Many… many years ago I got a Summer Stock gig in upstate New York. It was the summer of 1974 and I was excited. It was my first time living away from my parents’ home and on my own.
I met a lot of new people that summer, they came from all over the country and to a kid who grew up in “da Bronx”, NYC, it was interesting to meet so many and hear about all of their experiences. There was no shortage of fun times and parties and we each formed our own circle of pals.
I hung out with the light and sound crew (I was there as a lighting technician), I was the only female in this small group. One of the guys, I’ll call him Howard to protect his identity, came from a small town in Vermont. It was Howard’s first time away from home as well, his first time meeting people who didn’t live in his small town.
The first day we met I was wearing a Star of David pendent and I noticed that he was staring at me whenever he thought I didn’t see. Finally I asked him what was up. He apologized and a few minutes later he sat next to me at the dimmer board and asked me if I really was Jewish. I said yes and asked him why he wanted to know. He pointed to my necklace.
I was not expecting his next words. They were innocent and knocked the breath out of me.
“I never met a Jewish person before. I was always told Jews had horns.” And he quickly apologized. Howard told me that his parents, aunts and uncles all lived in that small town and went to the one church that everyone went to. Everyone was the same where he grew up and they all said that Jews had horns.
I laughed nervously and said, “Well we don’t.”
He asked a lot of innocent questions about my religion, my Spanish surname, growing up in a big city and more. In Judaism it’s a mitzvah (commandment) to teach and so I was happy to answer his questions, questions which came from pure curiosity — he was seeing the world outside of his small home town for the first time.
Howard called his parents that night to ask if they had ever seen a Jew with horns and they admitted that they never did. When he asked why they told him that there were horns they said that’s what they had been told by their parents as they grew up in that same small town. They expressed nervousness when he said he had a Jewish friend but at his insistence they decided to let him decide for himself who he could be friends with.
I did meet them later in the summer and they were actually very nice people. I don’t know what happened to Howard and his family when the summer was over, I went home to plan my wedding and we never really stayed in touch. But I would like to think that just maybe they stopped telling people the stereotype they were raised with. Just maybe they were a little bit more accepting of people who were different than them and maybe there was a little less prejudice in that small Vermont town.
Don’t teach your children prejudice because they like to believe that Mommy and Daddy are always right. Children learn from their parents.