I spend most of my days in New York City, home to millions, about 95% of whom are either Jewish, somewhat Jewish, or eat at enough delis to recognize Jews at a distance. So when I walk down the street with my fiancé, who wears a kippah, it’s not unusual to get a “Shalom!” from random passers-by, particularly from people who don’t seem especially Jewish. And may or may not be under an influence of some sort.
We always just smile back, humoring the stranger and moving on with our lives. We call it “Getting Shalom’d.” (Okay, only I call it that, but it should really become a thing.) But the more it happens, the more it gets me thinking: Are these interactions positive? Do they stem from anti-Semitism? Pro-Semitism? A sort of in-between, neutral amusement with that strange frizzy-haired Semitic race?
It’s difficult to know. On one occasion, the man who proffered the salutation asked if it was acceptable to say that. We nodded encouragingly and promptly made a new friend. On most other occasions, though, the person walks right by, shouting out the shalom over their shoulder, like a belated greeting to someone you don’t really want to talk to.
Being the wonderfully optimistic person that I am, I like to think the reason for the greetings falls somewhere between the neutral amusement and outright pro-Semitism. With more of a leaning towards amusement. I mean, heck, if I weren’t Jewish, I’d find the whole race hilarious. (Okay, to be completely honest, I already do find us a rather entertaining lot.)
Or maybe it’s just the excitement that comes with recognizing that funny-looking beanie and knowing that it belongs to those Jew-folks. Like that feeling you get when you see a painting you’ve learned about in some art class once, and can call out the name of the painter without looking at the sign.
Either way, I’ve come to accept these unexpected greetings and enjoy them. There’s something really wonderful about living in a city where we can be proudly Jewish without having to hide our religion, and where others will accept and recognize that without treating us with derision or outright hatred. It might not be an open-armed welcome to society, but a jaunty shalom is enough to make me know, at least in New York City: I’m different, and that’s okay with everyone.