February 23, 2020

Rep. Ilhan Omar Meets Mrs. Maisel

Mrs. Maisel: Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me!

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.): Of course.

Maisel: I mean, I know how busy you are. First few months in a new job, adoring fans, intense scrutiny. … But since we often use the same material …

Omar: What do you mean?

Maisel: Well, I talk about the Jews, you talk about the Jews …

Omar: I’m sorry, maybe this wasn’t a good idea. I don’t talk about the Jewish people.

Maisel: Oh, right. Sorry. Wrong decade. You talk about Zionists, Israel, AIPAC …

Omar looks at her warily.

Maisel: But such great lines! “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” — I’m totally stealing that. These Upper East Siders come into B. Altman — you know, I’m at the makeup counter — and they want me to give them free samples of everything. And if I don’t have samples, they try to haggle the price down. Can you believe it? Where are we, back in the shtetl?

Omar looks confused.

Maisel: Oh, I’m sorry, you talk about us so much, sometimes I forget you’re not Jewish. Shtetl is Yiddish. You know, that language we had to speak in other countries, when no one wanted us. But we’re here now, and I mean, well, most people are OK with us. Or at least they put up with us. So we really don’t need Yiddish anymore, but it really is such a great language. I mean, what language has 25 words for someone who says stupid things all the time?

Omar: I think I should be going.

Maisel: I’m rambling, and you’re a very busy woman. What I really want to talk about is our beloved Israel. I mean, not your beloved Israel but our — the Jews’ — beloved Israel. You see, we waited patiently — OK, not so patiently, but a long time — to get our homeland back. You know, like 2,000 years. And even if many of us don’t live there right now, we’re just so happy to know it’s there, thriving — a miracle in the desert!

Omar stares at her icily.

Maisel: Oh, I’m not saying there aren’t other miracles in the desert! The pyramids — what a miracle those slaves created. And, of course, Hanukkah. See, that’s the thing. Israel has brought so much light into this world — freedoms for Muslims, for women — you could call it a mecca of freedom and diversity! 

Look, you guys really know how to get the numbers up — there are like 2 billion Muslims, right? The Jews, after the Holocaust, we just have, like, a few million — OK, maybe we’re up to 14 million, but still. You guys have lots of countries — like 50 countries — and we just have this tiny one, smaller than New Jersey. We’re just so proud of her. She’s our jewel. And we just want to be left alone. Do you understand?

Omar says nothing.

Maisel: Yes, of course, you want to be left alone, too. I get it. We Jews are a passionate, intense people. We make up for size with intensity. If you use that, can you please credit me? I’m still trying to develop my audience, like you. Oh, I didn’t mean to compare a comedian to a congresswoman! Now that would be offensive, right? You are so insanely qualified. I mean, that line about the Benjamins, you have to be pretty shrewd to come up with that! Oh, wait, is it offensive if I call you a word that people call us? This new system is so confusing.

They call us shrewd because they think we’re good with money — if they only knew how much I spend every week on hats! Look, I know it’s not your fault, you’re just reading from the script. And the script keeps changing. It’s hard to keep up. I mean, are Jews white this week? Maybe I should give you a guidebook to anti-Semitic slurs.

Omar stands up.

Maisel: I truly hope this wasn’t a waste of your time. I just wanted to show you that we’re not satanic. But we do control the weather. I’ll send you a hat.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.