Forward Thinking

'Shvartze' and Why We Should Know Better

By Arthur Waskow

  • Print
  • Share Share
getty images
Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes about how important it is for Jews to avoid insulting others with racial epithets like ‘shvartze.’ After all, we were once the target of such abuse and discrimination in the Old Country.

One day, as I was writing at my desk, the phone rang. From Washington, it was the leader of a Muslim civil-rights organization on the line.

“Rabbi, one of the big airlines just threw a number of imams off the plane because some passengers thought they looked suspicious,” he told me. “We would like to do a ‘pray-in’ at their airport gates here at National Airport in Washington. Can you come?”

Groan. I’m busy. Way behind. Long trip to Washington and back. I open my mouth to say “No.”

But before I can speak, a memory rushes into my head.

I was about seven years old, in 1940 or thereabouts. My grandmother, who had been born in Poland and had come to the United States in 1906 after Cossacks came marauding into her home town and her parents insisted she leave for America, came back from the kosher butcher a few blocks away.

She was half crying but shining through her tears.

“I was in line at the butcher shop, and some of the other women started talking contemptuously about the ‘shvartzes,’” or black people, she related. She told that she interrupted the fellow shoppers: “That’s the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!”

My grandmother was right, I thought. This is America, and we must not act like that.

I turned back to the Muslim leader on the telephone.

“Yes, of course,” I told him. “When and where do you want me?”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow founded and directs The Shalom Center.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: n-word, jewish, hershel schachter, arthur waskow, abuse-at-yu2, abuse-at-YU2, rabbi, shvartze, yeshiva

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.