Speaking Up

“First They Came” by Pastor Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

If some group, some race or ethnic or religious group—of which you were not a member—was being mistreated, would you speak out?

It can be hard to do, especially if we’re non-confrontational by nature. And there are certainly times when NOT speaking up might be the appropriate choice.

But if you were in the group that was being wronged in some way, especially if you felt like you didn’t have a voice, wouldn’t you want someone to speak for you?

Last Saturday, I went to a large hardware store to get mulch. They have a staging area set up in the parking lot so that all you have to do is drive in, show your receipt, and the attendants load the mulch into your vehicle for you.

As I handed my receipt to the staff person that day, he asked “What can I Jew you out of today?” I was so taken aback that I couldn’t speak in that moment. (Which is probably a good thing, because he and his co-worker loaded the mulch cheerfully, and this gave me time to process.)

He approached my open window to confirm that I was all set and I seized the moment. “You know,” I said in a very neutral voice, “I have family and friends who are Jewish, and it’s really not OK to talk about them in such a disparaging way. It’s insulting.”

He looked completely confused. I reminded him of what he had said when I pulled up. “I just like to joke with people,” he explained, “to kill the monotony.”

“Well, maybe you could do it in a more positive way,” I suggested.

“Will do!” he replied in an overly sing-songy way that seemed dismissive to me.

I don’t know if my speaking out will have any effect on his thinking or behavior. I just know that in that moment, it felt like letting his comment go was nearly as unacceptable as the comment itself. I needed to do the right thing, even though its impact was uncertain.

When I got home, I called the store and asked to talk with the manager. I relayed what had happened, and he apologized and agreed that it was completely unacceptable. He asked who had made the comment. 

My hope is that he won’t just reprimand one employee, but will give every staff member a lesson in sensitivity training. There are many ways to make a joke or break up monotony. We don’t ever need to be disrespectful!

I posted about it on Facebook and, as I had hoped, a wonderful stream of comments followed. My goal was to encourage friends to speak out. If you see something, say something!

One of my Facebook contacts was heading to a hardware store the very moment his wife, who was in the car with him, saw my post on her phone. They went to a different shop, and called the original store manager to explain what they had done and why. 

I wasn’t trying to get friends to boycott the store, but this is a great example of how words do have consequences!

We need to support each other. Anti-semitism, along with other racist or ethnic slurs, cannot be tolerated. May we all do for others as we would have others do for us.

Category : Blog &Personal Growth Posted on May 8, 2019

One Comment → “Speaking Up”

  1. Karen Ball
    10 months ago

    Thank you, Julie, for doing the right thing. For speaking to the man in question and bringing this point to all our attention. I appreciate the reminder that we are all in this together, and together we all create our world.


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