Whenever we needed any sort of professional services, my parents always got a guy from the shul. The attorney, the dermatologist, the tailor, the whatever. Except when we needed a dog doctor or a wall painter or a hairdresser. These don’t come in Jewish.
Apparently this is a thing. And not only among the chosen people. The newspaper advertises real estate agents specializing in the Chinese community. Maggie Anderson’s Our Black Year chronicles her African-American family’s attempt to buy from only Black-owned businesses for an entire year.
And Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s Blindspot acknowledges a bias that takes the form of a secret preference for your own group rather than any active discrimination against other groups.
Sounds about right. Much as I hate to admit it, I am one of those otherwise egalitarian people with a tendency to favor my own landesman. Certainly when all the other things are equal. And perhaps even when they are not.
When my parents needed to buy a car, naturally, they went to a dealer from the synagogue. A man my mother did not like. OK, she didn’t like anyone, but she really, really did not like this guy.
My mother never referred to the dealer as Mr. ———, as was custom for business relationships in those days. She never referred to him as Bob, though she would call other acquaintances from the temple by their first name. It was always “that momzeh gonif Bob ———”. Like “momzeh gonif” was his title.
Certainly, there were other lots in the area, but again and again, she returned to the lying thief. Go figure.
It is this kind of irrational communal loyalty that has led me to make all kinds of questionable purchasing decisions despite the clear and present danger.
Like a few years ago, an eatery called The Roast Shop opened a few blocks from my apartment. Kosher, closed on Shabbes, the whole megillah. The only such restaurant in the neighborhood and only one of two in town.
Not a delicatessen type of place, they advertised as specialists in roasted meats. In either case, not really my style, especially when there are so many wonderful Mediterranean and vegetarian options within a few blocks walk.
Also, they received terrible reviews. The Yelp, the Chowhound, the Urbanspoon, the whole internet seemed to agree they were just awful. And yet I felt compelled to go there and waste some hard-earned money.
As soon as I entered the restaurant, I wanted to back myself out the door. The tables were empty, never a good sign. They had been open a couple months, there should be at least a few customers.
Still, I ordered a plate and I tried to eat. I tried but I did not succeed. It was truly one of the worst restaurant meals I had ever been served. And I have been served at a roadhouse in rural Indiana. I have been served on a shrimp boat in redneck Georgia. I have been served by a hofbräuhaus in Baden-Württemberg.
Though I have never tasted shoe leather, I am sure it would be a close culinary cousin to this so-called brisket. Pure gristle. I could not cut it with a knife. I could not shred it with my teeth. I could not be certain it was actually meat. Feh!
The side of cholent was both flavorless and uncooked and contained bits of gristle. I have eaten black beans by the Mexican restaurant. I have cooked garbanzo beans by my own hand. Beans are never supposed to be hard and crunchy.
The side of mixed greens — this is California — was acceptable. Multi-colored and slightly bitter. A few thin rings of red onion. Nothing special but nothing to complain. It was the only thing I could stomach.
The meal was more than $24. Absolutely outrageous. And I didn’t even get a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry.
The funny thing — and the point of the story — is that I kept thinking I really should give them another chance. Fortunately, and perhaps predictably, they went out of business before an opportunity presented itself.
Anyway, so it happened, when Bernie Sanders announced he was running for President, I was immediately drawn to his candidacy.
To be fair, my attraction was based on firm political footing. I can’t count the number of times I have said, “I’m so liberal, I’m practically a Socialist”. In my heart, I agreed with many of his proposals, such as Medicare for all, though I thought the rich people could very well pay for their own kids’ college educations.
Also, I was impressed that Mr. Sanders’ fundraising focused on small donations from individual citizens rather than big bundles from corporate interests. But, let’s face it, the way he talks, a Jew from Brooklyn, it makes me to feel right at home.
Alas, the way Mr. Sanders seems to shun his Jewish heritage quickly cooled my keen.
OK, maybe the man doesn’t believe, he doesn’t practice, that’s his prerogative. But, to refer to his parents as Polish immigrants? They were not Poles, they were Jews. It is not the same thing.
And when he speaks about his Jewishness, he is really describing humanism, which is not a bad thing, but it is, by definition, anti-religious. My strong sense is that he is not being forthright about his feelings.
Even so, I wanted desperately to feel the Bern. Hillary Clinton has her pluses and minuses, but I could muster no enthusiasm. I would watch the debates to make my decision.
Indeed, it was those debates that finally convinced me. It wasn’t anything that either candidate said, it was the non-verbal cues. It was the way Mr. Sanders kept making faces and laughing and wagging his finger whenever it was Mrs. Clinton’s turn to make her schpiel.
It felt annoying. It felt disrespectful. It felt like something I did not want to watch for the next four or eight years.
So today, as we cast our ballots in the California primary, I am not “buying Black”.
I’m with her.
© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.