Thursday, June 01, 2006

Jews and Muslims on 1980’s Northern Virginia playgrounds

(A further response to the comment I got on my last post asking about this.)

Jewish kids were common, in fact I live very close to one of the bigger synagogues in my area. As a kid, I was aware that Jews existed and that they didn’t believe in Jesus and that Jesus was one. I remember thinking that Jews were basically Presbyterians who didn’t believe in Jesus, while Catholics were something totally different and strange. We sung Christian, Jewish and Kwanzaa songs in our Holdiay program at school.

I never recall any non-Christian kid getting made fun of explicitly about their faith, though a girl did once tell a Jewish girl on the playground that she was going to hell. There weren’t any teachers around, but I’m pretty sure the teachers would have stopped that.

There was a girl from Iraq in my grade who wore a headscarf. I don’t recall her getting made fun of for it, though I can’t swear it didn’t happen. I assumed she wore it because she was from Iraq and that’s how people from the Middle East were always dressed in my textbook, much like how I would have thought nothing if a French girl wore a beret. In retrospect, she was probably Muslim. When I was a kid, Islam was mostly something I learned about in World Cultures class. I remember hearing that Muslims saw Christians as “people of the book” and respected them, so I recall thinking Muslims sounded pretty okay to me, but it never occurred to me that I knew one.

By the time I got to high school, my friend Adam had taken to announcing himself “Hi, I’m Adam, your big Jewish friend!” and there was an Arab student league in my high school that put out a flyer of suggestions for helping your friends celebrate Ramadan. As I went to mitvahs and sensed the warmth and solidarity that presbyterian kids just didn't feel, it became clear that being part of the minority was a big part of how these kids defined themselves. It helped them figure out who they were and to be honest, my high school self envied it, so much so that I went to a few services at the synagogue. But I didn’t fit in there either.

So no, I didn’t hear nearly as many jokes about Jews and Muslims, or even Mormons. Mostly, it was Catholics and other types of Protestants, particularly those in denominations assumed to be of a lower social class.

Maybe I’m wrong and as the commenter implies, I’m deluding myself. But that’s how I remember it.

CC

4 comments:

Paul said...

You won't see a lot of Arabs and Jews together today and it is only getting worse due to Muslim fanaticism.

Epilonious said...

paul: I'd imagine you wouldn't see it in the middle east... but I don't know what would prevent it in America...

I guess one of my mom's favorite anecdotes was involving my brother's friends, one Japanese, one Korean... and they all got along. My mom (an anthropologist) was sort of taken aback and wanted to almost say "How can you two be friends? Don't you realize that you hate each other?"

I wouldn't say most muslims are going to be rooted in fanatacism as much as the confusing semi-materialistic popularity contest that is American childhood.

The Happy Feminist said...

Proud alumna of Fairview Elementary and Oakview Elementary in Fairfax, Virginia circa the mid to late 70s. We had plenty of Jewish kids and I remember one kid from Iran, whom I assume was probably Muslim. Never heard any anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic jokes, not even during the Iran hostage crisis. I remember some kids staging a protest against Khomeini (which I believe involved "Khomeini sucks" and which I remember thinking seemed kind of stupid, because I don't think Khomeini really cared what a bunch of 3rd graders thought). But there was not even a whiff of anti-Islamic sentiment.

LaReinaCobre said...

I went to junior high school for only a few months, but in the time I was there I never experienced any problems (that I know of). The school was largely Italian and Irish, with a significant Jewish population. I'm pretty sure I was the only Muslim there, and I regularly talked to my Jewish classmates without any problems.

Years later when I would visit my Muslim friends on the Berkeley campus, there was a lot of anti Zionism sentiment among the Muslims, and a lot of pro Zionist sentiment among the Jews, so there was a lot of conflict there. Lots of "demonstrations."

It wasn't until I was 18 or so that I really started hearing anti Jewish sentiments from peers.