Of Ferguson and Forgetting

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There is an old Yiddish joke which hinges on the similarity between the Yiddish word “fergessen” and the English name Ferguson.   The punch line is dependent on knowing that the Yiddish word “fergessen” means “forgetting”.  The joke isn’t all that funny, and you won’t get it if you are under sixty- the point is that the horrific events in Ferguson MO reminded me that we Jews are often in danger of forgetting that the African American experience has been fundamentally different than ours.  American Jews are fond of pointing out that our experiences are similar, but this is not really so.  My ancestors were slaves in Egypt, not in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.  My relatives may have come over in steerage, but were not treated like actual steer.  The other day I was in my gym, which is primarily African American in membership.  A bunch of us were watching the television images of young men and women holding up their hands in Ferguson as heavily armed police approached them with assault weapons.  I was disturbed, but they watched the screen with an intensity that I could not begin to match.  To be an African American, particularly male, in America today is to be in a fundamentally precarious position that the rest of us cannot imagine.

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