Scared of Anti-Semites


    A reader wonders what to do after a non-Jewish friend used the word "Jew" as a derogatory term and then dismissed concerns that doing so was inappropriate.


    Dear Miriam,
    This past weekend, one of my best friends (who is not Jewish) was telling me about a situation and said, "They will get all Jew about it." When I surprisingly responded that I couldn't believe she said that in front of me, she replied, "Oh, I know you won't get offended by that." How can I continue being friends with this person now that I know she uses the word "Jew" as a derogatory term in her everyday vocabulary and clearly does not think it is inappropriate?
    Scared of Anti-Semites

    Dear Scared,

    First, you respond by saying, "I am offended by that. Using 'Jew' as a derogatory slur is offensive to me both as a Jew and as a human being, and I'm surprised that you would say such a thing. I hope you'll realize that this is not OK and avoid using this and other hateful language in the future." Then you take some time to cool down. Maybe don't hang out with her for a while and wait for her to make a move. 

    It's not productive to demand an apology, but it is reasonable to expect one. If an apology or some otherwise sufficiently reconciliatory response doesn't arrive, maybe the answer is actually not to be friends with her. Making stupidly offensive comments about Jews in front of you is one thing, but if she has no problem saying it in front of you, without being totally paranoid, it's reasonable to think she probably says the same (or worse) when you're not there.

    It's hard for me, personally, to imagine wanting to continue to be around this person. This isn't like having a different opinion on a political matter or a different level of religious observance where you can agree to disagree and respect each other's views. This is much more about common decency and basic values of right and wrong.

    However, if there's no scenario in which you'd let go of this friendship, then you need to have more serious conversations with her. Talk to her about the ways in which stereotypes have harmed a variety of religious, racial, ethnic and social groups. Tell her about ways in which anti-Semitism has affected you. Make sure she is aware of the recent anti-Semitic events happening around the world. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever given this advice, but bring up the Holocaust if you have to, so she really knows you're serious. 

    A few years ago, I answered another question about an anti-Semitic epithet, but as I write my response now, I'm much angrier than I was then, and I'm sure it comes across. There is no excuse for senseless hatred. If we're unwilling to tolerate it in the world at large, we should be unwilling to tolerate it among our friends. We all have a collective responsibility to make the world a more compassionate place. Why not start now?

    Be well,