I had never heard of Jew fishing until Friday, when my sister told me it was the latest manifestation of a recent bout of anti-semitism that has struck my nephew's sixth grade class.
That night, we went to the seventh grade service at Temple. The seventh grade studies the Holocaust in Hebrew School, and at the end of the year they run the Yom HaShoah service, during which they make presentations. M and her friend H did a presentation about the culpability of the pope (Pius XII) during the Holocaust. Another friend, J, did her presentation, the final one of the evening, on anti-semitism today. In it, she told the story of a friend of hers who was tormented by anti-semitic taunts and harassment in middle school, to the point that she started to hate being Jewish. One low point of her experience was when the kids started...Jew fishing.
My friend S was sitting next to me, and I said to her, "That is so weird, I never heard of Jew fishing until this afternoon, and here it is again." She said that when her older son was in middle school, the middle school where M and her younger son are currently in seventh grade, there was all sorts of anti-semitic activity...including Jew fishing.
I'm not distraught or aghast or even shocked. I know this kind of stuff goes on, even if I don't know the specifics. I am struck by the fact that I have actually never been the target of, or even been near, such direct, stereotyped harassment. My (very little) experience has been more along the lines of being the only Jew in the room and having people not know what to do with me, or having to intervene to protest generalized anti-semitic comments, at which point people are usually embarassed and backtrack and say things like "I had no idea you were Jewish," or "but I didn't mean you."
There is definitely anti-semitism in Town, both personal and political. I believe there was anti-semitic graffiti in the bathroom at M's school this year. But I asked her what she thought of S's description of her older son's experience, and she confidently scoffed it off. That wouldn't happen now, she said, because there are so many Jewish kids.
This is, in fact, only relatively true. There were three or four Jewish kids per grade in the classes that are now in high school. M's seventh grade, in contrast, has, by her account, maybe 15 or 20. This, for the girl who was the only Jew in her school through most of elementary school, is a lot. I pointed out, though, that if she were in Jewish Suburb, or Other Jewish Suburb, it would be more like 60% (I pulled that number out of my head, but you can imagine, if I call the place Jewish Suburb, how Jewish it might be).
Nevertheless, small though they may seem, numbers bespeak power. M also pointed out that two boys in her Hebrew school carpool are among the most popular boys in her grade. While she and these boys have their issues, when push comes to shove, they are her homies. If she told them that anyone had messed with her about being Jewish, she said, they would go after the kids, and I think she's right.
Still, it makes me sad that we even need to have the conversation.