The Power of a Word

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(Eleanor Clark Ray is a 93-year-old resident of Champaign who taught school in Monterey, California.)

Having a very long past to remember, I find that bits of that past rise into conscious memory unbidden and usually not welcome. For example, . . .

A question from a boy in my third grade classroom reminded me of how profoundly we Homo sapien types are led, and often misled, by language.

In the Christian calendar the Wednesday 46 days before Easter is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On the Ash Wednesday of this incident, Jerry had been to Mass and on his forehead was a streak of ashes. One of the other boys said “your face is dirty,” and tried to wipe it off. Jerry avoided the attempt and announced that the ashes were because the Jews were going to kill Christ. He followed that with a nine-year-old’s screed against Jews.

I jumped in with what you might expect: acknowledgment that a few Jews are not good and kind just as a few Catholics and Methodists and Baptists are not good and kind. But almost all Jews, like almost all Christians, are very kind and good and would be sure to help you if you were having trouble.

And Jerry asked me, “If they are not bad, then why are they called Jews?”

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