Did Jew Eat Yet?
That’s not my line above; it’s from Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall. Allen told his friend he heard a television exec ask him that in a meeting. His friend said he was paranoid.
In the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, a Jewish man accidentally killed one black child and injured another when he lost control of his car. Black residents surrounded and beat the driver. The news reported everywhere. What was not reported is the act of an unidentified black man who led a Jewish passenger to safety.
A privately run Jewish ambulance responded and those paramedics began attending to the surviving child stilled pinned under the car. When an NYC-operated ambulance arrived, the scene coordinator instructed the Jewish team to evacuate the Jewish driver from the accident for his safety.
There was a police car already on the scene. Why didn’t the cops take the driver away? My opinion: A decision based on fear and a stupid coordinator. Rumors quickly flooded the black crowd; tales of the Jew being taken away in an ambulance thus abandoning the injured black child were rampant.
One of the horrible outcomes of this event was a mob of black youths fatally stabbed a young Orthodox Holocaust researcher just hours after the accident. No doubt rumors and young men’s bravado played a part in the killing.
Crown Heights endured three days of rioting and in New York City battle lines were drawn between blacks and Jews.
Most of the rioting was based on rumors; I know because I lived in Queens and passed through Crown Heights every day.
At that time any rumor was more than enough fuel in New York City at that point to light a racial fire.
New York’s mayor at the time did little to calm the racial embers, in fact, he flamed them.
That’s Rudy Giuliani even today. The Giuliani era was so close to Jim Crow some of us wondered when the cops would start wearing sheets.
The Crown Heights incident is among many that had contributed to the breakdown of Black and Jewish relations. It started way before Crown Heights. Black people and Jewish people have a joined history that is almost as old as this country.
In 1915 a Jewish man named Leo Frank was lynched in Georgia. He was found guilty of killing a 13-year-old girl. The fact he could not have done the murder because he had numerous witnesses placing him somewhere else did not matter. He was Jewish, and the next best thing to lynching a nigger was a Jew.
That event caused a lot of Jews to find a kinship with blacks. The same event caused a severe fracture between some blacks and Jews because at one point during the trial Frank’s defense attorney tried to pin the crime on a black janitor, calling the janitor, “…a lying nigger…” amongst other things.
Both African Americans and Jewish leaders have said some pretty damning stuff over the years about race. I’m well aware of the rhetoric on both sides, but it seems (at least to me) that the two above examples may illustrate at least part of why blacks and Jews have a somewhat intoxicating relationship like an alcoholic who wants to quit, but something always tips he or she off the wagon.
Horrible events both to be sure, nevertheless notable actions by blacks and Jews towards each other occurred. But command one of the media is not the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It’s if it bleeds it leads. A positive does not sell as many papers.
Blacks and Jews, it’s one step forward and 12 steps back.
The black-and-Jew subject is the basis for my one and only conspiracy theory. That theory is that somehow The Man deliberately causes a rift between Black Americans and Jewish Americans. For more on The Man, read my upcoming book Uppity: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Black People But Were Afraid to Ask. You’ll find all you want to know about the Man in the chapter “The Man and other convenient ways white people think we blame somebody else when choked to death for selling loose cigarettes.”
American blacks and Jews are two groups of people who overcame slavery, continue to fight bigotry, and who have a rich cultural history. The fact that both groups of individuals continue to defy the odds should bond them. If that’s not enough, then we should at least come together because there is no better ethnic joke than a black or Jewish one.
What’s the object of a Jewish football game?
To get the quarterback.
Why did the police shoot the black man?
Because when they shouted “Get down” he started dancing.
I don’t think anybody laughs harder at jokes aimed at themselves than blacks or Jews. That may be because we see the bigger picture. We have to laugh, or all we would ever do is cry.
Those who make light of our history and exploit stereotypes to divide us fear what our two groups could accomplish if we were united.
Given the similar history and related roadblocks that blacks and Jews share, why is there this tension? What makes it more perplexing to me is in the not-so-distant past, blacks and Jews were a united front. If you watch those early civil rights marches of the Sixties on film, you will see scores of Jews arm-in-arm with black marchers.
What happened? Where and when did the road fork and we decide that our paths were better traveled separately? Not only separate but shooting affronts at each other while doing so.
In some African-American communities, there is a hatred of Jews that is almost palpable and the same hate for us in some Jewish neighborhoods.
I am not an expert on race… far from it. All of what I write is from my bittersweet experiences in life. These are my opinions to be sure. But somewhere buried in myself absorbed rants, there may be a glimmer of an answer to the bigger picture of the black and Jewish issue.
Surely some will think I’m just talking shit and have no business commenting on the black and Jewish issue. You may think I’m ill-equipped to deal with such a complexed issue. But just like those who thought Mrs. Trump wrote her speech you’d be wrong as in incorrect because I was raised half Jewish!
My mother would be surprised to hear that since she raised me alone.
I’ll explain with a tale of my youth…
I was a latchkey kid. For those among you too rich or too obtuse to know what that means, I’ll school ya: every day after school; I came home to an empty apartment in the projects. My mother was working three jobs most days.
Where was my father?
The chapter in my book you want is “Where’s Daddy?” After reading that chapter, for further clarity, read the chapter “Who’s My Daddy?” After that, turn your attention to the chapter “Are You My Daddy? Somewhere in there, you may find the answer to that question. Oh, if you do, please tell me.
As a latchkey kid, I would let myself into the apartment after school, remove the dinner from the refrigerator my mother left for me, park myself in front of the TV and stuff my face. Sometimes my sister Sharon would be home, and we would do what all loving siblings did with mom not home: Try and kill each other.
My sister was four years older than me and would always find ever more innovative ways to hurt me. Once when I was six, Sharon picked me up, held me by my feet and proceeded to bang my head on the floor…hard.
Another time she decided she would be a good girl and be nice to me.
She asked if I wanted some tea. I said yes surprised at the bizarre niceness of my mortal enemy. She got out the tea set she received for Christmas, poured in some tap water and placed it on the stove. After lighting the stove, we both sat down and waited for that magical moment when the teakettle would whistle.
That was a huge deal with us. We were at that age where those kinds of things were full of wonder. After a very few moment, we noticed that instead of hearing something we smelled something. We then noticed that the Teakettle was moving.
This took a second to register. My mother’s teakettle whistled, but, Sharon’s had, it seems magic!! It moved! I was smiling like a crack addict who just made friends with the CIA distributor to the hood! When I looked over at Sharon, her face looked like it did when we snuck in to see The Exorcist.
I soon joined her horror when I realized plastic teakettles melt… all down the stove. Wow, who knew plastic was not fireproof? Her teakettle looked just like the kettle my mother used except that it was pink and had pictures of Barbie all over it. Except for that, it looked the same.
Sharon turned off the stove and with the help of a dishtowel she removed what she could of the teakettle from the stove. What she managed to remove was microscopic. The plastic had melted all over the stove dripped down onto the floor, and the apartment smelled terrible.
Then in walked my mother. She stared at the stove and screamed, “What happened?!?” I remember thinking that this was a good thing. I had not put the kettle on the stove. I had not messed up the stove, and, it was not me that made the apartment smell bad. Then I remembered all the times Sharon had beat me up when my mom was not around. It seemed that the devil was finally about to get her due. My mother repeated what she had screamed before, but this time directed it right at my sister.
“What happened?” Sharon looked right into my mother’s eyes, and with a look so sincere I almost believed her when she said, “Michael did it.”
What happened next is so ingrained in my memory, it’s like it happened yesterday. But to properly share that moment with you I must explain a bit about who I was at six years old. You may find it hard to believe from some of the things I write, but, I was a very cute adorable and well-behaved child. I never talked back; I never cried, and I never used a bad word in my life.
Now? I cry at the very mention of some things. The other day someone mentioned my all time favorite film My Best Friend’s Wedding. Immediately my mind’s eye saw Julia Roberts yielding the man she loved while giving a speech at his wedding!
What about bad words? Give me a fucking moment, will you?
Back in the day, my mother made it crystal clear that those ‘naughty’ words were not for her son. Nope, not her baby. I was a good boy. My mother looked at me after Sharon spoke her nasty lie. Before she could say anything, I focused my big brown puppy eyes and promptly descended to the dark side.
“BULLSHITTTTTTTT!!!!” I yelled!
After my mother had got over that outburst she, decided that both my sister and I were at fault. She made us both promise to be more careful and to underscore that point she shot us both in the chest. (For more on this, see the chapter “Angry Black Women”) but somehow Sharon and I survived.
OK, that did not happen. My mother did not shoot my sister or me in the chest. What kind of mother would that make her?
She shot us in the leg.
You got me, that did not happen either but, we did get punished and never pulled a stunt like that again. I often think what may have happened if my sister and I had not sat down to wait for the whistle of the kettle. What most likely would have happened is a horrible tenement fire in the least. I shared the above story because it’s relevant to the very real dangers facing latchkey kids and underscores the importance of the angel about to enter my life.
Because we were poor, even a mishap like that could not stop my mother from working all the jobs she had to work to support my sister and me. So a few years later, I was still a kid living in the Edgemere projects in Rockaway Queens. 434 Beach 58 Street Far Rockaway Queens Apt. 8B, to be exact. Back when we moved into Edgemere, they were lower income projects and the families living there were mostly Jewish older people. One fateful day, I was sitting in the hallway outside my apartment waiting for my mother to get home.
I had forgotten my key. So there I sat reading comics and starving. Man, was I was hungry. My hunger made worse by the knowledge I had no idea when Sharon would be home, and it was hours before my mother would.
Every time I would hear the ding of the elevator I would whip my head around hoping to see my sister. Instead, I would see neighbors enter their apartments paying me no never mind, or worse giving me the ‘You must be up to no good’ look. This sad ritual continued for a long while.
After a time I did not even look up when I heard the sound of the elevator. I dozed off and awoke to see a pair of feet. I lifted my head; this white lady was staring down at me.
I stared up at her in silent wonder. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I’m waiting for my mother. I forgot my key.” I answered. She looked down at me and thought about my reply. “Come with me,” she said as she started to walk towards her apartment door. I stayed where I was. I had seen this woman before, but I did not know her, so I stayed put. Many times I had been told to stay away from strangers, and, I was staying put.
She turned back to me while she put her key in the lock and asked me, “You coming?” I said, “My mother told me never to go with strangers.” “That’s good advice, but I’m not a stranger. I live down the hall from you.” That made a lot of sense to me, but, I was staying put.
Nope, I was not going anywhere with this lady. I was not going to end up killed and stuffed in a hamper in her bathroom. “You want something to ea…?”
I was in her apartment faster than a speeding Rodney King.
Her name was Mrs. Tannebaum and looked around 60. She sat me down at her dining table and went into the kitchen no doubt for a knife to kill me. I just hoped she fed me first. Her apartment walls filled with photos and what I would later learn lots of Jewish works of art and other artifacts.
Mrs. Tannebaum came back into the dining room with a bowl of soup, or so she said. To me, it looked like a giant white ball floating in some strange looking liquid. “What’s this?” I asked. Mrs. Tannebaum said,
“Matzo ball soup. It’s good. Eat it.”
At that moment, every single thing that my mother ever said could happen to me flooded my mind. I knew the soup was poison. It had to be. Look at it! There was a giant ball in the middle of it. What crazy person puts a ball in food? Mrs. Tannebaum must have realized the reason for my hesitation because she picked up a spoon, scooped some soup from my bowl, ate it turned around and walked out of the room.
I continued to stare at the soup. OK, it was not poison but, there was still a giant ball in the middle of the soup. Mrs. Tannebaum returned with a plate full of…. cookies! Now we are talking! She placed the cookies on the table I reached for one, but in a lighting swift move she slapped my hand and withdrew the cookies from my grasp.
“Eat your soup; then you can have a cookie.” I was starving. I wanted those cookies. I slowly placed my spoon in the soup, then my mouth. My imagination kicked in this surely would taste like dirt dipped in doo-doo.
The reality? Oh, My God!!! It was great! I could not believe this! This was the best thing I had ever eaten except for candy. I devoured that soup like Fox News would an Obama sex tape. When done, I asked for more. She filled my bowl, and I sucked it down just as fast. Mrs. Tannebaum asked for my phone number called my mother who happened to be home now… darn it.
My mom came over and got me. She spent a few moments talking and thanking Mrs. Tannebaum, and homeward we went. The next day, there I sat waiting for my new best friend. No, I had not forgotten my key again… but she did not know that. Mrs. Tannebaum once again opened her home to me. This was now my daily ritual, and after a while, my mom would just pick me up from there. I realized when I got older that Mrs. Tannebaum was happy to have my company and I was glad to be there.
At first, I was just going over for the eats, but after a while, it occurred to me that I would rather be over at Mrs. Tannebaum house talking to her than anywhere else. She spent lots of time telling me about the Jewish people, and I found it absorbing. I remember when she said about the eight days of Hanukkah. That night I told my mother I wanted to be Jewish. “Jewish kids get presents every day for eight days! All we get is a lousy one day for Christmas!” I told my mother who just looked at me with a smile. “What do you want for dinner?” she asked me still smiling. I answered without missing a beat; “Bagels and lox!” My mother’s smile turned into a laugh, and eventually, my reply turned into one of her favorite stories, much to my annoyance. Most of the times spent at Mrs. Tannebaum were very cool. She had a quick wit and a winning smile and color TV! Batman was blue?
I noticed she would always have on a sweater no matter how cold or hot. One day as she was walking into the living room, I saw a faded tattoo on her forearm as she was putting on one of her sweaters. ‘Cool tattoo,” I commented. Mrs. Tietelbaum stopped in her tracks and looked straight at me. She then sat down beside me.
This move freaked me out. She would never sit down when I was over. She would always be up doing something: Cooking, cleaning, always something.
So when she sat down beside and held my hand, I knew this was serious. Even today, decades later I can see the pained look on her face. She told me how she and her family were at Auschwitz and what that meant. As she spoke, she started to cry because she was crying, I began to cry. Most of what she told me I will never forget.
“My mother, father, and brother were in the camp. It was a terrible place, run by terrible people. They killed many there just because we were Jewish. My family survived, but many I knew murdered because they were Jewish.” I recall being a little confused because of the word “camp.” Mrs. Tannebaum explained to me that this was an entirely different kind of camp and indeed it was.
This was a dangerous place with evil people the counselors. That day I left her apartment determined not go back there the next day.
My mother must have been surprised to find me home. A few days afterward, Mrs. Tannebaum left some soup for me, and my mom told me to go over and thank her. I did not want to go over there. That talk about the camp freaked me out and made me feel strange. However, when my mom told me to do something, I did it. I knocked on Mrs. Tannebaum door and was met with a big smile. “There’s my friend!” She said with glee.
This floored me. I had never had a grown-up call me friend before. “Where you been?” I gave her some story about something and then proceeded to thank her for the soup. It was my intention to say ‘thank you’ then get out of dodge, but I sat down when she asked me to, and we had quite a nice visit…(there were cookies!) Mrs. Tannebaum did not bring up the camp and we settled down into our routine again.
Some years later during a social studies class, I amazed my teacher when I was able to name one of the Nazi concentration camps. Later that day, I knocked on Mrs. Tietelbaum’s door and told her about my star moment in class. Over the years, I stayed close to her, running errands hanging out at her house, exchanging Hanukah gifts. She was delighted that I was doing well in school and we talked in more detail about her stay in the camp. Years later during a screening of the movie Schindlers’ List, I thought about Mrs. Tietelbaum for the first time in years.
As I watched the film, I started to cry as I am now, I had to leave the theater for a few minutes. Yes, I told you I cry at movies. I’m a 6 foot 2, 200-pound black man, and I cry at movies. Trust me no one should see that and when I watch My Best Friend’s Wedding… oy vey!
Mrs. Tannebaum attended my grade school, junior high, high school, and undergrad graduation. She was a loving woman despite a life peppered with nightmares. The horror she endured never more than a few nights sleep away. She would delight in pointing out the similarities between our two races. What she instilled in me was a high regard for Jews pride in my blackness and respect for all people.
“Even Germans?” I asked her one day. “Yes.” She said. “German people are not bad. They had a bad leader.”
I’m not an expert on race relations by any means, but I don’t have to be to know my relationship with that wonderful Jewish lady is the America we are supposed to be. When I was sitting on her couch, I was just a child she was an aging woman, and we were happy not just in each other’s company, but in each other’s life.
Four years ago I created the Hidden Beach Universe. I wrote about it here. It’s about a man who became president from a lie. Once in power, he lived up to his promises which meant American citizens who were not his idea of America had to go.
One way or the other.
Women punished for their choices.
African Americans stripped of hard fought liberties.
Gays told to return to the closet in and out of the military.
Americans divided by race, the government fueling the discord.
It’s so goddamn close it feels like I wrote Trump’s story four years ago, and although it forecast with pinpoint accuracy the coming of the Donald so to speak, I thought it might have been a little over the top with its Hitler-like view of what America would become under such a rule.
It makes for an excellent graphic novel, but in real life it’s a horrible idea.
Today is election day. The three women – my mother, sister and my dear friend are all gone, as are their votes. Good riddance some of Trump’s supporters would say. No, not all not by a long shot but many and you can spin that shit any fashion you want, they exist. Any number more than zero is too many of that kind of support.
To that type of folk, they were three votes from two niggers and a kike.
Wrong again. That’s three Americans who lived their life helping not hurting others. Removing walls not building them. Freedom and liberty as one people not hate and intolerance was how they saw life in the USA because that’s what America says it is.
If you don’t believe in that stop quoting anything the founding fathers and Lincoln wrote because that’s pretty much all they say.
Trump’s America is not the America that would have liberated Auschwitz or freed the slaves. Trump’s not the American that should be President of the United States. He should note be trusted with our children future.
“Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
- Robert Oppenheimer the father of the Atomic Bomb.
“Why would we make them if we’re not going to use them?”
Donald Trump the father of the pussy grab.