Courage at Twilight: “I Am a Jew”

Dad retired from Johnson & Johnson in 1998, after a 33-year career. In the 1970s, he traveled to Europe several times for a series of meetings with European executives and scientists from J&J companies.  The meetings aimed to standardize the ingredients and raw materials for J&J signature products, like baby shampoo, which until then had been made according to varying recipes and materials sources and qualities in each different manufacturing country.  During the seventh meeting, held in Germany, a German executive commented to Nelson that his only regret about World War II was that Germany had not finished the job with the Jews.  Dad wrestled for an infuriated moment with how to respond to the bigot.  Johnson & Johnson nurtured an inclusive and diverse company culture, often ahead of the competition, and did not tolerate racism in its ranks.  Such prejudice was so antithetical to J&J culture, and to Dad’s own sensibilities, and he knew a strong reaction was required.  He announced to the German man, “You should know that I am a Jew.”  In fact, Dad was not Jewish.  But as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he knew he was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—he was an Israelite, like the children of Judah.  As such, the Jews were his brothers and sisters and cousins—they were family, respected and loved.  So, Dad declared, “You should know that I am a Jew.”  At this declaration, the man started, then stammered, “No, you’re not a Jew, you don’t look like a Jew.”  “No—believe me, I am a Jew.  And let me tell you something.  If I ever hear you say anything similar to what you have just said, ever, I will see to it that your career with this company is ruined forever.”  In the General Counsel’s office of J&J, Dad had the power to make good on his promise.  To his knowledge, the man never uttered his offensive and racist views again.  Throughout my life, I have observed Dad taking a fearless stand against bigotry, racism, prejudice, and oppression wherever he encountered it.  His children and grandchildren have all inherited from him a legacy of sensitivity to human dignity and worth, irrespective of race, religion, or ethnicity.  I am proud of that legacy.

(Image by Mauistik from Pixabay.)

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