Tag Archives: nonfiction

Barbara Drucker Smith Reminisces

PREJUDICE

In the 1930’s there was a sign at the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach that read, “No dogs or Jews allowed.” In 1942, I was in the second grade at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Newport News, Virginia. One day in early December, I started singing a Christmas Carol in class along with my classmates. My teacher stopped the singing and reminded me in a loud voice how inappropriate for me to be singing Christmas Carols. I stopped singing, flushed with embarrassment to be spotted singing and to be singled out for it in front of my peers. I knew why she did this as she was Jewish and so was I.

A six-year-old classmate asked me to go with her to a service. I did and it was in a tent crammed with people. Taking center stage was a loud-voiced man giving a continuous damnation and hellfire sermon. When people were asked to come forward, my friend tried her best to drag me to the front to accept Jesus as my savior so that I would be saved. But I repeatedly refused which left her confused and me mortified at even being in the situation.

Another six-year-old friend invited me to go swimming at the James River Country Club.  I ran to get ready. Mother stopped me and said that the club is restricted. Jews are not welcome as members. I wanted to go anyway, but I did not go. Later in my teens, this same girl needed a ride to her tennis date at the same club. I drove her there wearing a
slack outfit. She was in a short white tennis outfit. As I let her out I felt left out knowing that I was not allowed or welcome to play on those courts.

One December, I got out of my first grade class and started walking home. An older boy started throwing stones at me and screaming “Jew, where are your horns”. I ran as fast as my feet would go and blocks later I no longer heard his voice so I looked around, saw no one, and slowed down to a trot. When I got to the curb near my home, I sat down. A car screeched to a halt just missing a dog by a hair. I put my hands in my lap and started crying partially for the dog being saved but mostly for my hurt feelings at the insults, stone throwing, chase, and overt prejudice of the older boy. I later learned that Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses in Italy does have horns. Michelangelo mistook the Hebrew word that means both sacred light and horns. The Hebrew text reads Moses’s head is surrounded by sacred light.

As a teen, I developed a camaraderie with a non-Jewish boy interested in folk music. He would play his guitar for hours on my front porch and I would sing the folk songs. He asked me out to go on a movie date. My parents refused to let me interdate. I was heartbroken. He felt hurt and could not understand why I wouldn’t go with him. This shows that prejudice is a two-way street. We ended up going to an every-Saturday-night ritual of musicians and artists that gathered at the home of a musical couple so that we could be part of a group that enjoyed music. We both took piano lessons from the same teacher. Eventually, our friendship petered out and we went our separate ways.

When I went to College, there was a quota system at many of the prestigious colleges … At my College only 10 per cent of the freshman class could be Jews.

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