The Real “S” Word


My car was in the carpool line awaiting the emergence of my two daughters and two other children from their Jewish day school.

Before the girls came out of the school, one of the school’s assistant principals walked up to me with her bright smile and told me to contact a certain teacher, a rabbi in the school, who taught one of my daughters. I asked her why, and she said it was “no big deal,” and “let him tell you what it’s all about.”

When I dropped the children off and took my girls home, I told my daughter about the discussion with the assistant principal. My daughter said she had no idea what was going on.

If you are a parent, you know what this is all about. You can’t move forward in your day until you are reassured that everything is okay. I called the rabbi, and he invited me to his home the next evening.

I showed up at the rabbi’s neat, spotless home. He was one of my daughter’s teachers. His wife taught my other child.

He began by telling me that “seventh grade was an age where girls come to a crossroads in their lives.” The school and classes like his directed the girls in one direction that he described as being protected like with the walls and ceiling of a “tunnel.” Those girls who choose the right way, he described as “giggly girls.” Not kidding.

The rest of the girls, those who chose another path he described as being “more worldy.”

He felt it was his duty and place to warn me that my child was not heading in the “giggly girl” direction.

Still in total confusion, I asked finally to get to the point. I was called to his living room, sitting on the plastic slip covers that were beginning to stick to me, because I could feel myself sweating in anger.

The rabbi told me that my child had used the “s” four-letter word in class, someone had reported it to him, and that is why I was there.

He admitted that he never had heard her say the “s” word. And finally I asked him what “s” word he was referring to. He was now upset with me. He asked me what other “s” word was a curse word.

Here’s where I peeled my sweaty back off of the plastic sofa slip cover. I told the rabbi that my daughter and her friends had told me that he used an “s” word quite often in class. He was taken aback by my anger and my words.

I asked him if it was true that he used the word “shvartze” to describe African-Americans?

He told me yes, but he added quickly that schvartze was just a Yiddish word to describe black people. There was never any harm on his part.

So I told him that in my house the word schvartze was akin to the “n” word. I told him that using that line about Yiddish was a terrible explanation. I addedthat if he agreed to work on curtailing his “s” word, then I’d have my daughter not say the four-letter “s” word.

I thought of that story this week after reading about how Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a respected Yeshiva University rabbinic dean warned rabbis of the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police. Doing so, he said, could result in a Jew being incarcerated in the same cell as another black inmate. Or as he described it a “schvartze” who might want to kill him.

This same rabbi also was reported as saying that a child can lie about a molestation and therefore ruin an innocent man’s life.

I can’t help but remembering the respected Dr. David Pelcovitz tell a packed Baltimore sanctuary that people who step forward about their own molestations are telling the truth 99 percent of the time.

I wish I could say that the rabbi’s use of the word “shvartze” was a mistake or something rarely done. But I don’t believe that for a second. Because like many of you, I have heard it used in place of the “n” word countless times in my life.

You know the word “kike” is crossing the line for the Jewish people. And there’s no mistaking what its harmful intent is.

Shvartze is exactly the same. Please don’t hand me the innocent Yiddish line phrase. You know what you’re talking about when you use the real “s” word.

At a synagogue I attended in Randallstown, we were all getting ready to sit down for a Kiddush. There were not enough tables. The rabbi, who just addressed the congregation in his sermon covered brotherhood as a theme.

His words to the synagogue president when we needed more tables were, “get a shvartze to do it.”

I heard it, and I asked him about it. He told me it was just a “Yiddish” word, that I was reading too much into it.

Why couldn’t have he said, “get someone to do it?”

No, it was the “shvartze” because that word is a description of lower class, a second class citizen.

What ever the explanation, Rabbi Schachter’s words fall short of the scholarly reputation he has. What a hateful way to describe anybody.

But few will care. Because this is how many Jews describe black people.

It’s the real “s” word.

Rabbi Schachter should be ashamed.

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