Carroll: Not a saying I grew up with |

Carroll: Not a saying I grew up with

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

“It’s one of those sayings that we all grew up with,” 9th Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia said to The Aspen Times last week following a report that she “compared defense attorneys’ bargaining tactics to Jewish stereotypes when talking to her staff about criminal case plea negotiations.”

It’s unclear to whom she was referring when she uttered “we all,” because I can say with much certainty that neither I nor most people I know are part of the “we all” who cast aspersions on Jewish people in our youth. In fact, many of us were the Jews who were the targets of those doing the maligning. That includes my dad, who grew up being menaced by neighborhood kids armed with rocks and insults such as “dirty Jew.”

When I was in my early 20s, an acquaintance remarked that I didn’t look Jewish.

“But that’s a compliment,” he said.

My friend’s dad once had an associate tell of how he planned to “Jew down” a colleague during a business negotiation.

As many who have been victims of anti-Semitism know, these instances are hardly isolated. The same seems to be true for Caloia. A former assistant district attorney who worked in her office said in a memo to her this fall, “This was not the first incident involving inappropriate language from you that related to ethnicity, race, sexual preference, family status, national origin, etc., that you had used.”

To be fair, though, using “some common expressions learned from childhood” can be “hard habits to break,” Caloia said.

However, it would seem that a district attorney whose office’s stated mission is to “seek justice for the victims of crime, to pursue justice for the communities through the fair and ethical prosecution of those who commit crimes, and to earn and hold the trust and respect of the people we are honored and privileged to serve” would work harder publicly and behind closed doors to not perpetuate the vilification of those whose history of being denigrated and defamed is of biblical proportions.

But perhaps Caloia is not just a lawyer but also a Shakespearean scholar who has read “The Merchant of Venice” one too many times, therefore believing that all those of Jewish heritage — and Jewish attorneys in particular — are descendants of Shylock: insatiable usurers willing to murder in order to feed their greed. However, if she were truly an academic of Elizabethan magnitude, Caloia would also know that the Christians in Shylock’s world either shunned him outright, taunted him with cruel appellations or spit on him because of his religion.

I would consider allowing Caloia to meet my 6-year-old daughter, who, despite being in first grade and half a century younger than Caloia, still manages to have a better grasp of how words can hurt more than punches and knows for sure that the most effective way to show others respect is to treat them the way we want to be treated. My daughter is also in her second year of Hebrew school and delighted to speak about her Jewish heritage, eager to share with anyone who asks what she’s learning about Jewish history and tradition.

On the other hand, my daughter would be crushed and confused to learn that someone in a position of power and influence has targeted Jewish people in a disparaging manner, using anachronistic slurs in an effort to emphasize a point. Perchance Caloia could explain to my daughter directly how propagating an offensive slur is actually OK when it’s because you can’t be bothered to break a childhood habit.

Caloia should contemplate taking it upon herself to better acquaint herself with the people of her district she was elected to serve, including Lenny “Boogie” Weinglass, a successful Jewish businessman, yes, but arguably an even more effective philanthropist who has given untold sums of money to keep the Buddy Program — a mentoring organization that serves Roaring Fork Valley youth in areas including self-esteem, decision making, academics and interpersonal relationships — running for several decades.

Or maybe she can endeavor to have coffee with Susan Crown, a Jewish woman with deep ties to the Aspen community who has dedicated her life to furthering charities for children, education, health care and the environment.

At one time, Crown also chaired Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation, which is a video archive of testimonies from Holocaust survivors and witnesses. Caloia would be well-served to do some digging and soul-searching in their archives, as those who don’t learn about history are famously doomed to repeat it.

Of course, Caloia can be assured that many of her Jewish constituents will help her to remember what she said, and she risks dooming her career should she repeat it.

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