Brought To You By The Letter “S”

hey kids!

it’s time for another open letter! yaaay! yaaay!

gather around now, we’re gonna talk about the “s-word”.  y’know,  “schvartze”.  or  “schwartze”. or “schvatza”.  or “nigger”.  whoop! i meant “shwartzer”. [because it’s a completely different word, y’know.]

theres a quiz on facebook—the “jewish vocabulary quiz”—which includes this wholesome gem of a question: “your father comments on all the “schvatzes” that have moved into the area. he is reffrring [sic] to: 1-conservatives, 2- mexicans, 3- non jews,  4-african americans.”  it got me fairly boiled-up until i happened across an article by rabbi yitzchok adlerstein [“on racism, its costs and its causes”-12/10/08] in which he discusses the “s-word”.  among the comments on the article were the following:

*i disagree with rabbi adlerstein’s tendentious assessments of the terms “goy” and “shvartzeh”. his assertion that such terminology is pejorative is incorrect. these words are totally neutral. (“goy” and “goyim” are biblical terms which mean either “gentile” or “gentile nations” or “nation.” the noun/adjective “shvartzeh” means either black or black african american in yiddish. there is no other word available in yiddish to express that idea.)*

*perhaps the clergyman is confusing these innocuous terms with the notorious “n” word in english, which should definitely not be used by civilized people. his objections to the aforementioned hebrew and yiddish vocabulary have, on the other hand, no validity.  such comments fall under the category of inappropriate political correctness—and i would urge that we eschew such folly.*

*surprise! i know exactly what the clergyman stated; nevertheless, he is mistaken. the erroneous contention is that the words in question have a proper etymology but their current usage is improper. gentlemen, this is precisely the argument which i contest as an accomplished linguist. please pay attention. educated people use these words correctly without any pejorative connotations. my point is that their proper usage should be encouraged. it is myopic to advocate the elimination of these appropriate vocabulary words. (that is censorship which you ought to deplore.) we need more education without “politically correct” euphemisms. by the same token, i hereby argue: we must continue to use the term “goy” and we must continue to use the term “shvartzeh” correctly as these words are and should be understood in their pristine neutral sense. (it should also be emphasized that these terms are used properly by intellectual speakers of yiddish and hebrew. therefore, learn from the intellectuals in this particular context.)*

*rabbi adlerstein is wrong about the hebrew and yiddish words he cites. those vocabulary words (shvartzeh and goy) are appropriate and neutral. modern cynics have to become more tolerant and accept the fact that enlightened and educated people use those words properly.*

after reading these comments i, on behalf of all black ppl everywhere [b/c apparently im the default ambassador for every black person on the face of the planet in all other cases anyway], us black ppl would like to say: we give up. you’re right.

see, we had no idea that all us  jews live in countries ruled by philosopher kings and that only intellectuals live there and hold dialogue and that, apparently, words in this magical kingdom are immune to the ravages of things like “context” and “intent”. and that despite the neutral original meaning of words, apparently they are incapable of taking on insulting connotations.  we now realize that when those of us [un]lucky enough to have gone to yeshiva were called “schvartze” instead of our given names, what was really meant was “hello you person i am neutrally and non-perjoratively addressing right now”. wow. that’s egg on our face, right?

also, to that linguistics guy up there, we also apologize for not knowing that slang and code-switching doesn’t exist in your happy magical country either. [for those who don’t know, “code-switching” is when someone speaks primarily in one language, but occasionally sprinkles in words from a different language for certain things. like when ppl speak in spanglish.] and as we all know, whenever someone uses slang or code-switching to describe someone of a different gender/sexual orientation/religion/race than themselves, its always in a neutral and non-perjorative manner. like maricon. or bitches. or gaijin. or kushi. or kike. or falasha.or mick. or guinea…hmm…i guess none of those examples are proving my point. oh well. but you get what im saying.

in fact, we propose a campaign to issue a general and blanket dismissal of all silly sensibilities based on implications and usage. as such, i will start wearing a swastika to knesset/synagogue.


i mean, surely civilized ppl can tell you that the swastika is nothing more than a neutral symbol which symbolizes good luck, wealth and good fortune. just b/c it happened to be used by the nazis in wwii doesn’t take away from what its meaning actually is, right? hell, i’ll prolly even name my kid adolf hitler. why not? “adolf” is a good strong name. means “noble wolf” and everything. and “hitler”? “one who lives in a hut”. c’mon, nothing’s more neutral than a guy who lives in a hut.

…actually, yeah. now that i think about it, that is pretty f*cking stupid logic.


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26 thoughts on “Brought To You By The Letter “S”

  1. As I said before, I don’t identify myself as “white” – although others might. I’m Jewish, and the people who have great “pride” about being “white” hate me as much as any other “non-white”.

    I just wonder, why is it “cute” or “funny” for some of African descent to call white people “cracker, honky, pasty, casper” and other such terms – but it’s horribly offensive to reciprocate with any term at all?

    I’m so scared of getting fired from work or shunned from society, I can’t even say the word niggun anymore! (at least in the Ashkenazi way of pronouncing it)

    [A niggun is a song w/out words, often sung in Chassidic and other Jewish gatherings. I know the author is aware of this, but some other readers may not be.]

    Even worse – only black people can use offensive terms to describe other black people. I was laughing soooo hard when Chris Rock described the differences between “black people and n_____s”

    It’s a hilarious bit – and if I got up on stage, and said it word for word, inflection for inflection, I’d likely be arrested on hate crime charges.

    Again – to my mind, the whole concept of grouping by skin color or even “racial cultural experience” is useless and ultimately damaging to society.

    However, should one group have license to offend, but not another? Is that equality?


    1. its not about a “license” to offend. i am just as against the frivolous and conversation use of the “n-word” among african americans. however, i am annoyed by the fact that aside from denying that “schvartze” is even offensive at ALL, many jews actually ADVOCATE its use.


  2. Hi there.

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  3. Not understanding the tirade. You can’t change the minds of people who don’t want to change. So what if someone called you schwartze? You are giving them the power to affect you? You want to counter act someone’s stupidity then you ask them, are you commenting on my melanin content, because if you are, you’re mental! Let Rabbis think it is okay to label someone by their skintone and let HaShem do what HaShem does best. It isnt up to you nor I to teach someone that is a fellow Jew to be a “fellow Jew” if he should act like your cousin and not your brother then distance yourself as such.


    1. wow.
      i am eternally grateful that nat turner, sojourner truth, harriet tubman, malcom x, ghandi, susan b anthony and every activist the world over didn’t think like you. fighting racism is about standing up and fighting for your culture and race to be afforded the same respect as any other. it is NOT about sticking your head under your pillow and hoping it all goes away b/c “what’s the point”? and yes, it IS up to you or i to teach a fellow jew to be a fellow jew, b/c we have a duty a jews to reprimand our fellow jews when they are committing sins.


      1. And are you Jewish or are you black. Why don’t you speak about our sages. Why are you speaking only of non jews of color? Are you confused about your identity. Do you feel 100 percent Jewish. A true Jew is nothing more or less than a Jew. Not a Jewish American, Not A Christian Jew, not a Reform Wew, Simply a JEW.


  4. We have a duty not to judge our fellow Jew. Why do you keep putting down the one group that resurrected Judaism. I am pretty sure your family would have never converted had it not been an “White” Jew as you call it!


  5. And I am glad I didn’t have the same mentality as Malcom X! I am me, and I am okay with focusing on mitzvahs that can be accomplished. The way you address black jewish culture is defensive, and comes from an angry place. Like I said before, your mentality can not seep into the minds of those who do not want to change. Want to lead by example, you show them what a Good jew is. You demand respect for your positive contributions to jewish society. Not to your rants and judgments.


    1. “We have a duty not to judge our fellow Jew”
      -sure. but there’s also such a thing as a concept called “mussar”. and what better month to hear it than in elul?
      “Why do you keep putting down the one group that resurrected Judaism. I am pretty sure your family would have never converted had it not been an “White”
      Jew as you call it!”

      -judaism never died. and im missing the part where i said my family converted. im sorry that im NOT ethiopian, but still african-american and jewish, and dont fit into your box.
      “And are you Jewish or are you black. Why don’t you speak about our sages. Why are you speaking only of non jews of color? Are you confused about your
      identity. Do you feel 100 percent Jewish.A true Jew is nothing more or less than a Jew”

      -i think even the most cursory glance through any of my blogs answers this question. and i was speaking about activists. which our sages were not.
      “Want to lead by example, you show them what a Good jew is. You demand respect for your positive contributions to jewish society. Not to your rants and

      -positive contributions are fine, but what makes change is action. african-americans [if its okay with you if i use them as an example, of course] have been “positively contributing” to american society since slavery. when did change come? the civil rights marches. the civil rights riots. activist after activist “ranting” and “judging”. did you come to this blog b/c i was quietly “positively contributing” or “ranting” and “judging”? leading by example only works if ppl are paying attention.


      1. I have a problem with you saying our sages were not activists. Did they not die as strong men refusing to stand their ground on their beliefs? I would love to have seen if MALCOM X would be put in a Torah scroll and not in the least bit attempt suicide. Take back what you said. You obviously spent more time not learning about JEWISH history.

        As much as African Americans HAD positively contributed to American Society, as of late there are been more negative than positive. Such as: Not being happy with natural features, condoning crimes and inhumanity through music, using the government to burden society, hurting people physically, drugs, underground illegal activities, etc. For every positive contribution to african AMERICAN society you can mention, I can mention more than twice that amount for negative reputations in the AA community.

        And for the FYI, I am not attacking how you use words via blog to establish a point. I am contesting to the content.

        Granted Jewish Americans and Israeli Jews are also perpetuating negative associations with Judaism i.e. Organized Crime, Fraud, Superficiality, Drugs as well, cheating on spouses,MO jewish women known to easy (lamens terms), and gay men marrying into heterosexual jewish marriages…

        But that is why contributing positively does work. Positivity stops society in its sinful tracks for a short time, but an existence time nonetheless. Could you imagine if a black jew did something so mind changing, so righteous for humanity? People would see him as a JEW that contributed to society. Now imagine an opposite scenario, a black jew yelling at the topic of his lungs, refusing to move from a shul that doesn’t accept him, yelling because he isn’t accepted at minyan.


      2. to anon,
        accepting divinely ordained punishment and fighting man-made injustice are two separate things. our sages were martyrs, not activists. the two concepts are parallel, but not always perpendicular. also, not sure about your focus on the negatives of african-americans when as you’ve stated, the same can be said of jewish americans. what was your point exactly? and history has shown when a jew contributes to society, its usually his country of residence which gets the credit, not his judaism: “so-and-so the frenchman” “so-and-so the american”. lastly, surprisingly enough, i have no interest in pursuing a who’s-more-jewish-or-more-black pissing contest with a faceless anonymous over the internet person who ultimately has no impact on my life. since im not understanding your tirade, i suggest you take your own initial piece of advice about changing ppls minds .


  6. I want to thank you for writing this – my brother has taken up using the term “schvartzes” and it makes my skin crawl, but I’m a n00b when it comes to anti-racism and you have been far more eloquent on this subject than I could be.


  7. I would like to address anon particularly on the comment about not being allowed to walk around om stage syaing the n word. Ok… Let me break it down for you in simple terms you will understand. Do you understand the history of the use of this word in america? Do you understand that a word associated with the enslavement, disenfranchisement, and murder and torture and destruction of the black family unit just might be a little bit offensive? Particularly by ppl that bear a striking resemblance to the oppressors of that awful time in american history… Think about it. And why would a white person want to say it so so bad? Is it a desirable term like schwartze, cushi, moulie and the like? And i love that you seem to feel that all black jews are converts, as we know all the biblical stories took place in russia, germany and most of europe. Gimme a f@cking break!


    1. aside from the fact that its almost never important to include the race of a person in a story [does it matter that it was an old ASIAN lady? did she do anything particularly asian while being old? then why is it important to include that she’s asian?] and when it IS included it’s ususally to mark the ethnicity in a disparaginmg light, i’ll answer your question with a question. if two dog owners are having a conversation about a female dog, what terminology should they use?


      1. Couldn’t be simpler. If two human companions are talking about a female Canine-American animal companion,they just call her a bitch.


  8. Code switching. Interesting, I didn’t know that was what it was called. As a BT, nothing makes me feel more like an idiot and less a part of the community of observant Jews than having to endure a discussion where every fifth word is Hebrew. And they’re always the important words, the ones which give the discussion real meaning, and the understanding of which everyone takes for granted.

    As to the rest of it, you’re absolutely right. It’s idiocy. Clueless People Are Clueless. I myself am occasionally profoundly clueless. I wish people were more open to being told, “You know, that thing you just said, that was super racist.” and that they were also willing to hear those words instead of arguing or justifying themselves. But that was a hard one for me to get past myself. Nobody wants to think of themselves as racist or about privilege. I think maybe in the Jewish community, because of history and feeling set apart, we think that we ‘get it’, that we know what it is like, so we are automatically above it. But we aren’t. It isn’t a unifying or uniform experience. I do not understand what it would be like to grow up as a person of color in any context. I understand is what it feels like to be a white Jewish kid getting beat up by other white Baptist kids in a hick town because I am a “Christ Killer.” I don’t get to take my experience and think it gives me a window on yours. I think sometimes that sense of ourselves as a historically oppressed people makes us feel like we have license to… I don’t know, downplay or minimize the experience of other people within the Jewish community and outside of it. These are just thoughts. Mileage varies.


  9. Amazing blog! Manishtana, you have tremendous courage. That people seem to be spending a great deal of time anonymously attacking the fact that you are are trying to educate people demonstrates the need for such education. Racist behavior on the part of Jews is a Chillul Hashem. Period.
    I was directed towards your site by Aliza Hausman. I’m a grad student in Social Work at Yeshiva University, and I’m writing a scholarly paper on Jews of color. Discrimination within the MO community is a big issue for me. Would you be willing to answer a few questions via e-mail?


  10. wow. WOW!! Brilliant post. Your comments are AMAZING! I could not hold back my anger if I was you. My jaw was literally gaping open at Anon’s posts. wow. WOW dude wow. I don’t even know what to say on that one. But you already did so I’ll move on.

    People don’t get this dude. I’ve had the same conversations (pretty much) and they insist that old people don’t mean anything by it, they use it as a descriptive word or as a negative one. Well that’s only a little confusing… Plus the fact that you can say “Ok well, its not appreciated, could you please not?” They don’t get it. I don’t even care how they mean it, the day they say it in front of my kids they are getting their teeth knocked out.

    Your brain is delicious. Thank you for existing! 🙂


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