Folks, I am not a big "letter to the editor" writer but I felt compelled to chime in on this little piece that a fellow emailed me. First read the article, then read my letter. Or not. It's all my own mishegoss really:
I was just today directed to your article dated Dec. 8th in reference to the opening of a Hillel Foundation at OSU.
I myself was born and raised in Stillwater where my father Robert Rubin was at varying times the Executive Director of Kappa Kappa Psi National Marching Band Fraternity, head of the OSU International Student Association and for many years the announcer for the mighty Cowboy Marching Band. We were also at the time (1961-1976) one of the few practicing Jewish families in Stillwater or at the University.
To clarify Dr. Gethner's point: “A decision was made about 50 years ago not to ask the SGA for money, due to the anti-Semitism in the air at the time.” That "air" was in fact the same I took my first breaths with. I can speak with pointed experience that unabashed anti-Semitism was a part of daily life growing up there as late as the 1970's, ranging in exposure from the personal to the institutional. From no admission to the local Country Club or fraternal orders, to Protestant Christian doctrine taught daily in the public schools, to swastikas painted on the family home's door and odd brick thrown through the window emblazed with "Juden Gerauch." The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was available free of charge at the barber shop on 6th Street where I got my first haircut, and on more than one occasion I was asked by my more devout Christian school mates to show them my horns.
Now, it wasn't simply Jews singled out for abuse mind you, this xenophobia extended to anyone outside of the "traditional American" mold. I recall with great sadness that the children of Hindu and Pakistani OSU students where routinely singled out for ridicule and exclusion in the playgrounds of Married Student housing. As were young Native Americans who were yearly forced to dress up as settlers and re-enact the Great Land Rush at school. (Which would essentially be like asking me to dress up in a brown shirt and armband and re-enact Krystalnacht once a year.) Catholics were regularly referred to as "Papists," and it was years until I understood that N-----r was a epithet, having hearing it so often in passing reference to an African American.
Not Borat from Khazakstan. But not so long ago in Payne County OK, USA.
True enough as your writer points out, it was a long way to the synagogues in OKC, Tulsa and even Ponca City where we would gather with the small congregations of dairy farmers, educators and small business owners who made up the Jewish community of my youth. Many of who had only a few decades earlier fled the unspeakable horrors of wartime a Europe only to find the same simplistic prejudices set firmly into the social fabric of small town Oklahoma. Many of these folks, one of whom had as a young man personally funded the establishment of the first Christian Church building in Stillwater, had grown too old to safely travel for services. (A conundrum when you note it's strictly forbidden to travel or work on the Jewish Sabbath, but the desire to worship with fellow believers so strong as to allow a slight bending of the rules.) At bare minimum, most felt completely placed entirely apart from their "gentile" neighbors. For these reasons my father decided to hold regular services there for the faithful in Stillwater in a spare room of the Methodist Student Association, a example of Christian charity and kindness that will be long remembered.
That was until late 1976 when my father was approached to re-open the defunct Hillel Foundation at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he served as Director and small "r" rabbi of the Jewish Community there until his passing in 1982. We left OSU and Stillwater and I have never, ever returned. Yes, we found a home in Sooner Land. And say what you will about OU, but no one ever called me a "kike" in Norman.
In conclusion I wish to heartily applaud the efforts of those who wish to revive Hillel at OSU. And pray that, baruch hashem (God willing,) we all work to grow away our bigotry and promote understanding and tolerance wherever we are. Maybe someday I can free myself from own personal biases and again feel welcome to visit the town where I was born.