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Only Jew at the Table

Monday, July 16, 2012
By:

Dear Miriam,

Last week, I went to the wedding of my boyfriend's best friend from childhood. Neither my boyfriend nor any of his friends are Jewish. During dinner, one of these friends used an anti-Semitic slur. No one, including my boyfriend, responded or called him out on it in any way. As the only Jew at the table, I didn't say anything either. I'm still angry about the whole incident, but my boyfriend thinks I just need to get over it. What should I do?

Signed,
Only Jew at the Table

Dear Only,

It's understandable that you're upset, but in order to move forward, it will help to separate what happened at the wedding from what's happening now.

So, first, the wedding: It would have been ideal, appropriate and compassionate for your boyfriend to tell his friend that the comment was offensive. But when he didn't, you should have. I can hear the echoes now of "blaming the victim" criticisms, but that's not what I'm doing. I'm empowering you, and others who find themselves in similar situations, to stand up not only for yourself but for what's right. If you would have spoken up in response to a racist or homophobic comment, you should afford yourself at least that amount of respect. You could have said something without outing yourself as a Jew if that was the only comfortable way, but your silence is as problematic as anyone else's.

But regret doesn't get us anywhere, so let's talk about what's happened since the wedding.

It sounds like, even removed from the social pressures of his childhood friends, your boyfriend hasn't acknowledged what's upsetting you about the incident. Is he concerned with defending these old friends? Does he not see why such epithets are unacceptable? Does he think you're overreacting and doesn't know how to make you feel better, so he's turning the responsibility back on you?

Whatever his reasoning, you need to take charge of the situation. In a calm, neutral tone devoid of the emotion you obviously (and justifiably) feel, tell him you hope he understands that anti-Semitic comments are offensive to you as a Jew and have no place in your life or in polite society. You can say that next time you'll be prepared with a response, but you would have an easier time moving on if you felt like you and he were on the same page. Explain that, whether he understands it or not, whether he shares your outrage or not, as your boyfriend, you hope he can respect your feelings and empathize with the discomfort you experienced.

Then allow him to respond. If he doesn't right away, give him some time to let this sink in. You can revisit the conversation in another day or so and ask him if he's had a chance to think about what you said. If he says something that satisfies you, then it's time to move on and leave the incident in the past. But if he doesn't respond in a way that puts your angst to rest, or at least shows that he's moving in that direction, I do think you need to consider the broader respect and communication issues in your relationship.

Whether or not your boyfriend is able to help you find closure on this issue, you will eventually need to find it for yourself.  As for the friend, minimize your contact with him however possible, and be prepared with a calm and understated response for the next time he says something derogatory about anyone.

Be well,
Miriam

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