anything to Bob, and he assured me he wouldn’t (“he’s probably a Jehovah’s witness,” was PE’s “slur” against Bob). I was pretty sure, however, that PE wasn’t going to let this pass.
PE didn’t. He confronted Bob. Fortunately, there was no fight. From what I understand, PE used the occasion to tell Bob how stupid he was for making his little joke to a Jew.
When I saw Bob the next day, he said “I guess you told PE what I said.” I apologized to Bob.
I’ve never forgotten his response: “Well, I did something bad to you too.”
And that’s how the matter ended. No intervention by school administrators; no sensitivity training for Bob. Just a self-taught lesson (a “teachable moment” as they say these days) for two young teenagers.