Contact Form

    News Details

    Senior Moments: Some early lessons in prejudice and bigotry
    • October 22, 2023

    “Girl Jews are not as bad as boy Jews,” he told me in a knowing tone. 

    I was in the fourth grade at Willard Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia, when a classmate uttered this. He had only just learned that I was Jewish. Jews were a small minority in my suburban town in the 1950s, and even smaller at my school. I was the only one in my class. 

    My mother, a New York transplant, had kept me home from school for Yom Kippur. She had been shocked to learn that the schools were not closed for the Jewish holidays as they had always been in New York. 

    It was my absence on that day that signaled my ethnic affiliation to my schoolmates  – neither my name nor my physical appearance had up until then made me a target of the derogatory words often directed at Jewish people. 

    But when I returned to school after the holiday antisemitism hit me squarely in the face. Only I didn’t realize it at the time.The sobering power of my classmate’s words put me immediately on the defensive. My first reaction was relief that he still wanted to be friends because I was, in his estimation, “not that bad.“

    I didn’t understand yet that what seemed like a simple phrase was actually a big sign that read, “You’re not one of us.” Ergo, you are not good enough to be one of us.

    And so I learned at an early age, how it felt not to be included. At an age when I so desperately wanted to be included that, for a brief moment, I was grateful just to be tolerated.

    That I could even have such a thought taught me how prejudice seeks to diminish the people on the receiving end. I saw firsthand how it can sow seeds of doubt. One minute I was perfectly fine, and the next I was “not that bad.”

    It was about a 20-minute walk home from my school through a grassy field with lots of trees, sort of a mini forest. Most of the time I walked with friends. But on this day I had stayed after school for a Brownie meeting. I was likely the only Jewish girl in my Brownie troop though I never thought about it at the time.  

    So I was walking alone when I saw an older boy who I recognized as someone who acted strangely but none of us knew why. We tended to quicken our steps when he was about. 

    I didn’t know the term ‘developmental disability’ and would not until I was an adult. I never knew his name, why he didn’t go to our school or why he walked the woods alone. 

    I only knew that I was afraid of him because he was different. 

    He never talked to me or approached me. After that, I would take a different route home if I was alone. Thus, I found myself on the other side of prejudice, being the perpetrator as ignorance manifested into fear. 

    Perspective is one of the great benefits of growing older.Email [email protected]. Follow her on X @patriciabunin and

    Related Articles

    Things To Do |

    Enlisting a friend to spread the word that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

    Things To Do |

    A sucker for Shakespeare, I can’t wait to see these ‘Leading Ladies’

    Things To Do |

    Senior Moments: Trying to put my finger on a mysterious problem

    Things To Do |

    Senior Moments: Keeping the family stories alive

    ​ Orange County Register