Not A Joking Matter

January 2, 2014
BY Marc Shapiro

shaprio_marc_smSomething quite astounding happened at a recent gig with Humanoise, the Baltimore-based band in which I play lead guitar.

We were at Frazier’s on the Avenue in Hampden, set to go on a little after 11 p.m. When a group of people in green shirts on a pub crawl asked us if they could sing a Christmas carol before our set, we told them to go for it. While Humanoise is mostly Jewish — our singer is half-Jewish — we were all about letting some new friends spread some holiday joy, especially with music.

Most of the group came up on stage, and the young woman who took the microphone thanked the bartenders. And then she made a terrible joke.

She said something like: “If anybody didn’t tip you well, they’re not related to me. We’re not Jews.”

We’re not Jews!

The entire crowded bar that had been alive with conversation all night gasped and fell silent. My jaw dropped as I looked at my bandmates in amazement. I think we were all too shocked to cut her mic off.

After a few lines of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” that even her friends were too shocked to sing with her, we told the group to get off stage so we could quickly pick up the mood with our music.

Several of our friends, some Jewish and some not, were booing very loudly during the brief carol. The pub crawlers were soon kicked out of the bar after almost getting into a fight with those same friends.

When we write about anti-Semitism in the Jewish Times, it’s not often this overt and in our own backyards. This young woman might not even be an anti-Semite, in her semi-drunk state she may have legitimately been trying to make a joke.

What concerns me is how she just went for it, throwing out “we’re not Jews” like it was just another part of a normal conversation.

I don’t think anti-Semitism will ever go away until even casual pokes at Jewish stereotypes are crushed, and I’m sure getting kicked out of the bar gave that woman something to think about.

I know I’ve re-examined my own self-deprecating Jewish humor since this incident. I wonder if I, in some way, contribute to stereotypes like this one falling into the wrong microphone-holding hands.

We played our full show, and we played it well. We had to. But outside of persevering in the face of anti-Semitism, it’s important that we reflect on the things we say in jest in our own community and what small role they might be playing in incidents such as this one.

I just hope the jokester will also reflect.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter
mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

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