Ten years ago I was newly married, newly immigrated to Israel, and newly enrolled as a Masters student at an Israeli University. In most of my classes I was the only Orthodox student, and at least once a semester every professor could be counted on to make a derogatory comment or two about Jews like me. We were hypocritical, primitive, etc.
The situation took a turn for the worse when I met “Professor Z.” (In accordance with the Jewish prohibition against speaking lashon hara, slander, I have changed all of the professor’s identifying details.)
His class was a year-long seminar on the Sociology of Israeli Society. The class was unusually small with only twelve students – five Arabs, six secular Israelis, and me.
When the professor walked into our first class, I smiled. He had a friendly face, was wearing a jeans jacket and a Yankees cap, and spoke Hebrew with a thick Ameri-can accent that matched my own. What a relief! Someone like me.
But the professor was not like me. From the very first class, every single lecture inevitably ended up with the professor lashing out against the religious, and with the students invariably following the professor’s lead. Before long, the seminar took on the tone of a bunch of friends spending a slow Saturday night drinking beer, eating sun-flower seeds, and bashing the evil Orthodox.
And I remained silent. I was new to traditional Judaism myself, so I didn’t know how to respond. I was also probably instinctively following my mother’s wise advice to stand like a statue when approached by a barking dog. But in this case, my stillness didn’t make anyone go away.
Every week it was something different. One time, the professor informed us that the Israeli Rabbinate was the most corrupt institution in Israel (it is, by the way, not even in the running.) Another time, the Jewish people would be better off if all yeshivas were closed. Yet another time, the Orthodox were like cavemen living in the Stone Age.
I would call my husband after every class to share the upsetting things the professor had said. My husband was always shocked at how inappropriate and ridiculous the professor’s comments were, but before long both of us would be laughing about them.
It was no laughing matter, however, when one week the professor pointed at me and said, “You were probably happy when Prime Minister Rabin was murdered, just like all of the religious people!” When I replied with a stunned and sincere, “God forbid!” he answered with a cynical smirk that implied I was lying through my teeth.
With that comment, a switch went off inside me. The professor had basically told me: I hate religious people. And that means I hate you too. That it was another Jew doing the hating didn’t make it any easier.
From that point on, I experienced every one of the professor’s anti-religious comments as a bullet targeted in my direction. Wednesday nights, I would lie in bed for hours, tossing and turning and worrying about the next day’s seminar. What would the professor say this time? I imagined going to the professor during his office hours and screaming, “If I were the only black student in a class of white students, would you dare do this to me?”
At long last, the year ended. Soon after I graduated, I heard the professor had moved back to the United States to head the Sociology department of a major university. I was happy I would never have to see him again, but I remained angry for years afterward.
Five years ago, through our common involvement in a voluntary organization, I became friendly with the pro-fessor responsible for dealing with student complaints about professorial misconduct at the university where I’d studied. One day I opened my heart to her and related my suffering at the hands of the professor. She acknowledged his behavior was totally inappropriate and said that had she known about it, she would have paid him an official visit and told him so.
Her words enabled me, after so many years, to let go. I never forgave the professor. But at least I forgot about him. It was a good feeling.