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Would What Jew Know?

| Working | November 15, 2016

(I have recently decided to join a volunteer organization that mans a 24-hour sexual assault hotline. It’s an intense group, and they are mandated by law to put us through 40 hours of training before we start. All this happens on the first day of training, which is led by the “new volunteer coordinator,” who is a woman who is paid to exclusively work with and prepare the new batches of volunteers.)

Trainer: “Okay, everyone come get a copy of the training manual.”

(She starts handing out binders containing no less than four hundred pages of handouts and training materials. Today is supposed to focus on prejudice, in an effort to make us not be jerks to people who call in to the hotline. We get to a handout listing various types of “isms” — racism, sexism, hetero-normatism, anti-Semitism, etc.)

Trainer: “Let’s give examples of negative views held by each of these groups of prejudice.”

(We go through them all, and the trainer stops and squints at “anti-Semitism.”)

Trainer: “I’m not sure how to pronounce this one… Can anyone tell me what it is?”

(I’m already concerned… Shouldn’t the trainer know what the words in her own training material mean?)

Volunteer #1: “Doesn’t that mean, like, people who don’t like Christians?”

Class: *murmurs of agreement*

Trainer: “Okay, so what are—”

Me: *interrupting* “Um, that’s not what it means…”

(The class turns and stares at me.)

Me: “It means people who don’t like Jews. You know, like anti-Semitic?”

Volunteer #1: “Well, but couldn’t it mean, like anything religious? Like people discriminate against every religion. We shouldn’t make it just one.”

(The rest of the group nods.)

Me: “Um, but… that’s not what it means. That’s like saying homophobia could be about straight people being discriminated against.”

Trainer: “I think we should treat it as any kind of religious prejudice. It’s not like homophobia where there’s a lot of violence that makes it important.”

Me: “You’ve heard of the Holocaust, right?”

(The class stares at me, and then looks down at their desks.)

Trainer: “Oh… are you Jewish?”

Me: “That’s not even the point. If we’re supposed to be learning about the prejudices people hold, you can’t just dismiss one of the older ones as not important. It is important. 6-million-people-dead important. ”

Volunteer #2: “You know, it wasn’t just Jews killed in the Holocaust.”

Trainer: “That’s right. So, let’s treat this word as anti-religion-ism.”

Me: “But—”

(The class then begins to list examples of all the ways Christians, Wiccans, Pagans, Hindus, Muslims, etc are prejudiced against. I raise my hand and am called on.)

Me: “A prejudice against Jews is—”

Trainer: “Let’s just move on. In fact, time for lunch break!”

(I get my lunch and head outside, shaken. The trainer comes up to me and sits down.)

Trainer: “You know, I’m worried about you.”

Me: “Oh, I’m okay; it’s just a little annoying.”

Trainer: “You seem to have an awful hang-up on religion.”

Me: “…”

Trainer: “If you hate Christians so much, I’m not sure this is the right volunteer cause for you.”

Me: “I don’t hate Christians. I just know that some people hate Jews and that’s just as important to me as people hating homosexuals, Mexicans, etc.”

Trainer: “You know, there were Christians in the concentration camps, too.”

Me: “I know… Look, is this group actually affiliated with a church or something?”

Trainer: “No, we are entirely secular. We don’t discriminate against anyone.”

Me: “Can I ask why we aren’t allowed to use the actual definition of anti-Semitism then?”

Trainer: “You know, that term really could apply to anyone, to Christians…”

(At that point I left. I think she was right, that group wasn’t for me. When my Jewish husband asked why I left, all I had to say was “Did you know anti-Semitism is prejudice against Christians?” for him to understand.)

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