Her hand is on my arm. It’s not a light touch, but more a gentle grip, a weight upon the area just above my wrist. Is she offering me reassurance, I wonder? Or comfort? Or does she fear, somewhere in the deep recesses of her unconscious, that I might take a swing at her?
I glance at my husband, who sits across from me. We are guests at his aunt and uncle’s house. We sit around their dinner table. Tomorrow we will ski using the equipment they have so graciously offered to loan us. My boys, ages seven and six, can’t wait—nor can they wait for dessert, as they have already scarfed down their slivers of chicken and tiny bits of broccoli and are making faces at each other.
But it’s not time for dessert yet. And so she talks—this kind woman who does charity work and bakes delicious apple pies. She talks about the new BJ’s Wholesale store nearby, in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.
“Before it opened, the Jewish women in town all complained about the store,” she says. “That it would take up too much space, create too much traffic. And then, well of course, who goes running there the minute it opens? They do!”
Her is hand on my arm. She glances at me.
“Of course I don’t mean you, dear,” she says.
She doesn’t mean me.
I am not a cheap Jew
The fire in the fireplace snaps loudly and I sit there, a dumb smile on my face, the smell of apple pie getting stronger. This has happened to me before: someone makes a derogatory comment about Jews or an anti-Semitic joke and I simply disappear. Even though another part of me wants to speak up, to condemn this blasphemy. At 45 years old, I’m ashamed, tired of my silence. My fear.
I imagine myself now boldly yet calmly saying to the aunt: “Do you know that my father’s sister and my great grandparents were gassed at Auschwitz because of remarks like yours?”
But my children are at the table.
But I’m overreacting.
But they are letting us stay at their house.
But we are borrowing their ski equipment.
But that wouldn’t be polite dinner conversation.
And so I continue smiling like an idiot, her hand resting securely on my arm as though we are buddies, collaborators.