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Friday, June 14, 2019 8:16 pm

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Reclaiming ‘Jew’

By 

“ ‘Jew’ is a funny word,” the comedian Louis C. K. once said, “because ‘Jew’ is the only word that is the polite thing to call a group of people and the slur for the same group.”

I was reminded of these wise words on April 14, halfway through Passover and two days before Easter, when President Trump gave a short speech recognizing the two holidays. As far as Trump speeches go, it was pretty decent, a short bit of hortatory boilerplate with Trumpian flourishes, like calling the Exodus the story of “an incredible people.” He did not attack immigrants, or journalists, or Pope Francis, and he gave equal time to the two holidays, which was reassuring.

But Mr. Trump’s speech bothered me nonetheless, because he fell into a common linguistic habit that most Americans, even most Jews, surely didn’t notice. While the word “Jewish” appeared in the speech, Mr. Trump neglected to mention “Jews.” In his remarks, it was “Christians” who celebrated Holy Week and the resurrection of Christ — but it was “Jewish families” who celebrated Passover and “the Jewish people” who survived a long history of persecution. There were “Christians” — people with their own noun — and there were “Jewish” people — collectives described by an adjective.

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