Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
In the mid-1950s, an older boy stood inches from me and screamed in my face, “Kike!”
I was 5 years old. Although I didn’t know what the Jewish equivalent to the “n word” meant at that age, I sensed instinctively it was something bad.
It wasn’t long before I would be called other vile names. “Christ-killer” is one that comes to mind.
Soon, I would learn there were places I was forbidden to enter. One was right in my South Side neighborhood: the lovely South Shore Country Club, which I had only viewed wistfully from the back seat of my parent’s Buick as we headed north or south down the Drive. Back then, the club, now a cultural mecca operated by the Chicago Park District, was “restricted.” Jews (and, of course, African Americans) were denied membership.
Throughout my life, I have continued to experience anti-Semitism. Naturally, it’s not as overt as when I was a child. Anti-Semitism, as racism, is not politically correct and hasn’t been for decades.
Still, many people — not close friends — don’t realize I’m Jewish, and as Jerry Seinfeld once said on his renowned TV sitcom, “I hear things.”
It might happen in the midst of party banter with acquaintances and strangers or in a casual work conversation. Occasionally, someone will make a derogatory remark about Jews. Or somebody will describe a particular person as being rich, cheap, obnoxious, loud, crude, pushy or all of the above, followed by the inevitable, “And, you know, he (or she) is a Jew.”
Yes, it’s hurtful, but I get over it.
That’s why, politics aside, as a Jew and an American, I’m particularly pleased that Rahm Emanuel has won the Chicago mayoral race. Emanuel’s win, coupled with Barack Obama’s 2008 historic and dramatic triumph, leads me to believe a person’s racial, ethnic or religious makeup matters less and less, at least to voters.
I say “leads me to believe” because I’m not naive. We’re not there yet, especially in Chicago.
Hearing union leader Jim Sweeney say that Emanuel has been “nothing more than Wall Street Judas with a bag of silver . . .” actually took my breath away. And I mean that not in a good way. It was as if Sweeney had literally punched me in the stomach.
And during the campaign, every time I heard a reference to the size of Emanuel’s campaign coffers or that he raised millions from “Hollywood” supporters, I knew the stereotypes were being fed.
It seems obvious to me, but while, yes, Emanuel does appear to be a rich guy, not all of us of the Jewish persuasion are. (I wish!)
And although it certainly didn’t hurt Emanuel that he had the ability to bombard voters with his TV commercials, his overwhelming support came because voters simply liked a lot of things about him, including his connection to Obama and Washington.
Conversely, Carol Moseley Braun had a poor showing in the election — even among black voters, because they didn’t like her message, her personal financial record or her outbursts.
As a Jew and an American, I find hope in Emanuel’s win — and not about what he will or will not contribute to the City of Chicago.
If the 2011 Chicago mayoral election tells us anything, it’s that maybe, just maybe, the Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream is coming to fruition.
To paraphrase Dr. King, finally, we are judging people not on the color of their skin or their ethnic background or their religious affiliation, but on the content of their character.
And that’s a very, very good thing.
Judy Marcus is a writer who lives in Palatine.