Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
The Cinephile Jew and His Christian Sidekick Come Under Fire
Letters, we get letters.
Young Scotty falls off a bicycle and breaks his arm. With the plaster on my cast barely dry, I head off to class the next day to do battle with Miss Regina Greek, my third-grade Chicago Public School teacher, and what Woody Allen would have called a classic Jew-hater. Something I said must have perturbed Miss Greek. (Perhaps it was due to my daily calling to annoy the abominable bruja.) “Scott Marks, see me after class,” her dead-inside voice commanded. In honor of my recent cycling injury, "Greek the Freak," as we affectionately called her, seized the moment to label me a “worthless cripple” and a “kike.”
The look on Babe’s face when I arrive home from school and ask, “Mommy, what’s a 'kike'?” is as clear in my memory as my latest viewing of Hugo. Half-expecting me to answer “from one of the neighbor kids in the alley,” mom asks, “Where did you learn that word?” I reply, “Miss Greek called me one.”
Flash-forward 30 years. I’m living in Glendale and Babe jets West to pay her son a visit. We talk of old times and guess whose name pops up? I wonder aloud, “Whatever became of that battle-ax?” A long silent stare is punctuated by ma's cocked-head. “Didn’t you know?" comes her surprised response. "I had her fired.” It turns out the old bitch was a career drunk who left a long trail of racial and religious epithets to permanently darken her path. Babe’s report to the principle is the last straw. "Greek the Freak" is given her walking papers.
Why Babe kept this from me for all those years is a question for the ages. I will always adore my late mother, but this action alone was enough to catapult her to hero-worship status. Mom wasn’t the only one harboring a secret. The painful look that crossed Babe’s face fortified hatred that caused me to see red, and for the only time in my life, resort to vandalism in order to settle a score.
I knew where Miss Greek parked her car. (I may have been a "kike" in Miss Greek’s eyes, but that never stopped the biddy from asking the Yid to help shlep packages out to her car.) The next day, I wait for the coast to clear, and with no one in sight pick up a rock and smash her headlights. I want so much to look her in the eyes and say, “I’ll teach you to call me a 'kike,'” but her response would undoubtedly have been, “You don’t have to. I already know how.”
I didn’t sense it at the time, but this one instance did more to equip my defense mechanism with a sense of humor than anything that came before or after. In my young eyes, if a teacher looks upon you as worthless, the rest of the world will obviously follow suit. Her slur actually made me proud to be a Jew, if for no other reason than to stand up against the antisemitic third-grade teachers in the world.
I thought about Miss Greek while reading this response to our Joy to the Screen cover piece written by “Name Withheld”:
“It would be that paragon of virtuosity the San Diego Reader that would stage a modern version of the classic Christian vs. Jew disputation, in which the Christian not only triumphs but also provides much needed moral justification for the subsequent trashing of the Jews ("Joy to the Screen" Cover Story, December 22). It is not hard to find a Jew-hating Jew, willing to publicly distance himself from his own disgusting roots and disavow any allegiance to them. To his credit, Scott Marks seems to ignore most of the obvious statements of Christian credo flashed in his face. Yet at the end he signs on — Christmas movies are his thing, too, with a capital "H" on his referring to Jesus and a capital "C" for child. His religion is film, his escape or his quest, encapsulated. Yet, what’s missing is a response to Matthew. The “good” values of Christianity do not belong exclusively there, nor did they even originate in that camp. Not only Jews, but other credos of the Earth, too, over the centuries, have taught compassion, kindness, selflessness, a reaching out to the downtrodden. It’s precisely this attitude of exclusive ownership that can be so irritating about some Christians. Matthew, Jews believe it is impossible for God to incarnate and thus impossible to kill God. Each of us is born with a spark of God; we are thus all children of God. Jesus came as a teacher and role model. My hope is for your children to learn respect for others’ truths. That is the challenge for humanity in the coming age.”
Matthew Lickona responds: I didn’t find a self-hating Jew; I found a movie-loving Jew. Actually, I didn’t find him at all — he’s my esteemed co-blogger at “The Big Screen.” If you visit, you can find his account of how this story came to be. I hesitate to speak for Mr. Marks, but I suspect that he loves Christmas movies not for the Christ in them but for the humanity in them. As for “the classic Christian vs. Jew disputation,” and respecting others’ truths, please visit the Reader website for my “Christian vs. Jew” cover stories of December 20, 2007, and December 23, 2009. I certainly am sorry if I implied that “the ‘good’ values of Christianity” belonged exclusively there. Thanks for reading!
I have been called many a name in my day, but a “Jew-hating Jew” is not one of them. If for one second I sensed a hint of Miss Greek's disdain in Lickona, and that I was being used as the Jewish brunt of a joke, I never would have agreed to collaborate with him on the piece. Honestly, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I detected so much as a hint of patronization.
If anything, Matt was too polite, maybe even a little embarrassed, to come right out and ask, “Hey, as a Jew, what kind of movies do you watch on Christmas?” It was I who broached the subject, and not out of some hidden resentment towards my people, but because I thought it was a great angle and one that would help spread the word about The Big Screen, where Matt and I kill a few hours each day. It was also my first cover story for The Reader, something that I don't mind admitting is a great source of personal pride. Sure there were equal doses of film history, Hebraic and Christian lore, and childhood reminiscences, but first and foremost it was intended as a humor piece. My luck, I find the one Jew, assuming of course that “Name Withheld” is one of the Chosen, without a sense of humor.
Forget about Christmas films; I love movies period. There are copies of every film we covered in my DVD library, so I guess that does indeed make these Christmas movies “my thing.” (I also own a copy of Triumph of the Will. Does that make me a Nazi?) As for the capital H, if you read the piece you would have known that every time I refer to Martin "Savior and Redeemer" Scorsese, I do so as “Him” or “He.” It’s a goof of the most reverential order and one that I’m sorry “Name Withheld” couldn’t pick up on. And upon closer inspection, you’ll note that the C in child is capitalized because I’m quoting a song title.
As for being a Christian water-carrier who buckled by daring to include a film about the life of Christ in a back-and-forth about Christmas movies, I respond to The Gospel According to St. Matthew the same way I do all of the films up for discussion: as a work of cinematic excellence, not an arena for the Hebrew slave to be willingly thrown to the lions.