Monday, March 22, 2010

The farmer and the Jew story.

     I am a frustrated writer. That means for years I have scribbled all sorts of thoughts, dialogues, smidgins of plots, and fictional scenes. I have a large trunk full of these scribblings. I have even come up with a title for my dreamed of book -- "Jewish Stories by a Schikza." I am a schikza and I certainly have the stories from my 43 years of marriage to an Israeli sabra. I have been working on this book to some degree lately. The following story which, I think, shall appear in the book,  is true and speaks to the stereotypical thinking that would provide the background and guts of my "Schikza" book.
     Click on Read More below to read one of the stories from my future book.

The Farmer Story
     I grew up in a small town in northern Illinois. My father was a livestock trucker there. He bought hogs for Cudahy Packing Co in Cudahy, WI for many years. When Amos and I would go down to Pecatonica to visit my folks, sometimes my father would have to go and pick up some pigs at a farm or would have to visit a farmer regarding shipping the livestock. One time Dad said he had to go out to a farm and look at some hogs. I think the farmer wanted to know if Dad thought they were grown enough to ship to market. So Dad asked Amos to come along. When they got to the farm, Dad had to go with the farmer across the barnyard to look at the pigs. It had rained and the barnyard was in typical barnyard shape with mud and wet manure. Amos had his good shoes on, so the farmer suggested he just wait in the milkhouse; Dad and the farmer would be right back. The farmer was in the middle of milking, and two cows were stanchioned in the dairy with the milking machine on. Well, Dad and the farmer were gone a long time. Amos had milked in Israel and he began looking at the cows, and noted that they were done. He thought to himself that if the milking machines kept pumping much more, they might start to draw blood. These cows were ready to be moved out. So when there was still no sign of Dad and the farmer, Amos removed the milking machines and released the two cows in the dairy, brought two more waiting cows in, fastened them in the stanchion, cleaned off their udders, and fastened the milking machines on both cows.

A short while later here comes the farmer, ON THE RUN, into the barn. He had remembered that he had those two cows milking there. Then he stopped suddenly, looked at the two cows,  obviously realized they were not the two cows he had left milking. He looked around the barn to see if anyone else was there. Had his wife come out to change the cows? He saw no one else. He looked again at the cows, then at Amos, then at my Dad and back again. Then he looked back at my Dad again, and said, “I thought you said he was a Jew!”

    For most of you readers this is funny and self explanatory. But for those who might need a little explanation. This is a totally stereotypic statement by this farmer. He is expressing what the typical American, especially the rural American thinks is a Jew. He is probably a merchant or a lawyer, or a businessman, maybe thought to be a little bit shady, but certainly not a farmer. For Amos to know how to milk, goes against the very definition in this farmer’s mind. That’s why the farmer responded this way.

     But this also meant that my father had announced to this farmer at sometime, perhaps when they were walking through the barnyard that his son in law was a Jew. It was still a sign of my father’s rawness in dealing with his new son in law that he would make such a statement to the farmer.

     Yet the ridiculousness of either view needs to be considered. Biblical Jews were farmers. Israeli Jews are farmers, but also members of every profession known to man. Eastern European Jews including my father in law and my mother in law’s families were farmers also. Where did this idea that a Jew couldn’t be a farmer start? Where did the stereotype of a Jew as a shady merchant start? Why is that view part of our rural American hinterland? Well, I can’t answer that. But my marriage to Amos and my husband Amos himself has done at least a little to contravert that stereotype at least in my hometown. Meanwhile I tell this story to all my Jewish friends and they get it. They nod their head knowingly. Racial and ethnic prejudice seems to be part of the human condition. We must work very hard to break these stereotypes down if our ethical and intellectual evolution as a species is to continue.

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