The Average Jew

By: Esther O’Campo

The Average Jew

Didn’t hear about it in school

He cried through the obligatory

English class reading of Night

But not out of shock

Because he knew what was coming

The Average Jew

Hasn’t learned the commentaries about

Ishmael and Sarah and “mitzachek”

But he’s learned people make fun of him

For not laughing at Nazi jokes

Because G-d forbid someone have the chutzpah to say

That in the 21st century murder still isn’t funny

The Average Jew

May have met a survivor

May have taken his kids to see one

In a museum or at a nursing home

Because he knows these people are mortal

But chances are he’s read at least one memoir

Because he knows books aren’t

The Average Jew

Has a large working vocabulary

Of words he can’t even pronounce

Like Majdanek and Sobibor

Chelmno and Theresienstadt and Dachau

Sonderkommando and Einsatzgruppen and Judenrein

And when the Average Jew

Talks about “the camps”

He doesn’t mean for summer in upstate New York

“The war” doesn’t mean Revolutionary,

Civil, or of 1812

And “before” or “after” it

Are significant in terms of millions

Alive or dead

The Average Jew

Cannot escape the connotations

Cannot blunt the sensitivity

He watches a movie that shows

Human skeletons piled into mountains

And is assaulted by a kind of visceral

Tearing nausea

So in Rwanda the bodies had black skin

So?

He knows that picture

The Average Jew

Would like nothing more than

To erase, to forget

To sanitize history for his own comfort

Would like to be more like the

Average Gentile

Who doesn’t have quite so much sanitizing to do

But he is incapable of pretending

That his great-great-grandfather, or his

Wife’s third cousin or his

Best friend’s mother’s older sister’s

Husband’s great aunt’s brother

Died peacefully in his sleep like he should have

We must all try to forgive the Average Jew his weakness

That he cannot be other enough

To say look, it wasn’t me

It wasn’t anyone I knew personally…

Which, of course, was the argument

Favored by those who

By their silence, were accessories to the crime

Who never got the memo about standing by

While your brother’s blood is shed

But if nothing else

It was almost seventy years ago

And therefore, lo mishaneh

Is it that important to his identity?

“To my identity?” he’ll say

“Who said anything about identity?

You think because I can wake up in the morning

And say ‘I’m Jewish and I know I’m Jewish,

And this thought, ‘I’m Jewish,’ isn’t occurring at the same time

As any thoughts like

‘You know, for centuries our people were slaughtered…

For a while we thought it was over, and then it happened again’

You think that has anything to do with remembering?”

“Would you say that to your grandmother?” he’ll ask

“You know Grandma, I’m sorry you died

But because we never really talked

After you had that stroke when I was thirteen

I find that in my day-to-day life

Your state of existence is really irrelevant to my ‘identity’

I mean, I haven’t chosen to define myself by it

So please forgive me for forgetting about you

And all the stories you told me when I was a kid

About Grandpa and what Dad was like as a teenager”

The Average Jew will tell you it’s the worst kind of narcissism

Because it’s not only selfish, it’s callous

And his Imma raised him better

And he’s right

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