When Rep Ilhan Omar quoted Puff Daddy’s song, I had to have it explained to me – I tend to be clueless aboout pop culture and didn’t realize that it was a reference to the hundred-dollar bill. But I did, sadly, know the trope. Ever since our 9th grade English teacher at Central Junior High reinforced the stereotype of the money-loving Jew in the way she presented Shylock to us as we read A Merchant of Venice, I’ve understood that some part of the world will always view me as though I valued ducats more than daughters.
There were very few Jews in my home town and I was almost always the only Jewish kid in any classroom. I’m not sure how or why I got picked to make presentations on Judaism to some of the area churches when I was 17, but the inevitable question was why Jews were so rich and why we controlled the world’s money. My family struggled like every other to afford a car and a mortgage, but to my audience, all that proved was that we were clever about hiding our wealth from the people around us.
The trope persists, through the halls of Congress, and the pages of Louis Farrakhan’s work. A friend’s sister at a recent party started in on it – my friend pointed at me and shook her head and her sister shut up – I pretended I had heard nothing and seen nothing. I try to be generous with money because I believe that as my physical energy waanes I can use money to do good. But I also worry that non-Jews are judging me in restaurants or occasions for charity
I have nothing to add to this centuries-old libel/slander. I know it will persist long after I’m dead and gone, like so many of the other ills I’ve tried to fight – unsuccessfully. I don’t have much optimism these days. I pretend to, I pretend to rejoice in the energy of the youth around us – but when our energetic youth carry so much old baggage with them, I don’t have a lot of hope.