I don’t remember how it started, or with whom, but it was senior year, and it began quite suddenly. In math class, a teacher would hand out stapled packets of paper, problem sets and answers. A student would get one with a few missing pages and another kid would crow, “You got Jewed!” In English class, writing out an essay by hand, someone’s brand new pen would run out of ink and he’d cry “This pen is totally Jewish!”
It was nowhere and then it was everywhere, as if it had been on their tongues in private and they could hold it in no longer. Anything that was cheap or that cheated you was branded. You’d been Jewed.
My senior year I was 16 years old. I was young, the youngest in my class, having turned 16 right after our junior year ended. I wasn’t particularly Jewish, or at least I didn’t know if I was, but I was definitely a Jew. Each time I could feel it the anger of it. Why would you say that in front of me and the other Jewish kids? Why would you say that at all? If they said that in front of me, who seemed so very white, what would they say in front of other people who weren’t? What were they saying that I didn’t realize? What did they say when we weren’t around? What, eventually, would they do?
When the word would rise from somewhere in the hallway, everyone jammed around their lockers, a hush would descend and the crowd would part around me. There I was, alone but firm in my wisdom like Deborah beneath her palm tree. My voice would carry down the hall. “It’s not funny,” I’d say. “You think it’s funny, but nothing about it is a joke.”