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A Secret Jew in Jordan

In the Peace Corps, I hid my Jewish identity. But that didn’t prevent me from experiencing anti-Semitism.

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Sometimes, bad decisions turn into farces. If you’re unlucky, they can turn into tragedies; if you’re lucky, they become life lessons. I am, it seems, both lucky and unlucky.

Last week, the Jordanian Tourism Ministry issued a warning advising visitors to avoid wearing Jewish garb or performing Jewish rituals in public. It was a sad reminder for me of my own experience there. In 2006, I joined the Peace Corps, beginning a two-year stint in Jordan. The organization does not have any official rules about discussing religious identity, but during a pre-service orientation session in Amman, the trainer recommended that Jewish volunteers wait at least a year before sharing their backgrounds with locals, to get a full sense of what the response might be. A Jewish volunteer who’d served in one of the first groups to go to the country suggested that I tell anyone who asked that I was Christian.

The problem with this strategy became obvious when I showed up in my assigned village, where I would teach English to elementary and middle-school kids for the next two years, and found it brimming with Jordanian Christians as well as Muslims. Could I convince people of both faiths that I wasn’t a Jew?

Early on, in an effort to ease into village life and build social bonds with my new Muslim colleagues and neighbors, I tried to fast for Ramadan. I abstained from food while the sun shone and broke the fast most evenings at a Muslim teacher’s house. This confused the Christian teachers, though—none of them seemed to join the Muslims in their observance—so, in an effort to balance things out, I decided to attend the local church service on Christmas Eve. Alas, this did little to shore up my credibility as a Christian, since I didn’t know the words to the hymns and didn’t even know exactly how to cross myself. From this inauspicious start, it was clear that this was a misguided ruse of my own invention, and yet I felt I had no choice but to keep it up—for as long as I could.


When I was in college, I dreamed about working in the Middle East. I took Arabic courses in school, spent summers learning the language in Beirut and Cairo, and attended London’s School of Oriental and African Studies during my junior year abroad. Feeling idealistic about the region and my place in it, I joked that I would someday be the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to the sovereign state of Palestine. I thought two years in Peace Corps Jordan would mark the culmination of my studies.

Even though the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is more than 90 percent Sunni Muslim, the village where I served bore unusual signs of diversity: two mosques and two churches. There were no Jews, though—except for me. I had hardly mentioned Judaism in the village, and still stupendously weird conspiracies about a Jewish hand in world affairs popped up on a regular basis. I learned that Pepsi allegedly stood for “Pay Every Penny to Support Israel,” and that Israeli intelligence officials were, for some reason, assumed to be involved in the death of Anna Nicole Smith. I ignored it or laughed it off; I didn’t want to stir up any trouble. When Israel came up, I found myself defending the Jewish state—but subtly enough so that I wasn’t pegged as Jewish. I cryptically referred to Israel in my Peace Corps blog and emails as “Indiana,” in case anyone, even other Peace Corps volunteers, read them.

No matter how much I avoided the subject, though, Jewish affairs found their way into normal conversations. On a warm summer day about 10 months into my two-year term of service, I had lunch with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and his Jordanian neighbor in a different village not far from Amman, the capital. It was a quiet Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, and our host wanted to chat—not about Israel or religion, thankfully, but about what I thought might be an innocuous, neutral subject: Charles Dickens.

“Have you read The Pickwick Papers?” asked the man, leaning on one of the mattresses that hugged each wall in the chairless guest room. He was in his early 50s, bearish and affable, wearing a traditional gray dish-disha robe.

“No, I haven’t,” I replied.

“It’s very good,” he said, going on to explain the plot, including his favorite scenes and dialogue. My friend and I were impressed.

“You know,” he continued, “Dickens hated the Jewish.” (Many native Arabic speakers say “the Jewish” instead of “the Jews.”)


“Yes, it’s clear from his books. Have you read Shakespeare?”

“Yes, but not all of his plays.”

“He also hated the Jewish.”

“Is that so?” I asked.

“Of course! My favorite work of his is The Merchant of Venice,” he said. “It tells the truth about the Jewish.”

He paused for a few seconds. I hoped the pause might allow us to change the subject, to talk about something besides anti-Semitic themes in great literature. And then he continued:

“Have you read Tolstoy?”


By the end of the first year, most of my American friends in the Corps knew I was Jewish. I had also come clean to three of the Jordanian Peace Corps staffers, after sensing trustworthiness and getting to know them well in more social settings. Their reaction had been warm. They had known virtually no Jews and were genuinely interested in learning about Judaism.

But, as I’d been advised, during that first year I hadn’t told any of the locals in my village, including the teachers at my school. I wasn’t afraid of a violent reaction, but I had to live and work there, and by opening up without being absolutely assured of the reception, I put many things in jeopardy: the kids I’d taught, the relationships I’d built, and the standing of the Peace Corps in the village that would host a new volunteer once I left. Also, I wasn’t sure how it would go down when it became known that I had been lying for an entire year. The damage to my professional life, not to mention my personal life, could have been irreparable. I chose silence. I was saddened by the choice, but I knew I would never tell a soul in the village.

As my second year in the Corps began, I was teaching an eighth-grade English class. Strolling through the rows during an exercise, I stopped next to a student carving a swastika into his desk with a pen. He looked up guiltily as if he had been caught drawing cartoons. I took a piece of chalk and drew a large white swastika on the board, pointing at it repeatedly amid a scattered historical lecture about the Holocaust, World War II, and Hitler’s mustache. I left the room early and believed I had made my point. The next day, I bounded up the stairs to my classroom to find two words scrawled on the door in thick, red marker: Ghurfat Hitler: Hitler’s room. I pushed the door open slowly, and my eyes drifted to the blackboard, which several students had peppered with small white swastikas. I scanned the silent room for perpetrators. Everyone was grinning. I wiped the board clean, shrugged off what appeared to be a prank, and began teaching the lesson as if nothing happened. But when I went home that day, I called our Jordanian security officer and asked for guidance. He told me that to many people in Jordan, Hitler is considered a hero. I said it was wrongheaded history but avoided telling him that the swastikas had bothered me so much because I was Jewish.

I withdrew from social interactions, and the quality of my service in the Peace Corps rapidly deteriorated. I started taking sick days from school. I isolated myself on the weekends and avoided villagers who knocked on my door. I started to turn down invitations. Then the invitations stopped coming.

Situated in the hills, my village afforded sweeping westward views of the Jordan Valley, flat and hot as the bottom of an iron. At night I could see the headlights of cars across the border, winding around roads in Israel. It was around this dreary period of my service that I decided to take a trip there. I wasn’t seeking solace among the company of Jews in particular; I just wanted a break from Jordan, and taking a taxi to the border was the quickest way out of the country. But instead of vacationing, I spent the entire time fretting about what to do once I got back. The Peace Corps requires that volunteers check in upon returning. I sent an email saying I was back in Jordan when I wasn’t yet. Having told so many lies in the past year, did one more untruth matter? In this case, it did. I returned a day after the appointed time and was summoned to the office. Apparently, our security officer contacted officials at the border. I was busted. It was a fitting note to make an exit on. A trip to “Indiana” ended my failed experiment as a secret Jew in Jordan.


I left right after my 25th birthday, about 10 months before my stint was due to end, and have regretted it since. At first I thought this feeling stemmed from not serving out the two-year term, but a more gnawing self-doubt bothered me. I started to think I’d lost touch with that idealistic version of my previous self. Or maybe I was never that idealistic, and the greatest lie I told about myself was to myself. In Jordan, I had this great opportunity, this perfect opportunity, to show a group of decent people who had never met a Jew that Jews could be decent people. I never got to say what I wanted to in the moments when it mattered most, and I never gave the Jordanians in my village a chance to respond because I was too busy holding back, assuming the worst. I should have taken that leap of faith. It could have been beautiful. It could have been terrible. Now I’ll never know.

When I talk about the Peace Corps with the friend who invited me to his village for lunch—and also knew I was Jewish—we return to the Jordanian man, his beloved Dickens, and specifically to his anti-Semitic take on literature. But that’s not all that happened that day. After talking about Tolstoy’s distaste for the Jews, we all went out on the veranda for dessert. We ate kenafah, a Jordanian treat that is a kind of soft cheese between two sweet pastries. We drank Pepsi, pronounced “Bebsi” since “p” is not in the standard Arabic alphabet.

The sun was setting. I took a bite of the dessert and swigged my Bebsi. Our host squeezed beside me on his swing. After sitting for a minute, enjoying the dusk, he put his arm around my shoulders, pulled me close, and smiled.

“Isn’t it great to talk about books?” he asked. “I feel when we talk this way that all the stars are out and I can see every one of them, shining in the sky.”


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julis123 says:

Great article–don’t expect to see the virulent antisemitism in the Arab world publicized in the Western press; it goes against the prevalent conception.

So much for all of you out there who think that Arabs distinguish between Jews and Israelis–they don’t.

Also, did you know it is illegal to sell land to a Jew in Jordan? This is a country “at peace” with Israel.

    andrew r says:

    I would like some concrete proof that Jordan has such a law on the books. Meanwhile, Israel does not permit Israeli citizens who are not Jewish to lease land held by the ILA or JNF, which between them is ~93% of the land in the Green Line.

    “The dispute was settled by formulating, on 25 July 1960, the laws:
    Basic Law: Israel-Lands, Israel-Lands Law and Israel-Lands
    Administration Law, that is, on behalf of Israel government, not the
    Jewish people. The JNF rules, of restricting transactions to Jews only,
    have been adopted by the state of Israel, whether for the Palestinian
    land that was transferred to JNF or that seized by the state. This land
    would now be administered by a single authority, Israel Land
    Administration (ILA), (Heb: Minhal Mekarke’ei Yisra’el), for the benefit of both parties under the old JNF rules. (…)

    “Thus, ILA administers 92.7% of Israel, which is Palestinian property. Of
    the 20,255,000 donums in this area, the ILA classifies 4,200,000 as
    agricultural land, of which 2,790,000 donums (66 percent) are considered
    Israel-lands; virtually all (97.8 percent) of the latter are under
    lease to collective and smallholder settlements, whose members are
    exclusively Jewish.14″

    -Financing Racism and Apartheid
    (Cites the JNF book by Walter Lehn and Uri Davis)

      julis123 says:

      Here’s the Jordanian citizenship law: (See paragraph 2)

      The following shall be deemed to be Jordanian nationals:

      person who has acquired Jordanian nationality or a Jordanian passport
      under the Jordanian Nationality Law, 1928, as amended, Law No. 6 of 1954
      or this Law;

      (2)Any person who, not being Jewish,
      possessed Palestinian nationality before 15 May 1948 and was a regular
      resident in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between 20 December 1949 and
      16 February 1954;

      (3)Any person whose father holds Jordanian nationality;

      person born in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan of a mother holding
      Jordanian nationality and of a father of unknown nationality or of a
      Stateless father or whose filiation is not established;

      person born in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan of unknown parents, as a
      foundling in the Kingdom shall be considered born in the Kingdom pending
      evidence to the contrary;

      (6)All members of the Bedouin tribes
      of the North mentioned in paragraph (j) of article 25 of the
      Provisional Election Law, No. 24 of 1960, who were effectively living in
      the territories annexed to the Kingdom in 1930.

      As for the rest of your tirade; You’re confusing Arab Israelis and Palestinans

        andrew r says:

        The Kaadans are an example of how this affects Israeli citizens

        the ruling, Barak drew heavily on court decisions in the United States
        barring discrimination against blacks. Aware of the saliently
        post-Zionist implications of the judgment, he made a major effort to
        remain within the state’s ideological consensus: After all he had said
        about the principle of equality, he demanded no more than that the state
        “reconsider” the request by Adal and Iman Kaadan.”

          So what you do is change the subject to suit your message?

          andrew r says:

          My message is that Jordan isn’t being held to this scrutiny from a principled position – It’s to hide the fact that Israel has discriminatory laws which affect people who are citizens of the state (And should be citizens of the state had they not been expelled so it could have a Jewish majority). Also, the clause in the Jordanian citizenship law specifically applies to automatic citizenship granted to Palestinians in the West Bank, so it’s still undetermined that a Jew can’t be Jordanian.

          julis123 says:

          Actually the clause refers to all of Jordan. Jordan and the Arab world can’t discriminate against Jewish citizens because they have either banned them from living there or ethnically cleansed them.

          Fed_Up18 says:

          Your message is that it’s ok for Jordan to be discriminatory against Jews because you insist Israel has *one* discriminatory law against non-Jews, which, even if it were as true as you are painting it, is hardly on the same scale. IOW, it’s the same old tactic of holding Israel to impossibly higher standards & then damning her for not exceeding them.

          andrew r says:

          Okay, I’ll concede that I hold Israel to impossible standards. It’s impossible to be a state for one ethnic group without racism against other groups, especially when that aim is achieved through creating an ethnic majority through a massive forced deportation. (Of course, that’s not the only discriminatory law Israel has.)

          The Zionist founders of Israel did not want a Jordan that would not discriminate against Jews; they wanted a Jordan where the Arabs would get out of the way to make room for their own settlements, just like in Palestine.

          Finally, there’s no case of any Jew trying to be Jordanian, and no law has been cited to indicate Jews are banned full stop from Jordan. There’s one provision that excludes Jews with Palestinian nationality from automatic citizenship and Jordan renounced the territory where that was applicable.

          julis123 says:

          Why would a Jew want to be a citizen in a country that hates Jews? Most of the 850000 Jews who fled the arab countries did so exactly for that reason. In comparison Israel is filled with Jordanians and Palestinians who have illegally entered the country to find a better life.

          Sorry, Andy. Jordan and its race laws came before Israel was created, and its the race laws that helps create hatred in Jordan. Which is what this article is attempting to exploit. Not whatever bullshit reading of a race law you’ve come up with regarding Arabs in Israel. Which has nothing to do with this article, and yet everything to do with your argument, and so I repeat my question: Do you always change the subject so that your opinion can be voiced?

          andrew r says:

          Now Jordan has race laws, plural. The British of course enacted race laws in all their colonies but Transjordan was not created for the purpose of white settlement and the one clause that discriminates against Jews was passed in 1954. (And even here, the clause could have easily avoided the mention of Jews by simply referring to those who were normally resident in the West Bank or were forced from their normal place of residence by Israel).

          I was responding to an assertion that Jordan prohibits Jews from owning land and since no one has conclusively proven that it doesn’t have anything to do with the article, either.

          What’s pathetic, Andy, is taking somebody’s hard work (in this case, the author of this piece) and turning it right on its head (i.e. ignore it) in order to proclaim that you know something the rest of us don’t. Yes, I did write “Race Laws” as in plural. Wow. Great eye, Champ. Meanwhile, maybe you can explain why the Brits forced all of the Jews who lived East of the River Jordan into Western Palestine (i.e. modern day Israel) around the same time they appointed a Hashemite (from the Iraqi region) as the monarch of East Palestine (i.e. Transjordan).

          Sure, you’re the smartest guy here.

SallyGA says:

A moving and honest article. Try not to be too hard on yourself- you made the best decisions you could with what you knew at the time. The anti-Semitism is Jordan is depressing, but not surprising. You have done a great service by sharing your experience as a young and idealistic Peace Corp volunteer. People need to know that cultures are not all the same the world over, and that the tolerance we so prize is not universal, even in “friendly” Middle Eastern countries.

I understand, it’s a hard decision to make. While serving in Iraq, I choose honesty. It worked for me, for the most part … perhaps I was naive. But how are we going to change the world unless we are willing to take risks?

    20pizzapies says:

    Risks are one thing , baring your neck is another . Serving in Iraq is far different than living in Iraq as a commoner and being jewish . Ironicly there was much less open persecution of jews under Saddam and that too was dependent upon what time period under hs Regime .In 1948 ,at the outbreak of the first war against Israel jews were expelled from Iraq , There was a period when iraq was supplied militarily by the US in it’s war against Iran . All in all at present jews are NOT safe in Iraq .And sadly , yes you ARE naive , and NO you wont change the world [at least not the arab/islamic world] especuakky in these times since the hgatred of jews is religiously inspired in islamic doctrine and dogma . Jews are the “fall back ” eternal enemy of muslims , no matter what sect Sunni or Shia . It is the one thing all arab/muslims can agree upon , the jews must go . It will take nothing less than a complete Epiphany on the part of the arab/islamic world to change , I dont foresee that in the near or distant future . Idealism is a great thing , it sets our goals , but it must be tempered with reality .

PhillipNagle says:

This certainly doesn’t speak well of the Peace Corps.

    Why not, specifically? I’m a former PCorps volunteer and had a very successful 2-year service in a muslim country in central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, 1996-98). Much of what happens in Peace Corps depends on the individual volunteer and serves as a kind of character test and education. Seems to me that Peace Corps acted correctly in catching and separating him though they could have had a frank discussion and re-assigned him to a different part of the country if he wanted to start over. What am I missing in what you’re saying?

      PhillipNagle says:

      It appears that the Peace Corps is kowtowing to arab anti-Semitism if Jews cannot openly pratice in a coutry which the Peace Corps sends them.

        But it’s not Peace Corps which dictates Arab culture or Jordanian law. The point of the article is partly that Jordanian Jews can’t live freely either – that’s just the way it is for Jews there.

        It is ‘the toughest job you’ll ever love’ because it changes you deeply. It has changed this guy deeply, for example, even though it wasn’t all positive.I think those points speak deeply to the hidden value of Peace Corps to the US.

          I almost wish the Peace Corps has told this guy that a placement in Jordan was ill-advised. As gay and Jewish, there are places in the world I should simply NOT go to, even for a visit, much less an extended stay.

Raymond_in_DC says:

Freeman may be surprised to learn that in the early 20th century Jews established a number of small agricultural settlements *east* of the Jordan River. But after the Hashemites established the Kingdom of Transjordan, the land was seized and the Jews were expelled. No compensation was provided.

    In 48′, the only jewish settlement in what is today Jordan was “Tel Or” and it was not agricultural – it was basically the workers’ housing of the Rotenberg power plant (the rest of the territories owned by the Zionist movement were abandoned way earlier). This area was internationally recognized as part of Jordan, and Israel has never claimed it had a right on it. In any event, it’s encouraging to see that besides the fascist settlers who try to ethnically cleans the west bank, there are also archi-fascists who still dream of jewish settlements in Jordan. If Freeman’s readers were wondering why there is antisemitism in Jordan, your comment provides an excellent explanation.

      Yes, in 48, decades after Jordan was cleansed of Jews.

        Jordan has never been “cleansed of Jews”, Seth.

          Sorry, it is only illegal for a Jew to own land there…

          Seth: their citizenship law does not exclude jews. There is nothing that precludes a Jew from getting Jordanian citizenship today. Article 3(2) (which I presume you are referring to here), applies to the granting of citizenship in the newly-founded kingdom of Jordan in 1948. For people acquiring citizenship after 1948, there is no reference to Jews.

          Asher: I am really sorry, but the British empire never declared Jordan a “Jew-free Palestine”, and there has never been an ethnic cleansing of Jews from Jordan as a result. I do not know where the quote you are bringing is taken from, but if we want to have a mature discussion here, I strongly recommend that we base what we write on actual facts. You are entitled, of course, to think that Jordan (and Iraq, why not) belong to the Jewish people. But please, don’t invent historical events that never happened.

          alexa44 says:

          There was however an ethnic cleansing by the Jordanian army in 1948 of jews in old Jerusalem and in the jewish settelment in the west bank.
          The San Remo Resolution april 1920
          on Palestine included Transjordan as well to be the Jewish National home.

          Oh, Roi, you’re so mature. That’s what’s so wonderful about discussing not too long ago historical events with a chap like you. The exact notion of creating a “Jew-free Palestine” is the official reasoning as to the creation of East Palestine as it’s own nation-state (i.e. Transjordan) and was used officially by the Brits in their failed attempt at making the Arabs in that part of the world feel good about themselves. This notion was described in detail with cited sources by Joan Peters in her book “From Time Immemorial” which many Israel bashers like to disregard as meaningless propaganda. But, get this, the book as more than 300 pages of cited references, so maybe you’ll want to give it a read. The most important part of the book, btw, is the historical breakdown of the region in terms of who the leaders were, how the land came under Brit control, and then why the UN was involved in creating the State of Israel. If you want to really be mature, then pick up the book and read it with an open mind.

          Natan79 says:

          Seth is exactly right.

          baltasar almudárriz says:

          Does Israeli law allow non-Jews to purchase land?

          Yes it was. When the Brits established it as “Jew-free Palestine.”

      Fed_Up18 says:

      Wow, thanks for not just missing the point, but twisting it inside out. Good job.

      Raymond_in_DC says:

      You really should consider taking a Reading Comprehension course, Roi. I specifically referenced early 20th century – that is, prior to the founding of Transjordan – not 1948. Nowhere did I suggest ethnic cleansing of the “West Bank”, nor was I advancing a claim on the territory of Jordan. I was merely evidencing the anti-Jewish animus that long preceded the establishment of the Jewish state.

Thank you for sharing. It’s nauseating to read what you had to go through and to hide a deep part of yourself.

Jordan is a sh&thole. Why would any sane Jew or Christian want to help these barbaric, racist people is beyond me. The author should be ashamed for hiding his Jewishness. There are plenty of places with sane, decent people. Moslem countries are neither.

Bucky in Wisconsin says:

Well well well. Mr. Liberal, One World, World Citizen, Kumbaya comes across the reality that we are NOT all the same, and that, ooooh, Arabs are visceral anti-semites. I am sure this was a good wake up call for you.. Now, here is my suggestion, go learn something about Judaism, and you will come to realize both who YOU are and where the hatred comes from, and not be so darn ignorant. Really, this article was a pathetic whine of an uber assimalationist ignoramus coming across the harsh reality of “Jews are not like the others.”

Just curious whether he has experienced anything like this in Cambodia?

BTW, Jordan IS Palestine.

Edmond Toub says:

This article is well written and the experiences described are great. I would wish the author not to be too hard on himself either. But ultimately this is a story of the immaturity of youth.
My family left Iran due to anti-semitism in the 1980s. I understand very well what the author is talking about. However, the real issue is not with the Peace Corps or with the villagers or even the anti-Semitic reader of Dickens Freeman talks to.

The problem lies solely in Mr. Freeman, who just didn’t have the emotional maturity to do his job. His job was not to be a shining example of Jewish humanism! His job was to teach children, help villagers and to serve his country.
Being so self absorbed with his identity left him unable to perform this duty and may have undone all the good work he did previously.
I empathize with Mr. Freeman entirely and I do not think carrying a secret about identity in a hostile environment is easy. I could not say I would excel at it either.

In all I am happy that Mr. Freeman was able to share his experience and wish him better luck in choosing his endeavors.

Raymond (who commented below), in 48′, the only jewish settlement in what is today Jordan was “Tel Or” and it was not agricultural – it was basically the workers’ housing of the Rotenberg power plant (the rest of the territories owned by the Zionist movement were abandoned way earlier). This area was internationally recognized as part of Jordan, and Israel has never claimed it had a right on it. In any event, it’s encouraging to see that besides the fascist settlers who try to ethnically cleans the west bank, there are also archi-fascists who still dream of jewish settlements in Jordan. If Freeman’s readers were wondering why there is antisemitism in Jordan, your comment provides an excellent explanation.

And Joe, your article made me really sad. I am genuinely sorry to hear about your extremely difficult experiences during your tenure in Jordan. I would hope, however, that a politically conscious peace-corps volunteer, who testifies that he “dreamed about working in the middle east”, would be able to reflect on these experiences and try to understand their political causes. I would also hope that such a volunteer would actually use these experiences to empathize with the racism that Muslims living in his own country face. Indeed, many American Muslims are often put in an apologetic position, forced to hide or minimize their identity, and frequently find themselves in horribly scary situations. Keep in mind that unlike you, they are experiencing this racism in their own country – they cannot go back to Indiana. By writing such an article you do little more than reinforcing islamophobia in your own country, and thus making more people suffer from the very same hatred that you had to deal with in Jordan. If the region is indeed important for you, I wonder if you wouldn’t want to write another article and reflect about why you experienced what you did.

    By writing an article like that, Mr. Freeman says what one does not hear often in the US (or Europe, I’ve lived there for many years) – many Arabs in the Middle East think of Hitler as a hero. And that is a fact that many “peacemakers” like to forget.

Dina Tanners says:

Poignant article and very understandable. I taught ESL in Spokane, Washington. Many of my students were from Arab countries. My students usually found out soon that I was Jewish because I observe holidays. To many, I was the first Jewish person they met and it was eye-opening to them, and also educational for me. (I was in my 40s and 50s when I taught.) I told very very few of them that I had been to Israel and told none that I had lived there.

I was able to tell them I was Jewish because I was in the U.S., not in their country.

I very much understand Joe Freeman’s dilemma. He really needed to be careful for his safety. While I understand his regret for not telling some in his town that he is Jewish, I think the big issue is that the Peace Corps needs to be sensitive to the issue of religion and the needs of its volunteers.

    If Peace Corps were more sensitive to everyone’s issue, it would have a much tougher time operating. There are a lot of LGBT volunteers out there who get through and have an analogous tough time as the author did. The Peace Corps’ attitude in my experience has consistently been ‘we are here to give you the tools and you will do whatever you are capable of’. I think that’s pretty fair overall.

      I don’t think those concerned are asking for special treatment. That being said, the knowledge of the racism amongst the natives should be put to use rather than sat on and potentially ignored.

Boychic says:

Lesson learned. If you can’t be in an environment where you have to hide who your are, then why go there? If you think you can cure centuries of systemic anti- Jewishness by showing people how wonderful and idealistic you are, then you are suffering from serious delusions of grandeur.

Oy. Mama’s jewish boy left his warm community and found out that life is very difficult without his white privilege. The racism and prejudices that Tablet Magazine publishes may even be directed towards… Him! OMG!! How is that possible?

Come back to sweet home America, Joe sweetie. This would be your safe haven after this horrible experience: a place where the Muslims have to hide their religious identity and Jews can freely complain about antisemitism while being one of the most privileged minority groups in America. Indeed, your article summarizes exactly what the Peace Corps is: a project that guise paternalism with the facade of progressive development work.

Onward colonizers!

    sara maimon says:

    Muslims having to hide their religion is a myth. Statistics show a much sharper increase in anti Jewish crimes in the United States actually than against Muslims.

    Fed_Up18 says:

    Thanks for confessing just what you are. Hope to G-d you haven’t spawned yet.

vashti says:

Jesus, these comment(er)s are horrifying. If you’re reading, Joe, good on you for trying to make a difference. I’m sorry it went down the way it did.

    julis123 says:

    Trying to make a difference by having to hide his true identity? This is a good thing? Maybe the Peace Corps should make it clear to the countries that they work in that they will pull all their workers out if any of them are subject to persecution because of their religious beliefs or ethnic background. Is it too much to expect people all over the world to live up to a minimum standard of behavior?

Thank you for telling about your experience in Jordan. To many Americans, the lands outside our borders seem like something directly out of the Arabian Nights. But if there is to be a complete and comprehensive peace, all of the facts should be brought up, including this.

Adam Levado says:

What a sad commentary on this man’s low sense of Jewish self esteem. Fasting for Ramadan and attending church services? Doing either to learn more about other cultures is defensible. Doing them as a cover for being a Jew is pitiful. Shame, shame, shame on him.

    Natan79 says:

    He’s a kid, inexperienced and wavering. And he has courage to tell this story that puts him in an unflattering light.

    Luiting says:

    Concealing one’s identity is one thing, but to contravene from his own faith is another thing.

    Luiting says:

    Objectively, you’re right. He could have hide his identity by not conforming to the religious beliefs and practice of the people around him, thus refrained from “stepping on his own faith.”

Ethan grangaard says:

This is always what we get , I have had similar experiences so much so that I now wear a big ass star of david on my scottish looking personage, just pisses me off, but keeps us sharp heh.

Why don’t you bow and scrape a little more.

    sara maimon says:

    I feel the same way but then again when I was in Jordan for ONE DAY I didn’t tell anyone either. so who am i to judge. but, you wouldn’t catch me pretending to be a christian in church or whatever.

Your mistake was in hiding who you are. If you can’t handle the heat then the Peace Corps was not right for you. When I travel throughout the Arab world I do not deny who I am and tell those who are with me to do the same. People value honesty and if you feel that you are in danger and the risk is unbearable, turn around and go home.

    20pizzapies says:

    yea that’ll do it seth , yea they value honesty allright , but the only problem is they dont honor , or think much of jews . There were two jews in Ramallah some years ago , soldiers who got lost , they went to a “police station ” for help ….they were honest and innocent .They were also torn to shreds and dead within a hour of their request . Your head is either in the sand …or somewhere else .

      baltasar almudárriz says:

      People get very angry when they are expelled from their own land — don’t you know that by now?

        20pizzapies says:

        Do you mean the 360,000 arabs who left the newly formed state of Israel in 1948 .You know , the ones who were warned by the arab nations about to attack Israel ,to leave lest they be destroyed along with the jews , they left under their own will after being invited to stay and participate in the new nation by the Israelis . They were not expelled ,they expected to return after Israel was destroyed and the jews driven from the land . These people were then placed in refugee camps in Jordan ,Lebanon and Syria ….not allowed to work ,or be citizens or own land .None were “expelled ” . Better study up n the history of this conflict .

        20pizzapies says:

        It should be remembered that in 1918, with the fall of the Ottoman
        Empire, Britain and France were handed 5,000,000 square miles to divvyup and 99% was given to the Arabs to create countries that did not existpreviously. 1% was given as a Mandate for the re-establishment of astate for the Jews on both banks of the Jordan River. In 1921, to onceagain appease the Arabs, another three quarters of that 1% was given to a fictitious state called Trans-Jordan.” –

        “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for
        all-out war, a war which will last for generations.” –
        Yasser Arafat, former leader of the PLO.

        “We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely
        Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by
        psychological warfare and population explosion. We Palestinians will
        take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.” – Yasser Arafat,
        former leader of the PLO.

        “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian
        state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of
        Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference
        between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for
        political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence ofa Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism…
        For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined
        borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While as a Palestinian,
        I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem.
        However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will
        not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.” – PLO executive
        committee member Zahir Muhsein, March 31, 1977, interview with the Dutch
        newspaper Trouw.

fuscator says:

The writer may be a good person, but he comes across as an “incidental” Jew, with nothing to say about himself. 40 years ago he would have been the perfect candidate for Hare Krishna, today he’s perfect for some flavor of Budhism.

20pizzapies says:

ROI , please do not attempt to present yourself s NON-BIASED in your pontifications to other pisters here . I have been to Jordan , Saudi Arabia , Syria , Israel and Southern Iraq .I know precisely tyhe mentality of which the author speaks . He played his cards correctly , for sooner or later an incident will occur , to give muslims/arabs cause to persecute Jews in their midst . It has been going on in Palestine [for lack of better description of pre Statehood ] ,I am especially aware of these things since my mother was born there a Jew . Killings and slaughters of jews were an ongoing occurrence , althoiugh in smaller numbers but CONSTANT . There was no Jordan at the time of her birth so any issue of territory between israel and Jordan before Statehood is irrelevant . It was all part of the Tukish Empire until the end of WW1 My occupation also took me to those lands , and I did not reveal my identity as a JEW . And rightly so , for I had exactly the same experiences , praise of Hitler , the notion that Jews deservingly so in their minds are hated throughout the world .It is explaned so matter of factly the anyone of intelligence soon realizes that this has been inculcated ,and cultivated down through the generations of arabs and muslims , even those of christian faith ! You attempt to sound intellectual but in resality hold the same crude views . The anti-semitism has been there long before you , I , or any poster [as you imply ] puts forth our notions .
Aside from that you are utterly transparent to those who are informed substantially regharding the muslim /arab mindset .
The author, like many before him , was naive and idealistic , but wise enough to take a precaution which could very possibly have saved him a great deal of trouble. He has learned a hard lesson , but I would not share his regret . The reasons bias and prejudicesare what they are …is because they CAN NOT be reasoned with .

    Luiting says:

    I basically agree with your idea, except for your fallacy: “that Jews are hated.. even to those of Christian faith.”

    As a former member of the Roman Catholic, and now of Christian multi-denominational congregation, I can testify that we have high regard for the Jews, being the “Chosen People of G_D”

    In addition, the influence of movies and reading materials pertaining to the holocaust, subjected our mind to sympathize with the fate of your ancestors under the hands of the Nazis.

      20pizzapies says:

      My reference to christians was in the context of those in the middle east .I understand your position as an evangelical or fundamentalist christian . Througout the millenia Jews lived as “cryptic jews ” in Europe to survive , feigning christianity, to avoid inquisitions and general persecution .The tendency among Christian evangelical and Fundamentalists , agreeing that , yes the jews are The Chosen , is to proselytize them , and beleiving that the establishing of the State of Israel is a sign of the Second Coming .That’s fine with jews , uncomfortable but harmless , however this is only recent .
      Roman catholics led the persecution,with the late coming Protestants after Luthor . The notorious Eustashi of Croatia were worse if not as bad as Hitler , the German People and fascisti of Italy were quick to join in … is historic , from the great plagues to the pogroms of the Soviets and pre Soviet Russia .In the M.E. today , more so than any other time in recent history , with the rise of islamists in “arab spring ” more and more is the old tendencies of persecuting jews coming to the surface . A jew traveling the M.E. must recognize present ongoing situations ,and be aware of implications involving their safety in such places Naivety can cost you your life . I’m sure there are some places were being identiufied as a jew will not have negative consequences , but also many places where it most certainly will . I would not recommend to any jew to advertise the fact .

        Luiting says:

        Wisdom can always guide us to discern the path where we should go, and faith gives us security and assurance that we have G_D in our midst.

        For me, “testing” G_D, by going to critical areas, is like “carrying-on” without wisdom. However, in certain cases where one is assigned to go to such critical areas; surely it’s dreadful, like facing our own “Goliaths.” (problem per se) then one should adopt the attitude of David.

        I don’t know for you.. but I always cling on my faith. We do always have to be aware of danger with regards to our religious orientation. I can relate to this because I’d been in some parts of China where being a Christian is not accepted. We used codes to refer to biblical terms and instead of praying with eyes close (particularly in restaurants, before we eat), we acted like we’re not praying at all. What I mean hear is, there’s nobody who can hinder us to practice our faith, we may use “camouflage” but still we can”t fall short on our worship. By always asking for wisdom from the Holy Father, HE never failed to direct my path.

        I want to disclose further that when I agree that Jews are the “chosen people” it wasn’t to proselythize anybody. It’s written in the bible, that’s why I believe.

          20pizzapies says:

          You are not required to believe blindly , know why you feel this way . As for early christians , they were instructed to be wise like the fox . Why ? It was easy to be killed .In the M.E. it behooves Jews to be , “wise like the fox ” . G_D is always in our midst , even if we choose to walk off a cliff .

jzsnake says:

I think your kind of being hard on yourself.

Sorry to hear about your experience. I was a PCV in Morocco for two years, and not only have Jewish heritage, but a Jewish last name. I’m a practicing Christian but grew up with elements of both.

I heard a few anti-Semetic statements in my 4.5 years there (I stayed around working for an NGO), but I was open about my heritage and totally accepted. Older people would remember before 1948 when they had Jewish neighbors and would celebrate holidays with them, or their kids would play together in the streets.

There were some people who didn’t understand the difference between Judiasm as a religion and the Israeli government, and I tried to have grace with that– if you had been fed your whole life media stories about an oppressed people and dead children, it might be hard to make that distinction. But everyone I told– everyone, without fail– told me, often taking my hand in theirs, that I was one of them, a friend, a neighbor, someone they knew and loved and accepted, and that it didn’t matter if I was Muslim, Christian, or Jewish.

It’s not perfect there… but it’s better than most places. When you hear about Mohammed V not following Vichy France’s orders to “turn over the Jews” during WWII and his statement that there were no Muslims, no Jews, no Christians– just Moroccans… and he wasn’t sending Moroccans anywhere? Amazing, beautiful story. Morocco is also the only Arab country where you can have dual citizenship with Israel.

I’m sorry for your experience. I just wanted to share a somewhat similar and also very different story from a 2007-2009 RPCV. :)

    julis123 says:

    Oh yes, Morrocco is just great for Jews now that nearly all of them fled due to persecution:

    In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of his
    fellow Muslims toward their Jewish neighbors:

    The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was
    to treat someone as a Jew….My childhood friends have remained anti-Jewish.
    They hide their virulent anti-Semitism
    by contending that the State of Israel was the creature of Western imperialism….A
    whole Hitlerite myth is being cultivated among the populace. The massacres
    of the Jews by Hitler are
    exalted ecstatically. It is even credited that Hitler is not dead, but
    alive and well, and his arrival is awaited to deliver the Arabs from

Binyamin says:

What he hid was not his Jewish-ness, but his pro-Israel-ness.

herbcaen says:

Just a question-should there be a Peace Corps at all? Does the US gain from having it, especially with people with no concept of gratitude? Do we put our young in harms way, ie like our consulate in Benghazi?

    The Peace Corps can bring peace where an army can’t. Just because these Jordanians hate Jews doesn’t mean they can’t be changed through education.

      herbcaen says:

      What has been their record in that? Do countries that have a significant Peace Corp presence hate the US any less than countries that dont? This could be quantified

20pizzapies says:

The whole idea of the peace Corps , is to accentuate the American Spirit of helping others improve their condition .It’s not a christian or jewish outreach .There are many places where the peace corp operates where one’s religion is inconsequential , other places where it IS . A simple and ancient rule to follow : “when in Rome , do as the Romans do ” ….the unstated back part of the axiom to be assumed , is of course ” if you don’t you may find yourself on the wrong side of a sword ” Common sense should rule .

One never knows what would have happened, but from your article it looks like you would have been silly to play the hero.

You didn’t mention any violence so I assume that it was not a violent place but the dislike was so pervasive that anything could have happened.

The man mentioned how Dickens and Shakespeare and Tolstoy hated Jews and you’re too stupid to realize that he knew you were a Jew. And in that twisted self-righteous logic you think you’re so smart in hiding from him that you are a Jew. You folks, yes, you folks are incredible. Stupid does not even begin to describe it.

You know I’ve taught public school in L.A. for over 20 years now. Once as a sub back in the mid-90’s, a young man drew a swastika on a paper, I believe that he turned in to me on the paper of his assignment. He was in 7th grade and I’d long since and continue to not give the benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say I was informed that this young man went home crying and no I did not touch him. Whether he hated Jews, thought I was a Jew or not he needed to learn that this symbol is not OK, at least around me. I think he learned that lesson. Whether he knew about Hitler I cannot say. However it is difficult to not know about HItler and the swastika and Jews if one can read and has a TV, as most Americans can do and do own.

Who on earth would go back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition? Crypto Jews endangered their lives because they wanted to keep their judaism alive. But why would you Joe, choose to volunteer in the XXI century your services in a country where people are rabid anti Jewish? Aren’t their enough organizations in Israel or in other Jewish communities around the world where you would be welcome?

baltasar almudárriz says:

The problem is that you guys single yourselves out by exaggerating your differences with the rest of humanity- which generates its own karma. Especially when the story is that you have a special relationship with the Lord of the Universe.

LaurenceOfArabia says:

I am a Jew who has visited Saudi Arabia on business four times. I observed antisemitism, and I don’t mean just criticism of the State of Israel. For example, in a bookstore I saw a book with a cover showing a star of David and a crude stereotype image of a Jew–probably the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I also had to listen to a long tirade by a Christian Lebanese worker who lives part-time in the U.S.: about how Jews are too clannish, control the media, etc. I couldn’t get angry because I was enjoying the irony too much. I really identify with Joe Freeman and cut him some slack on account of his youth at the time and his idealism for joining the Peace Corps. (My daughter served in Guyana.) Shalom aleichem, salaam aleykum.

Louis says:

Anyone who is kind of acquainted with the “Arab states” knows that they are all deathly afraid of Israel – hence the anti-semitism. The reasons for the hate – who knows (?), but the military strength of Israel is what keeps that nation alive.

Morrissey says:

“When Israel came up, I found myself defending the Jewish state”

There’s your problem, right there. Were you so brutally insensitive that you didn’t realize a high proportion of your students were from Palestinian families that had been expelled from their land in the late 1940s and the 1960s? You “found yourself defending” the outlaw regime that did this? That is chutzpah, my friend, chutzpah on an epic scale.

“—but subtly enough so that I wasn’t pegged as Jewish.”

The problem was not that you were Jewish, as you so evidently want it to be. The problem is that you “found yourself defending” the Israeli state.

Hi, i think that i saw you visited my web site so i
came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to improve my web site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!\

Cora Neimat says:

I served with this guy in the Peace Corps. We went through training together and had a number of interactions. He never hid his religion. He made sure that every volunteer and PC staffer knew he was Jewish. He spent every possible weekend in Amman getting drunk. He didn’t stay in Israel an extra day because he was sad to go back to a place that didn’t accept his religion. He couldn’t cross the check point out of Israel because he was too stoned. He spent his entire time in Israel smoking marijuana and hash.


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A Secret Jew in Jordan

In the Peace Corps, I hid my Jewish identity. But that didn’t prevent me from experiencing anti-Semitism.