Social and Political Commentary

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Marjorie's thoughts on prejudice

... part Jewish, part Protestant. I don't which is which.

by Marjorie Burgess

My maiden name was Solomon. I'm part Jewish, part Protestant, which part is which I do not know. One thing for sure I'm not neutral. There is no such thing. By saying or doing nothing, you are denying one or the other. There is a chip on my shoulder that is my "Achilles" heel." My blood boils at all manifestations of stupid, cruel prejudice, be it anti-Semitic or anti-anything else. Having been a "victim", I am sometimes deeply hurt, and not just  for myself. You cannot feel the lash of ignorant and downright illogical hatred without being crushed. We Jews, as all people, react to this treatment as all individuals in many ways. Some take cover for safety's sake, and for security for their families by hiding their background. In others, it brings out their best fighting spirit and they become great. And still others are deeply hurt but they try to understand, to be as Jesus and say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." But this latter reaction is difficult for many, because we feel they know what they are doing, and they are just plain evil. We feel we are being used as a Freudian scapegoat. After 2,000 years, it gets monotonous.

When I was very little, I can remember going to Sunday School and giving my name as "Sullivan" because something seemed to be wrong with the one I had. Not that the substitute was much better but it seemed a little more acceptable. The next plainer indication of what was wrong came during a summer vacation. There was a swank hotel on the beach near where we were camping (and naturally that part of the beach was private). Over the entrance there was a sign that read 'NO JEWS ALLOWED'. My heart was heavy for a little girl and I wondered what my father must have been thinking, but none of us said anything. That reminds me of a story Groucho Marx told of a similar experience. He wanted to swim in a certain restricted beach near his residence and he was denied this privilege. He asked however that, seeing as his daughter was only half Jewish, could she not go into the water up to her waist?

As I grew older it became a little more deadly. But because this is America, we don't get exterminated en masse - just a few now and then. Like the rabbi killed in Munore Park, Roxbury, while on his way to his synagogue, ironically, having come from a German concentration camp to "Freedom in America." Or the little Jewish boy from Lynn, who was badly beaten because he was a Jew.

Because of my name and because I am not Jewish, I'd have to explain what I was doing in a Protestant church and a Baptist..."Ooohh." Somehow I always felt degraded - as though I was denying some of my people like Einstein, Freud, Dr. Salk, Felix Frankfurter, Spinoza, Brandeis, and the great musicians like Gershwin, Jerome Kern who wrote what he called "good Jewish music." Men like Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland. Embarrassment, confusion, fear, sadness, but never shame...I'm quite proud of my Jewish heritage and any other good ancestors I might have had - whatever their race.

My first serious romance was with a Jewish boy, extremely intelligent, who never received less than an "A." He wanted to be a doctor. He applied to Harvard but was turned down because he was outside the "Jewish quota." He enrolled instead at the University of Alabama. But here he met an example of prejudice that left a mark on him for life. He told me that a trolley car in which he was riding ran over a small boy. The conductor stopped the vehicle, got out, looked at the victim lying in the street, saw it was only a colored boy, got back in the trolley leaving the victim to die.

During my husband's sojourn in Germany in the Second World War, he and some of his buddies were barricaded in a certain farmhouse. Just plain ordinary farm folk. Over in the corner under a pile of filthy rags lay a skeleton-like form of a very sick girl, just lying there, no attention whatever, no nothing. The soldiers wanted to know what she was doing there unattended. These good people tried to make the Americans understand that she was a Jew. The boys didn't follow this reasoning or lack of it. They forced the good people to clean her up, feed her, tend to her hurts, and then had her sent back to the American lines for medical treatment. Oh, what an indictment against bigotry.

These problems have never touched many of you personally; maybe it is more grating for me to hear such things, or similar remarks said to my face that if I were an all-Jewish person. Here is a "for instance." "Ya! delinquency! I'll tell you why! All the Jews are moving to Malden! Or - "He owes me money -- and you know what his name is-- I'll spell it for you!" "Oh, you know how the Jews are. They don't work." "We sell insurance to white non-Jews." etc., etc., etc. "Teachers are entitled to a commission - oh, we knew you wouldn't want it in this instance -- only Jews would want it." This latter statement "confused" me and cost him fifty dollars.

I answer these people whenever I can unless the bigot is very old; my husband, too, never let a remark of this nature pass without an attempt to stop such talk. In my years many ways have been shown that should have helped to free people from these invalid, unfair, cruel bigotries. Only once have I heard a man answer a bigot to his face not knowing there was an interested party present (me). Most people check to make sure there are no Jews present and then go into their cowardly act of spreading their gospel of venomous hate. How lucky we are to be Protestant, white, and living in Melrose. But we must not stagnate in a pool of our own security.

Now my name is different, my circumstances are altered. It's not my battle. My working doesn't depend on my name. During the war it was necessary to supplement the family income. Frankie was just a little baby when I applied for a certain job. The interviewer discovered my maiden name and asked if I were Jewish. I said "No". She replied, "Oh, I knew you weren't!" I stared at the top of her head, for it was almost bald and thought perhaps her lack of hair had something to do with her feelings.

Yes, I'm out of the battle. Maybe I was never in it. But, this I know, that as I love God who himself was a Jew, who made all the Jews, and other races as well as the rest of us, I must speak for He has given me the courage and opportunity to say to you with earnest sincerity, to beg you to tear the cancer of prejudice from your heart or you cannot call yourself Christian. There is no room for Jesus in a hate-shrivelled heart.

The Jews should thank you in a way, I suppose. You have made us prove our worth and capabilities, also our charity.

Two Attachments

Editorial from the Boston American, February, 1960

In the midst of the crank-inspired wave of anti-Semitism which is sweeping many nations, the Jewish people are developing a massive program to help handicapped persons of all religions.

Leaders of the B'nai B'rith are already on their way to Holland to form an organization devoted to the rehabilitation of the afflicted in every country, and to expand the projects which up to now have been confined to the United States. B'nai B'rith, with 400,000 members in this country, makes no distinction among races and religions offering aid, and it will henceforth pursue this policy on a global scale.

If such a demonstration of genuine charity does not impress the malicious individuals who have been painting swastikas on churches and synagogues and schools, we can't imagine what other human virtue will deter them. We would say they are beyond considering and redemption.

Pastor Wilkes, First Baptist Church of Melrose, February, 1960

It is difficult to conceive how Naziism could possibly rise again. A thing so ugly, so thoroughly repudiated, so badly beaten would seem to have had its day. How could it find favor with anyone? Yet the latest waves of anti-Semitism seems to be the workings of minds committed to the Nazi philosophy. This is particularly true in Europe where new outbreaks have occurred. It may be that some of the swastikas on college buildings and in other places in America are a grim kind of humor. But it is a fact that beneath the surface of American life, there is a vocal group who are forever anti-Semitic and racially biased. I discovered recently a scurrilous card being distributed through a large factory with a racial bias as a lone theme. Despite the fact that dialect jokes have lost favor and the minstrel shows have ceased to resort to impersonation by the simple expedient of minstrel black, there is a kind of underground which can be more deadly. Deadly in the fact of its unknown and often unseen nature. It strikes with an un-Christian and un-American rapidity. Given the least bit of encouragement there are too many people who will come to light and parade what they believe are valid reasons for heinous actions. Good friend, it is not enough to eschew joining them. We must combat them wherever we find them.

October 6, 2000

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