When Hate Crimes Hit Close To Home

Now it is in my backyard. This is the place I was raised. I expected better from it.
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I clicked through a photo gallery of vandalism at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, where my great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles are buried. Toppled graves, defaced photos on headstones. Defaced sounds clinical, but here it is an exact word—care was taken to destroy only the faces on the mounted photos. There is no chance that such damage occurred from weather or settling earth. At the end of the slide show was a teaser, “Like this topic? You may also like these photo galleries: State Wrestling Championships, Hockey finals.”

My mind can’t make the shift. I have come to the end of the slide show, but the topic is not over for me.

I’m not very Jewish. My mother left the faith before I was born. The few Yiddish words I know were taught to me by a former boss. Sure, I’ve attended a few Passover Seders and we always celebrated Hanukah every year, but that’s about the extent of my Jewish traditions. I am only Jewish in terms of my vulnerability.

My mother raised me to know that I was Jewish enough for Hitler—Jewish enough for hate. Now I feel that defenselessness deep inside my body, in my veins, my bone marrow. Fear probably travels through nerves, not blood, but the resulting feel of it is the same. These are my people in the cemetery. This was my home town.

I can’t find adequate words, so I open Facebook and read my newsfeed, hoping for distraction, perspective. Instead I read that my hometown’s Jewish Community Center received a bomb threat today. A former classmate’s son attends daycare there. She posted photos of her son, who looks to be around four or five years old. How can anyone target the innocent? I thought society was outgrowing such venom. Now it is in my backyard. This is the place I was raised. I expected better from it.

It wasn’t easy growing up the child of lesbian parents in the 1970s-80s. My half-Jewishness was the smallest target on my back. But as an adult, I have noticed how many people did accept us—how many parents let their daughters spend the night at my house. I have focused my middle-aged eye on kindness. It is harder to reconcile that such evil also lives in the people I once stood in line with at the grocery store. Which one of them was it? I know in my head that the majority of people do not hate so deeply. I know plenty of people who are outraged by the recent hate crimes.

It only takes one vile person to threaten, to remind us that we are not safe. We can neither remove our vulnerabilities nor eliminate evil. It is easier to hold your head up and walk without fear in theory than in practice. I do not know what to tell my children, but I will need to find words of reassurance and hope, even if I don’t entirely believe them.

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