My facebook friend on whose wall these jokes appeared wrote to me about this blog post. He was kind enough to send his thoughts on my blog post. I am eager to share his thoughts here, plus my reply. I'm also grateful that he gave me permission to share his thoughts.
You know, people talk a lot about "Polish-Jewish dialogue." All too often, that dialogue is limited to hard-core chauvinists on both sides. Neither Ben nor I is a hard-core chauvinist. I'm an average Jersey girl who happens to be the child of a Polish father. I gather from Ben's facebook posts that he lives close to me; we are both worried, today, about Hurricane Sandy. It is a very good thing that we have this opportunity for dialogue.
Ben Matis is a cantor, or hazzan. Here's Ben's message to me:
"I am sorry that the silly joking around about the name of a city was offensive. Krakow is a beautiful city and I loved it.
However, one can and one must sometimes choose to ignore stupid offensive things. For example, the little statues and pictures of stereotypical big nosed Hassidic looking Jews holding or counting money, for example, is really not nice. It's offensive. On the other hand, do I hold this stupidity as an example of what's wrong with Poland, or rather do I choose to visit Poland and see the incredible progress? Do I choose to see the progress of Poland's excellent relationship with Israel and the fact that I felt completely comfortable walking around Warsaw with a yarmulke on last Saturday, or should I consider this portrait of the Jew – and therefore me – as a sign of the everlasting anti-Semitism of the Polish people?
I don't think the Poles – in Poland – are any more anti-Semitic than any other nation in Europe. I'm sure, and you can be certain, that there is of course some anti-Semitism there, the same as there is plenty in the USA and Canada. The fact is that I choose to focus on the positive, and that I have come to love the country and the people I know there.
So, do you focus on the positive, Danusha, or do you choose to focus on the negative?"
In a follow-up post, Ben wrote:
"The important thing is that you print both the apology for the stupid comments as well as what I believe is the important message: that we sometimes have to overlook stupidity sometimes."
End of Ben's comments.
|Carved wooden figurines of Jews. Source
Ben – anyone reading this – where do I start.
I start here. Please read my book, "Bieganski."
People become angry at me when I say that. "Oh! So you just want to sell a book!"
Yes, yes, that's it. I realized what a fortune was to be made on sales of scholarly books about Polish-Jewish relations.
Okay, sarcasm off. But, since I'm Polish, the sarcasm is never off for long. (I think sarcastic humor is something Poles, Jews, and New York City area residents have in common.)
Again. Where to start.
Here. I am not an historian. I don't talk about Jedwabne or Katyn or the Statute of Kalisz. I am a words person. I am a stories person. How people use language; how people create narratives: That's what I study.
This is a key point in my argument: The Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype is pervasive in Western culture. It is NOT limited to any one ethnic group. I have said on this blog over and over and over, Stop blaming the Jews.
I say there here.
I say it here.
And I say it again and again in posts that talk about African Americans, and Catholics, and Germans, and Irish Americans who deploy the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype.
Here is a quote from my recent talk at University of Wisconsin, Madison:
"Where do you find the Bieganski, Brute Polak stereotype?
It is pervasive in American folk, popular, and elite culture.
It exists in jokes, of course.
In American elite journalistic and academic prose that purports to educate the public about serious world events like the Rwandan genocide, in museums, in elite websites that purport to educate the public about refined arts like poetry, in university classrooms, in academic prose devoted to Polish history, Bieganski is pervasive.
Bieganski is not just pervasive.
He is inescapable.
He is required.
If you mention Polish identity in any number of venues: a college classroom, a party, a political speech, a film, a discussion of poetry – if it is a lower strata venue, you make a Polak joke. If it is a higher strata venue, you invoke Bieganski. In American culture any mention of Polish identity is followed by Bieganski. It is obligatory
This book, and the blog devoted to the book adduce example after example after example after example.
This book cites articles in the New York Times, scholarly texts, blockbuster Hollywood films, paperback bestsellers, museums, including a museum in Poland, (the Museum of the History of Polish Jews) websites, peer reviewed, university press books, that all convey that Poles are Bieganski, dirty, low, essential troublemakers."
That's the first thing I want to communicate to people. That the Bieganski, brute Polak stereotype exists, and is part of the heritage of anyone who is part of Western Civilization.
The next step in the talk is to communicate to people why this stereotype matters to them. Why the Brute Polak stereotype matters to everyone.
Invite me to talk, and I'll try to convince you.
That's what those face book posts about Krakow = crack whore were to me. They were data. They were yet more evidence of what the book, and this blog, demonstrate.
How should we respond? I think Polonia should change this stereotype. I think it is our responsibility. I don't think we should write mean letters. I don't think we should hurt anyone. I don't think we should blame others. I make all that clear in the three-part series of blog posts entitled "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision."
As for the statuettes of Hasidic Jews to which Ben refers.
I have not studied these statues, or their purchase or application, and I am, therefore, not qualified to talk about what they mean to their carvers, purchasers, or owners. I've been to Poland five or so times (I lose count) and I lived there 1988-89, and I have not encountered many of the statues, and I've never stayed in a home where they were on display. I went with the KF summer sessions three times, and never saw one of those statues in a dorm room full of souvenirs.
I can say this much. They offend you. Since they offend you, I care, and I wish I could change the situation. I can't. I am open to hearing about any initiatives to change the situation. I would contribute what meager participation I could.
One more note. Ben, you talk about "progress." Do me a favor. Read what "Bieganski" says about the model of universal human progress, and how it has distorted discussion, and understanding, of the Holocaust, of Polish-Jewish relations, and of ethical questions.
Just a few facts for now. Poland was not a significant world site of anti-Semitism during the allegedly benighted Middle Ages. Poland was a significant world site of anti-Semitism during the allegedly advanced Enlightenment Era. Makes you think, no? Another fact. "Primitive" Catholic peasants like the Ulma family saved Jews. "Advanced" scientists like Josef Mengele destroyed Jews. How old are the words, "He who saves one life, saves the world entire;" how old are the words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and how true are these words? We don't need "progress." We need the Judeo-Christian ethical system, which is ancient, and which is righteous.