We Are Not That Different


“Don’t be a shanda fur di goyim!” Many of us heard that admonition on a regular basis.  According to Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, “To be a shanda for the goyim is to confirm the most hurtful stereotypes, thereby doing damage twice: a Jew who dishonors Jews by not only doing something bad, but doing something that confirms the worst fears of others about Jews in general.”  Who was the ultimate shanda, who brought upon us the most shame?  The usual answer is Roy Cohn, but that is up for each person to decide.

The lesson was that we might be the first Jew that someone has ever met and that in that moment we would be representing more than ourselves, which is important, but an entire people, which is a lot of pressure. I have thought about this throughout my life.  And I have wondered whether or not I was doing my best.

Aretha Franklin’s funeral was televised on Friday.  I have XM in the car and heard some of the CNN broadcast as I was running errands that afternoon.  The music, much of it Gospel, was amazing and heartfelt.  Technically, this wasn’t a funeral.  Reverend Jesse Jackson pointedly said that it wasn’t a party.  It was a Celebration, a Homegoing.

Reverend Al Sharpton came to the podium as I turned onto Mayfield Road. He spoke for eleven minutes.  Here is the link.  I sat in a parking lot until he was finished.  If he talked for twenty minutes, I would have stayed in my car that much longer.  He was only a teenager he first met Aretha Franklin.  He knew Aretha Franklin and he truly respected her.

At the very beginning of his eulogy, Reverend Sharpton said:

She never shamed us. She never disgraced us. She never made us make excuses for her. She represented the best in our community. And she fought for our community until the end.

I heard that, driving in my car, and thought about how alike we are. Especially minorities.  I’m sure our friends in the Muslim community worry when there is a bombing, like Oklahoma City in 1995, that they will be the initial suspects.  Our Italian friends must tire of the term Mafia bandied about to describe almost any group of criminals.  I know that when I see a news report of a lawyer or financial planner’s criminal behavior I rush to read the article in hopes that the criminal won’t be named Goldberg or Cohen.  I wouldn’t want him to be a shanda fur di goyim.

And there was Aretha Franklin, known by royalty and presidents.  She didn’t just represent herself, her record label, her family, or even just Detroit.  She represented an entire people.  And she did it well.  And she made them proud.

And we aren’t all that different. And perhaps all we can hope for is that we will one day be judged as adequate representatives.