The class last week reminded me of the stories that my Grandma used to tell me. My grandma was born in the 1940’s and grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. Her family was one of three Jewish families in Montgomery when she was young. More Jewish families may have moved in when she was older, but when she was young there were exactly three in the whole town. The feelings of inferiority that we discussed in class were not simply limited to race, class and gender, but to religious affiliation as well.
Grandma Joan was proud to be Jewish, but when she was much younger there was a lot of prejudice towards Jews. It was not as overtly noticeable as it was towards the blacks, but many people in Montgomery had never met a Jewish person before they met my grandma or her family. People did not understand what her family believed in if they did not believe in Jesus Christ. What other god or gods were there? The family celebrated different holidays with funny sounding names like Rosh Hashanah. Joan had to explain why there were two New Years holidays in her family. My grandma felt she was missing out every Christmas. The churches had great pageants and plays. The entire community was involved. All her friends were involved in these events and she was left out. When she was young, it was hard and embarrassing. She felt different.
The three Jewish families in Montgomery, Alabama at the time were very close. Joan often said she did not know if they were close because they liked each other, or close because they needed each other so they would not stand alone as the only Jews in town. This is very similar to blacks coming together so that they would not be alone.
The conversations I had with Grandma Joan that stay with me are the ones revolving around equal rights and the treatment of blacks in the Montgomery Community. She would often talk about many people having “help” as they referred to it back then. Her family had “help” as well. They had a cook, and a maid, and she and her brother Jay had a “nanna”. The help was all were black. Joan said all the families in Montgomery that had “any means” had help, but the Jewish families treated their help differently.
Joan said her family and the two other Jewish families were very respectful of their help. Jews had and still did back then, experience prejudice. Joan felt because of that, her family believed that although the blacks worked for her family, they were treated no differently than the employees of her father’s jewelry store, who were white. Joan ‘s parents (my great grandparents) made certain all their help could read and write, and that all their helps kids went to school. Although they were all looked upon as different and felt different, there was a bond between the Jewish families and the black families in Montgomery because in a sense, they were both the minority.