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Friday, October 18, 2013

A Short Real Life "Gentlemen's Agreement"

One of the greatest in film classics is the incomparable "Gentlemen's Agreement" starring  Gregory Peck. The gist of the movie is the experiences a non-Jew has pretending his is Jewish.
Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck) is a widowed journalist who has just moved to New York City with his son Tommy (Dean Stockwell) and mother (Anne Revere). Green meets with magazine publisher John Minify (Albert Dekker), who asks Green, a gentile, to write an article on antisemitism ("some people don't like other people just because they're Jews"). He's not very enthusiastic at first, but after initially struggling with how to approach the topic in a fresh way, Green is inspired to adopt a Jewish identity ("Phil Greenberg") and writes about his first-hand experiences. Green and Minify agree to keep it secret that Phil is not Jewish; since he and his family are new to New York, it should be easy to hide.
Just recently a non-Jewish man in Sweden tried the same thing for just a few hours.  All he did was to wear a kippah, Jewish head covering.  He didn't invent a false Jewish identity like the movie character.  All he did was to walk around the city with a kippah.
After a discomfiting few hours walking the streets, becoming the object of stares and insults, Reilly concluded: “As an Irish person abroad I’ve never felt remotely threatened but wearing the kippah for a few hours was enough to instill feelings of fear. Even when I didn't feel afraid I was made to feel different and unwelcome.”
This was a very different approach from the movie's Jewish identity.  In a way it's more frightening.  Patrick Reilly became a magnet for antisemitic abuse without even having to open his mouth to say anything or ask for something.  The people of Malmo, Sweden made it clear that anything or anyone who could be perceived as Jewish weren't welcome.

The movie's Gregory Peck character was offered acceptance if he would only drop his Jewish identity, which couldn't be perceived superficially.  If he hadn't offered the admittance of that Jewish identity, nobody would have guessed it. No doubt, especially in 1947 when the film was made, wearing a kippah in almost all areas of the United States would have caused antisemitic reactions.  Those were the days when Torah Observant Jews wore "caps" and hats outdoors if anything.  It was only in the 1960's when one began to see kippot  in Jewish neighborhoods.  Black pride had an effect also on Jewish pride.

Periodically I see articles recommending that Jewish men not wear kippot in various places in the world. These are called "safety/security" recommendations.  When we were in London on shlichut during the middle 1970's most of the Torah Observant men wore caps and hats in public, even in the large Jewish neighborhoods.  Only the Israelis and the young Zionists we taught made a point of walking around with a kippah.  My husband got himself a "cap" for his trip to the USSR, because he was on a discreet mission and had instructions not to be recognizably Jewish.

What is the situation where you are or have been recently?  Please share and comment, thanks.


Anonymous said...

Shalom Batya...
Well, we are not Jewish, but ger. My children have experienced some of this at the school they attend... because of the Love of the Jew they have...they are experiencing some of the hatred from other kids.

Even trying to live a modest life you get stares and pretty rude remarks from people that you thought were friends... When they learn you're living a much different lifestyle you used to live it opens the door for criticism... which DOES make it a bit scary at times... We can't even imagine the horror all of You have experienced from the world over the past 3,000 years.

Thank You, Israel... for your dedication to HaShem... for all the world. There ARE many out there that dearly love you Israel, for no other reason than that you follow HaShem.

Anonymous said...

very true what anon. wrote. all one has to do is speak well of the j people, and suddenly we get the brunt of the worst. so even in western countries i have friends who dont say they are noahides aloud. only among close and trust worthy friends. i just cant begin to imagine what our people have put you all through.

i feel nothing can be compared to the sufferings of the j people. and the progroms against them. it seems popular today to call the aggressor the victim.

sara g said...

batya, i just want to mention that the movie (which i never saw) is based on the excellent novel of the same name, by Laura Z. Hobson.

Batya said...

a and rainbow, choosing a different life is much more complicated. Becoming Jewish requires joining a Jewish community. Do Noahides have large communities any place?

sara g, thanks I forgot that part of it. The movie is much more well-known.

Anonymous said...

Batya... actually where we live there's only two... families we know of... and we try to stay connected to Israeli Rabbis for Teaching... It's a community that goes back to the 40's way of thinking...yikes!!

We're doing as much as possible for us right now... we are married women with children still at home. That's not too clear, but ... it's best we can do right now.

Shabbat Shalom...

Batya said...

a, good luck; It must be so hard.
Where are you?

Anonymous said...

i am annie...

Batya said...

annie, good luck to you