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A Lesson Learned

August 18, 2015

In 1978, when I first started working at the Rocky Mountain News, one of the editors quietly told me that I was an unusual hire, given the parent company’s unwritten rule against too many Jews in the newsroom. I was shocked. I had no idea that companies might discriminate in their hiring based on religion. I’m happy to say that if that rule ever really existed at the Rocky, it had expired before I got there; I never saw any evidence of it during my long career there.

Men of my father’s generation were all too aware of corporate America’s “Jewish quota,” and either worked in the few areas where Jews were commonly employed or started their own businesses. My dad chose the latter, toiling for decades to build and sustain the Health Camp, the family’s hamburger joint in Waco.

Many Jews my father’s age approached life with a certain wariness, careful not to seem “too Jewish” in their public lives, especially when it came to doing business in a very Christian world. The old joke about people judging every event in terms of whether it was good for the Jews was no laughing matter in mid-centuryAmerica. Anything that brought attention to Jews had the potential to unleash a new wave of anti-semitism.

This was especially true when the new state of Israel made the news, as it did in spectacular fashion when it invaded Egypt in late 1956, in a joint operation with France and Great Britain known as the Sinai Campaign.

American Jews were understandably nervous when the war broke out, both because they worried about the survival of the still-fragile country of Israel, only a decade old, and because of they feared a backlash if Israel was perceived as acting too aggressively.

At the age of ten, I understood none of this, but I got a quick lesson in mideast politics from a very worried father.

Tomorrow’s story is about what I learned.