laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jul 3 23:44:07 UTC 2002
>My father (a gentile) worked as a lifeguard at the Jewish Community Center
>in Des Moines in his late teens or early 20s. He once heard one of his
>younger charges mutter to another one, "What's HE doin' here? He ain't no
>Hebe!" I always assumed this was a normal self-reference among Jewish
>youth at that time and place, but I suppose it could have been an
>appropriation of a derogatory term used by gentiles at the time.
I never encountered "Hebe" growing up, anymore than "M.O.T.", and of
course "Hebrew" had the opposite (euphemistic) value.
But I did experience an interesting misunderstanding once in Paris,
when my (very much non-Jewish, and no doubt bigoted) French landlady
asked me apropos of nothing whether I was "israëlite". Never having
heard the word, I processed it as 'Israeli', and said that no, I was
américain. Only later did I realize she was asking (euphemistically)
if I were Jewish. Not that I'm sure I'd have answered honestly even
if I'd realized what she was asking me... Since then I believe I've
encountered "Israelite" as a fellow-euphemism of "Hebrew" (as in
"a(n) ... gentleman") to avoid referring to Jewishness directly.
Possibly somewhere in "Gentleman's Agreement" or some such cultural
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