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December 7, 2011

Worrying about religion can be a real shame

Montgomery. AL — I was a young guy, so you know this happened a very long time ago.

I was working as a security guard in a big building in New Jersey, and I got to be fairly friendly with the head of the custodial crew that cleaned the place.

He was a decent blue-collar guy, so one night I was surprised to hear him say something blatantly anti-Semitic. When I called him on it, he said he had only known one Jew, and he was a horrible so-and-so.

I asked him if that meant that all Jews are terrible people.

He reiterated what a blot on humankind this fellow was, so it stood to reason that all Jews were like that.

"Let's assume," I said to him, "that everything you say about this Jew is true. He's a complete S.O.B."

He nodded, pleased that I conceded his initial point.

"OK," I asked, "have you ever known a Christian who was a rotten person?"

He said "Sure."

"Well," I said, "does that mean all Christians are lousy people?"

I can still see the surprise in his eyes as they got wider. He was honestly re-examining his prejudice. He saw how unfair it was to judge an entire people by one miserable character.

"You know," he said, "I never thought of it that way. But I damn sure will from now on."

I believed him. Like I said, he was a decent guy.

That long-ago conversation served to feed into what I'm certain is an irrational practice prevalent in most ethnic groups but developed into an art form by somewhat neurotic Jews like me.

If I hear about someone doing something particularly awful or _ for that matter _ splendid, I check.

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