This I Believe:
“Don’t Leap into Prejudice”
Something traumatic happened to me as a young college student. I had an idea for a new kind of radio show – a “Make Believe Ballroom” featuring big bands booked regularly at Oakland, California’s Sweets Ballroom. I proposed to play phonograph records of Miller, Goodman, or Dorsey, on a local radio station of whoever happened to be appearing each week at the ballroom.
Advised to see the ballroom’s agent, I walked into his office confident the deal would sell. But I was dealing with a Jewish guy who sized me up as a green and gullible kid. How treated me came as a terrible shock.
“Great idea, “ he said. “I think we’ll do it. But where do you come in?
“Oh,” I said. “It’s my idea and I’d do the show.”
“Not now,” he replied. “Now it’s my idea.
His words struck like a thunder bolt. It was my program and I would be left out. How can anybody do a thing like this! I felt cheated. I was humiliated, helpless, and angry, especially because I had never known a Jew in my life and this was my first experience.
What was I to think? All kinds of thoughts raced through my head, “Ah, so this is why people were anti-Semitic” or “This is why people don’t trust them?” But at the time my mind was saying to itself, “Is it true? Are they all like this? Or is this guy an exception?”
As I walked down the street I gradually cooled off and decided to delay judgment until I had more information. I decided to learn more about these people and not leap into prejudice,. That opportunity soon came with Pearl Harbor and every able bodied man like myself entered the service. I joined the Army and was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., which was wonderfully situated for me to pal around with Jewish kids on the base and go with them to their parties in New York City.
I went to all the USOs in the Manhattan, but singled out the Jewish USO to dance with the gorgeous Jewish girls there. Three years of this kind of Army service allowed me to meet and mingle with girls and soldiers of every faith, color and ethnic background. My wartime experience proved what I was hoping for. We’re all the same. My parents had never said an unkind word about anybody when I was growing up nor did the nuns and priests of my Roman Catholic school.
Now that I am old –85 years of age — I know what my father was talking about when he said, “We get too soon old and too late smart.” When the time comes I’ve told my wife what words to put on my tombstone. Let it say simply, “He was a mensch.” If you don’t know the meaning of “mensch,” look it up in a dictionary.
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