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Jewish World Review April 2, 2002 / 20 Nisan, 5762

Julia Gorin

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Consumer Reports

Comfort measures | There's something funny about the situation in New York since September 11th. I don't mean strange or peculiar; I mean funny. Like when I recently went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they were checking the bags of the predominately white patrons. Who was checking? The Arabic security guards.

And these days, when I go to my credit union in the New York Times building, I have to call upstairs to the credit union, sign my name in a log, write my name on a sticker, affix the sticker to my person, then wait for a credit union employee to come down and escort me up. Only then does the armed Middle Eastern security guard let me through.

And last week a security guard speaking on the phone in Arabic put me through a similar procedure before letting me upstairs to go to work. When I got there, all the lily-white attorneys were obediently wearing their stickers too.

It all seems so futile, sometimes I think these are just comfort measures designed to make jittery New Yorkers feel better. Now that I think about it, I recall an even more involved check-in procedure when I temped at Tower One of the World Trade Center.

Speaking of which, after Morgan Stanley's head of security was killed there on September 11th, his deputy-who was visiting family in Lebanon that week-took over. Of course, I'm sure the man was checked out, and his absence that fateful day was a mere coincidence, and I'm certainly not advocating denying someone a job or a due promotion based on racial profiling. Besides which, I appreciate that they care so much for our security. But it's still funny, no? I'm not trying to load that word, nor the observation itself. Living in New York, it's just an observation you can't help make. It's just one of those things that make you scratch your head.

Take, for instance, my trip to the Lincoln Center Opera several weeks ago. As New York's old guard cultural elite piled into the Metropolitan Opera House, and cars snaked their way to the basement parking garage, each vehicle, trunk and all, was carefully checked by a very serious, official-looking security team before being waved through, one at a time. This was somewhat reassuring; I did feel better. But then we got into the parking garage, and I went up to the window cage to get a stamped ticket for my car. The woman behind the window happened to be an Arab, and I happened to be wearing a rather flashy Star of David pendant. This did not make her happy. And no, it wasn't my Jewish paranoia: A look of shock gave way to a glower, as she shot the talisman several dirty looks before stamping and handing me my ticket most indignantly, all the while without making eye contact. This was not reassuring.

Me-they check. The blue-haired elders-they check. Her? She works there!

Yet surely this woman must be aware on some level that a great many of the patrons keeping the opera-and her-in business are Jewish. I guess that part's OK, but perhaps she doesn't like to be reminded of it.

Regardless, for the next four hours I sat there numb and frozen in my seat, watching "War and Peace" and waiting for the floor to explode out from under us any minute. When the opera ended, I was happier than usual, and we got out as quickly as we could. Because if the garage lady hadn't been contemplating terrorism before, she did for at least a second after seeing my presumptuous Magen David.

And what a statement that would make. Cultural events and institutions symbolize the non-political, and are considered to be a unifying force. Differences and hate are checked at the door. They're supposed to be a safety zone. If Israel is any indication-Israel, where militants this week are showing the world that they're not averse to bombing Arab-owned businesses, or to using women for suicide bombs, or to killing neutral (sympathetic) UN observers-how long before a cultural institution like Lincoln Center is targeted? How scary it would be to go anywhere on a Saturday night. And how ineffectual all the motorist and bag checks will have been.

I'm not complaining about the inconvenience or anything like that. That's minimal. I'm not saying do away with these measures. I'm sure they serve at least as a deterrent, possibly delaying a potential bombing of a site by a day or two. It's just funny, that's all. Post- September 11th New York is a funny place to be.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Julia Gorin