“If you were on a airplane that was hijacked, and they said Jews go to left and everyone else go to the right, what would you do?”
I was at a non-denominational summer camp when this question came up. It was the summer of 1984; I was thirteen-years old, identified as Jewish, and there had been three hijackings in the news. My friends and I had just talked a Florida camper down from tears. She was sure that her plane would be diverted to Cuba.
These are the conversations you have when adults aren’t around. They are conversations that force you to face who you are and figure out what, if anything you would stand for. I remember my question to the questioner: “Wait. Do you know that the hijackers are against Jews?” The answer. “No. You don’t know if something is going to happen to the Jews or not.” “Then no,” I answered. “I don’t want to die. I’d say I wasn’t Jewish.”
Because of how I choose to present my Judaism, it’s pretty easy to be overlooked as a just another white person who might raise a tree on December 25th (I did in 20 years of marriage to a non-Jew) and eat chocolate bunnies in the spring. (Who would pass up chocolate—not me.) But that ability to pass, often makes me privy to microaggressions and anti-semitism that sometimes happen within closed groups. To avoid that, I often declare myself as Jewish early in new work relationships. I’m no shrinking violet and it’s my moral imperative to not only speak up for all underrepresented people in negative situations but also to advocate positively for diversity and equality.
The growing anti-semitism in our country goes hand in hand with other messages of hate and othering against: Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and all brown and black people. The recent comments (from those who sit in the whitest White House in recent history) about Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty and our President’s on-going reaction to the racist and anti-Semitic events of Charlottesville bring me to tears. There is no doubt that KKK and neo-Nazi members, and others who label themselves as white supremacists are emboldened by the friend they have in President Trump. I am equally aghast whenever I see Jewish organizations supporting this president.
What does one do when it looks as if our entire country has stepped into a time machine that takes us back to (reveals that we never left) an amorphous period between 1890 and 1969?
I recently found this New York Times Article, “Revocation of Grants to Help Fight Hate Under New Scrutiny After Charlottesville.” In summary, President Obama earmarked $400,000 to the organization “Life after Hate” to help members of hate groups out of extremism. When President Trump took office, he rescinded those grants. I’ve donated to the organization in the hopes that, as President Obama Tweeted:
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love…”
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
In addition to my donation, I will continue to shut up and listen to those who face bigots daily simply because of the color of their skin. I will stand up, speak out for, and ask difficult questions about equality, diversity, and peace in my art, writing, personal, and professional life. I will suggest wonderful books to children and families that provide empathy and education. And if, G-d forbid, I am put in a situation where I have to declare my identity and face possible harm, I hope we will all stand together on the same side of that plane as human beings.