The Edmond Sun


April 22, 2013

ENTERPRISING RABBI: Words, thoughts really do matter in today’s society

OKLA. CITY — Often, people have visited the synagogue where I work and have tried to show their kindness by checking with me on the correct way to refer to someone of my religion. They say, “I have heard that it is offensive to call someone a ‘Jew,’ right? Aren’t we supposed to call you ‘Jewish’?”

Why on earth should “Jew” be an offensive thing to call a Jewish person? Well, at its heart, it is not an offensive thing to call a Jewish person. It is the noun form, where “Jewish” is the adjective. The reason that “Jew” has been considered offensive in the past has been the way in which it has been said.

When people say, “Jew,” with a sneer on their faces and contempt dripping from their voices, it is a slur — they could say anything with the right tone of voice and make it into an insult. In order to overcome anti-Jewish discrimination, Jews started to teach that we should be called “a Jewish person” — emphasis on the person — in order to highlight the fact that we are still people just like everyone else. This technique has been used in many minority communities and is still a prevalent and effective way of focusing on the personhood of those with physical or mental challenges — for example, “a person with epilepsy,” rather than an “epileptic.”

Today, however, “Jew” is supposed to be as neutral a term as “a Jewish person,” and as long as it doesn’t come along with any other offensive context, it should be all right to use.

I really dislike hearing people complain about “having” to speak in a “politically correct” manner. Being politically correct is supposed to help us train our mouths to say what we mean. It is supposed to keep us from accidentally hurting someone else’s feelings or making an ethnic slur. It gives us proper modes of address, rather than risk repeating something that we have heard so often we forget how offensive it really was when people started saying it.

It is not supposed to be a way of being offensive that will allow us to say whatever hateful thing we want without “those people” complaining about it. Political correctness is not a nicer way of saying something nasty.

I think the last straw for me was when I heard someone use the word “diverse” as a negative. The person said to me, “I don’t like going to that section of town. It is very … diverse,” — as though I were supposed to know that she meant it was full of people from a different ethnicity and then understand why she would not want to go there.

It does not make it any better to call something odd “mentally handicapped.” It is not acceptable to express anger at having been cheated by saying that someone “Jewish-person-ed me down.”

Our words matter. The thoughts behind our words matter, too.

RABBI ABBY JACOBSON serves Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City. She may be reached via email at

Text Only
  • 'Too big to fail' equals 'too eager to borrow'

    Four years ago this month, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, promising that the 848-page financial law would “put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all,” he said. But recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a Detroit crowd that “the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008.”
    Who’s right?

    July 30, 2014

  • Sheltons travel for better life for family

    Some time around 1865 a mixed-race African American couple, William and Mary Shelton, made their way from Mississippi to east Texas. Nothing is known for certain of their origins in he Magnolia state, or the circumstances under which they began their new lives in Texas.

    July 29, 2014

  • Film critic Turan produces book

    Kenneth Turan, who is the film critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” has written a book “Not to be Missed, Fifty-Four Favorites from a Life Time of Film.” His list of movies span the gamut from the beginnings of filmmaking through the present day.
    There are some surprising omissions on his list. While he includes two films, “A Touch of Evil” and Chimes at Midnight” made by Orson Welles, and one, “The Third Man,” that Welles starred in but did not direct. He did not however, include “Citizen Kane,” that was the first movie Welles made, that is  often cited by both film critics and historians as a favorite film.

    July 28, 2014

  • Logan County’s disputed zone

    Watchers of “Star Trek” may recall the episode from the original series entitled, “Day of the Dove.” In this episode, Captain Kirk and his crew are forced by a series of circumstances into a confrontation with the Klingons. The conflict eventually resolves after Kirk realizes that the circumstances have been intentionally designed by an alien force which feeds off negative emotions, especially fear and anger. Kirk and his crew communicate this fact to the Klingons and the conflict subsides. No longer feeding upon confrontation, the alien force is weakened and successfully driven away.

    July 28, 2014

  • Russell leads in Sun poll

    Polling results of an unscientific poll at show that Steve Russell, GOP candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, is in the lead with 57 percent of the vote ahead of the Aug. 26 runoff election. Thirty readers participated in the online poll.

    July 28, 2014

  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014


The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
     View Results