Op-eds

Jy lyk soos ’n Jood

  • Howard Feldman 2018
For a about a week and half (maybe two-weeks maximum), I had a friend who was called Jacobus Johannes Hercules Fourie. He hailed from Potchefstroom, where the name is less unusual than it might be in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg. We were at university together, and I liked him immediately on meeting him at orientation. He was everything that I wasn’t, given that no one had thought to name me after a Greek g-d.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jul 02, 2020

He had, as far as I know, never met a Jew before, and so I guess I was somewhat of a curiosity. I wore contact lenses back then, until one day when for some reason I chose to wear my glasses. He was already in the lecture when I walked in and took the seat beside him. He was studious and continued to write the date and lecture title, before turning to greet me. “ Jislaaik,” he said, “Jy lyk soos ‘n Jood vandag!”

Although I was pretty sure that I looked like a Jew every day, I asked him what that meant. I also reminded him that he had told me I was the first Jewish person he had actually met. The question made him uncomfortable, and I could see him processing years of schooling, discussions at home, and everything else that he had gathered along life’s short journey.

I wasn’t certain if there was any element of antisemitism in the comment, but I knew that our differences wouldn’t allow the continuation of the friendship. Perhaps I looked too much like the Jew that I am.

The current focus on racism has had a knock-on effect, both in a negative and in a constructive way. The Black Lives Matter initiative has brought prejudice against Jews to the fore. The movement itself, notoriously anti-Israel and antisemitic, has caused tremendous discomfort to Jews who believe in non-racism and want to be part of the drive towards a better world. They have been made to feel “other” and excluded, in essence being forced to choose between their Jewish identity and the movement.

Only non-Israel supporting Jews are qualified and able to become part of the crowd. In addition, it has caused Jews to examine the age-old prejudice that they have faced for centuries and look at Jew hatred with fresh eyes.

The fascinating thing about subtle prejudice is that, much like jelly, it’s very hard to grasp. The statement that I looked like a Jew because I was wearing spectacles should not in itself be negative. But the possibility of telling someone that they look “like a Muslim” or a “Christian” or “black person” and expecting to get away with it, is almost unimaginable. And yet, even to me, it didn’t seem that problematic.

What’s even more fascinating to me is that I have never forgotten the incident. As benign as I pretended that it was, it has always remained somewhere deep inside of me. It very clearly touched a part of me. And to some extent, no matter where I am, no matter how successful or accomplished I might feel, I will also wonder if I look like a Jew today.

4 Comments

  1. 4 Joan Struck 02 Jul
    You should try telling these people that we Jews come in all sorts and colors. What would they say to a black person who is Jewish.? “Listen my friend your life doesn’t matter because you are Jewish” we all matter! Until all people get the idea that “tekkun olam”, repairing the world is an ideal we should all strive towards. 
  2. 3 Susanne Rytz 02 Jul
    This chronichle reminds me of a commentary my mother heard as a survivor of the Holocaust. "But you don´t look Jewish at all".  It was ment as a compliment. 
  3. 2 Carol Marks 06 Jul
    Dear Howard,
    Many years ago, in the early 1970's, I worked with a lady who had come to Cape Town from England.  She had never met a Jewish person before this, and I don't think she even knew Jews existed.  The irony was that all the partners, (and some staff) were Jewish.   Needless to say her education was expanded.
    Kind regards
    Carol
  4. 1 Ashleigh 07 Jul
    When I was little and whined and complained for nothing my mother would say, keep quiet before I give you something to whine and complain about.  You whine about the most pathetically, woefully petty things.  Keep quiet and count your blessings before you're really given something to legitimately whine about.

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