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Antisemitism

            I don’t want to write about antisemitism. I don’t even want to think about it. I have been lucky to live in the United States, and in New York, and especially on Long Island, because for most of my life anti-Semitism was a vague noise in the background, or a lesson from history, instead of an everyday reality for me. Even in High School, when I knew that my Jewish school was receiving bomb threats, I still didn’t take it in as a real danger. I was comfortable being an American Jew. It seemed normal, just like being a Catholic or a Methodist, or nothing. If anything, I experienced more conflicts within the Jewish community, especially between liberal and Orthodox Jews, than without. I knew I was part of a religious minority, but it didn’t seem to matter. Yet.

“Uh oh. That sounds like foreshadowing.”

            I’d heard about the blood libels in previous centuries, when Jewish people were accused of killing Christian babies in order to use their blood to make matzah. Setting aside the obviously unbelievable claim that Jews were killing babies for ANY reason, it’s important to know why this accusation would actually make religious Jews laugh. Jews who keep kosher salt their meat (this is where the name Kosher Salt comes from) in order to remove as much blood as possible before cooking, because blood isn’t kosher. And matzah, which is eaten at Passover, is made under very strict conditions, using only flour and water, under rigid time limits, so that the idea that anyone would add anything to the matzah, let alone human blood, is unthinkable.

“Matzah is boring.”

            But I remember, after 9/11, when an outspoken minority of people blamed Israel for the attacks on the World Trade Center, either with wild conspiracy theories about Mossad agents disguising themselves as Muslim Terrorists, or arguments saying that if Israel had never existed then terrorists would never have targeted the United States. The rhetoric made me anxious, but I didn’t see many people taking them seriously. And the extreme backlash against anyone who looked like they could be from the Middle East, or who seemed to be practicing Islam, was much more of an issue. It seemed wrong to focus on some anti-Semitic theories, when there was anti-Muslim violence going on all around me.

            Maybe things started to change with the onset of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, an umbrella movement that included groups that were specifically protesting the presence of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, and groups that believed Israel had no right to exist, the Holocaust never happened, and Jews should be pushed into the sea. As the BDS movement became more popular on college campuses, I heard more stories about Jewish college kids facing demonstrations against Israel on campus that supposedly focused on anti-Zionism as separate from anti-Semitism. The problem with that argument is that Zionism started as a movement to save Jews from life threatening situations in Europe, especially in Russia, in the 19th century, and grew in intensity after six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, just for being Jews. If the criticism had focused on the policies of the current government of Israel, without bleeding into a criticism of the existence of Israel, I could understand; just like you can be a patriotic American, or a friend of the United States, and disagree with the policies of the Trump administration. But anti-Zionism, if it means antagonism to the existence of the state of Israel, and unwillingness to recognize what led to the creation of the state by the United Nations, IS anti-Semitism.

None of this is to say that the Palestinians have been treated well, by the British, or the Jordanians, or the Egyptians, or the Israeli government; damage has been done and continues to be done. But if activists refuse to look at the causes of the complicated and painful current reality in the Middle East, and instead decide that everything is the fault of the Jews, for being there in the first place, then they are falling into old tropes that lead us all back into the darkness. When voices at the edges started to say, out of anger or ignorance, that the word Zionist was comparable to the word Nazi, they crossed a line that is hard to ignore, or forgive.

“Grr.”

But, even with all of that rhetoric, I still felt safe at home, in America. And then, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups grew in strength, and terrorist attacks took place in Europe, and then white supremacists carried their tiki torches in Charlottesville, to protest the removal of confederate statues (that shouldn’t have even been there in the first place), and they yelled, “Jews will not replace us.” Wait, what? What do Jews have to do with this?

            And then I started to hear about swastikas on bathroom walls, in Long Island schools, and then synagogues in the United States were attacked. But… so were mosques and churches and schools and movie theaters, and the news people said that it was terrorism in general, not anti-Semitism in particular, no matter what the shooters, or the internet trolls, were saying. I wasn’t sure what to think, or how to feel. I had never directly experienced antisemitism. Microaggressions, sure. Lack of knowledge, or insensitivity about Jewish issues, or lack of historical memory, sure, but nothing like what I’d heard from older Jews, about how it used to be, even in America, when Jews were excluded from professions and schools and towns and clubs just for being Jewish, before and after the Holocaust took six million Jewish lives.

But still, I thought, I’m an American. Three out of four of my grandparents were born in the United States. That should make me safe.

“Safe, American Cricket.”

And then, a few weeks ago, for the first time, someone left anti-Semitic comments on my blog. I couldn’t read those comments from a distance, as if it were news that had nothing to do with me, because it was on MY blog, and it was directed at me. Reading those comments, three by the same author, highlighted for me the fact that I had never been targeted like that before, not on my blog, and not in person, ever. I was always more worried that I would alienate readers by writing about Jewish stuff on my blog because it would be too niche, or boring, than I was worried about facing antisemitism. I was able to remove the comments from my blog easily, and there has been no recurrence, but, I couldn’t forget about them.

            I still feel safe, or as safe as I am capable of feeling. But, anti-Semitism is real to me now in a way it wasn’t before. And the lessons of the Holocaust (be wary of hatred and targeting of people because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, disabilities, or ethnic group) are more prominent again, for everyone.

It is so easy to blame someone, some group, some minority that you don’t identify with, when things start to fall apart. It’s so easy to project your own self-loathing and guilt and fears onto someone else who is not you, when you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And it is shockingly easy for a leader in trouble, or seeking more power, to target vulnerable groups and aim societal anger and fear like a firehose in order to gain even more power.

I didn’t realize how easy it was to create baseless hatred, honestly. But now I do. And that really does scare the crap out of me. Because it could all happen again.

“Uh oh.”
“Don’t worry, Mommy. I only hate people who deserve it.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

My Morning at the DMV

(note: this post was written before the shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue this morning)

I had to renew my driver’s license and decided to upgrade to the new version that acts as a sort of domestic passport, because Mom said I should. That meant going to the Department of Motor Vehicles in person. My last visit, ten years ago, wasn’t too bad, so I assumed things would be the same this time and didn’t try too hard to get there before the place opened. Bad idea.

Just as I arrived, the doors opened and a long line of people was walking in. I then spent a half an hour circling the parking lot, trying to find an open spot. Some people are good at following random walkers, stalking them to their cars, and intimidating other drivers away. I am not one of those people. I finally lucked into a free spot, seconds before I was ready to give up. Once inside the building I was sent to my first line of the day. This was the concierge line, where we waited to be told which line to wait on.

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“I don’t wait on lines, buster.”

Then I stood on a longer line, and had my paperwork checked and was given a ticket that specified what I was there for and gave me a number. A very high number. Once I left the line, I found a spot on the wooden benches with everyone else, to sit and wait. These benches were clearly chosen by a local chiropractor, hoping to make a lot of money out of people leaving the DMV in pain. I tried to run through all of my neck and shoulder stretches, without banging into people on either side of me, but it didn’t help. I was in an enormous amount of pain, and I’d forgotten to bring a book to read for distraction, so I watched the silent recipe videos on the screen in front of me, and watched the ticket numbers slowly rise. An hour and a half later, or so, I was called to one of the clerk’s windows, to do my vision test, and have my paperwork checked over (there was a scare when the clerk thought my birth certificate might not be valid because there was a scrap missing from the corner of the paper, but he checked with his manager and it was fine). Then there was the identification photo. For some reason they don’t want the pictures taken with glasses on, even though I am close to blind without my glasses. It’s possible that I was looking in the direction of the camera when the picture was taken, but I have no idea.

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“Am I facing the right direction?”

Then I was sent back to the benches to wait to be called again. This wait was more like half an hour, not too bad, and my papers were rechecked, and things were typed into the computer. I asked why my papers had to be checked so many times and the second clerk said, protocol, and shrugged. And then I paid, and was given a temporary license, and I was, finally, able to leave.

The relief of walking out of the building was enormous. I felt like I’d been in there for days instead of just a few hours. As soon as I got to the car, as a reward, I decided to drive around the corner to Trader Joe’s, and bought one of every winter squash they had. That almost made the trip seem worth it. But by the time I got home I was barely able to sit up long enough to eat my lunch. The pain in my neck and back was excruciating and the resulting nap was long.

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Winter Squashapalooza!

Next task, renewing my passport, or actually, getting an entirely new passport, because the one I have is from age fifteen and has never been renewed because I haven’t been out of the country since that long ago trip to Paris and London. But I need more rest before I move on to that task, and I’d also like to see how the first picture came out, and see if there’s anything I can do to look less like a drunk person when I can’t wear my glasses.

I’m doing all of this because I have the time, while I don’t have an internship, and because I feel like I should be prepared, either for the lovely possibility that I might someday go on a vacation again, or for the less lovely possibility that my country is starting to resemble pre-holocaust Germany and I will need to be able to leave in a hurry. I don’t really believe that that’s going to happen, yet, but it’s a fear, and having a fresh passport would reduce some of the underlying anxiety.

The problem, though, is that dogs don’t get passports. Dogs can be put into quarantine before being allowed to enter certain countries, and they are often put in the cargo hold instead of in the airplane itself, where they belong. I can’t imagine going anywhere that won’t treat my dogs like the worthwhile people they are.

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They are refusing to take their passport photos, in protest.

So, more likely than not, I will be staying home. And if the world crashes down around me, I will at least have two forms of I.D., and the dogs, and a huge stash of winter squash to keep me company. The dogs will be thrilled!

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They will be thrilled, when they wake up.