I Am a Jew and I am Proud

In this June 19, 1938 picture the word “jude” is smeared on the windows of a shop in Berlin run by Jews. (AP photo)

I was just called a “kike.” And not just a plain old kike but a “subversive kike.”

It sent shivers down my spine.

This comment came from a misguided reader of this blog, who had earlier made a snide comment about me being “a Jew” when I wrote disparagingly about the Republican party in the post Vote Your Conscious Not Your Party.

When I responded referring to him as an antisemite, this was what he proudly said this morning:

“You say that as if it’s a bad thing. A subversive kike calling me an antisemite is a compliment.”

I’m glad I could make him proud.

A real proud boy.

Well, I am a proud Jew.

Jew is not a derogatory slur.

Kike is.

Like dago, wop, mick, etc. its ugly origins are many.

Jews entering Ellis Island 1892

One theory is that “kike” comes from Yiddish.

In the “Joys of Yiddish,” author Leo Rosten notes that the word kike “was born on Ellis Island when there were Jewish migrants who were also illiterate (or could not use Latin alphabet letters. When asked to sign the entry forms with the customary “X”, the Jewish immigrants would refuse, because they associated an X with the cross of Christianity.”

Instead, Jewish immigrants “drew a circle as the signature on the entry forms.”

“The Yiddish word for “circle” is kikel (pronounced KY – kel), and for “little circle,” kikeleh. Before long the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an ‘O’ instead of an ‘X’ a kikel or kikeleh or kikee or, finally and succinctly, kike.”

Another theory blames the Jews themselves for the slur.

They claim that Jews called other Jews “kikes” — and this applied in particular to Jews speaking about poorer and more desperate Jews from the East, or ostjuden, who were much maligned by better-off and more “cultured” German Jews.

Cover of “Our Crowd,” by Stephen Birmingham and a vintage postcard of Jews arriving in America

In Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York, the 1967 bestseller which looked at the Jewish upper class, Stephen Birmingham suggests that “because many Russian [Jewish] names ended in ‘ki’, they were called ‘kikes’ — a German Jewish contribution to the American vernacular. The name then proceeded to be co-opted by non-Jews as it gained prominence in its usage in society, and was later used as a general derogatory slur.”

A Jew By Definition

Disturbingly, the dictionary definition of the word “Jew” has been the subject of lawsuits, and “kike” eventually became part of that.

In a June 1973  article in The New York Times reported on a lawsuit by Marcus Shloimovitz, a 67-year-old textile merchant, objecting to one of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of a “Jew” as someone who “drives a hard bargain.”

The OED editor at the time,  R. W. Burchfield, refused to remove it, and he was then criticized for his stance by other dictionary editors—who brought “kike” into the conversation, referring to the inclusion of dago, wop, and kike in the dictionary.

At the same time, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary,  Unabridged, carried four definitions for the noun “Jew.” The dictionary’s first definition is a person of Hebrew an Israelite

The final one is “a person believed to drive a hard bargain.” A verb form is defined: “to cheat by sharp business practice — usually taken to be offensive.”

It’s incredible to realize that as late as 1973, this was Webster’s definition. The same dictionary I used that year to write papers in High School.

And that Oxford not only defined “Jew” as someone driving a hard bargain, but had its editor talking to the press and the courts to defend that definition.

Fifty years later the ugly stench of antisemitism is wafting through our culture.

Though its odious stench assaults my senses, I  will not be silenced.

I am proud of my heritage

I am a Jew.



  1. An intelligent and informative response. Sorry that you we denigrated and that this hateful rhetoric is growing. Sad that with just two words free speech can be attacked as subversive. and hate speech, for this reader, used as if it is acceptable. Where is his approval and encouragement possibly coming from?


  2. Words become bullets for those who attack people they are too ignorant to understand. I didn’t know what those words meant until someone called my Dad a wop in grade 4. I was beating the living daylight out of him only to be stopped by my older brother. One of the teachers then proceeded to hold a special class about words that hurt. Since then I made it a habit to find the meaning of words before using them. Thanks for the reminder Sally.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: American Hate- Who’s Keeping Count? | Envisioning The American Dream

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