Wearing a yarmulke in New York City, as I did regularly as a kid and young adult, is not just an expression of pride and faith, but, as I often found, also an invitation for loudmouth anti-Semites to crawl out from under their rocks.
Growing up in Bensonhurst and later Flatbush, I was treated to some classic encounters: Being wished "Happy Hannukah" at all times of the year. A kid on a bicycle calling me and my brother a term that rhymes with "trucking blues."
A bit more creative was the fake sneeze with "Ah-Jew!" which I got from some teenage girls on a street in Marine Park. In the worst incident, a thug leaned into my window at a gas station after I backed up too close to his Beemer and tried to punch me because "youse Jews are always looking to sue people."
I'll keep my respective responses to these incidents to myself, but suffice it to say that I always figured that putting up with a minority of morons of this variety is an unpleasant byproduct of American society, the overwhelming majority of which are decent people. These incidents do not involve protected free speech, as such acts could be considered aggravated harassment, a criminal offense. But it never crossed my mind to call the cops.
It certainly never dawned on me to call the New York City Commission on Human Rights, as Tiffany MacIntosh recently did after a hairdresser allegedly left her a racist voice-mail message because of a canceled appointment. As the New York Times reports, the words are ugly enough to merit MacIntosh a $7,500 payment from the salon, which is run by Marina Vance, by the recommendation of one judge (the case is still pending). But get this: Vance, who denies leaving the message, has to pay the city double that amount.
By that standard, the incidents I mentioned above are worth at least $90,000, with a 2-1 split in the city's favor. Given the statistical likelihood that tens of thousands of bigots exist among 8 million people in the five boroughs, the city could close its budget deficit by levying steeper fines against them.
Having been on the receiving end of hatred myself, I certainly don't mean to diminish the hurt that Ms. Macintosh felt when she got that disgraceful message from a person who felt no need whatsoever to hold back or soften her language, and needs a reminder to do so. And I don't mean to suggest the culprit should get away with it. Judging from the information in the story, the discrimination complaint stems from the fact that the salon inquired about the customer's ethnicity, then allegedly used that information in the tirade against her, adding to it an institutional element.
I just question how any judge or commission could place a price tag on that hate, especially one that's bigger for the city than for the victim. Judging from the comments below the Times story, I'm not alone.
But while I'm pondering, I'll be sure to keep the Human Rights Commission on speed-dial the next time I pass through the old hood with a kippa.
As for those past incidents, the city can send me $5,000 and we'll call it even.