When the unthinkable becomes thinkable

I have never been to Virginia.

I am not an African American.

I am not an expert.

I am not writing on behalf of one party or another.

I am not above anyone else. 

Still, I am a Jew. I am an American Jew. 

This is all so difficult. It is astounding to even type about something you never thought to conceive of as reality, but we have to do something.

I sit speechless watching this video. My jaw is dropped lower than the floor. 

I click pause and all of a sudden I began thinking about one specific moment. In this same spot in my room, six years ago, sitting upright on my bed, I was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. As I read this novel which recounted the horrific events of a Holocaust survivor and his father, 16 year-old me constantly thought to myself how grateful I was that I did not have to experience the contents of this book. “The Holocaust is over,” I would remind myself and anti-semitism would not prevail. Though this thought process didn’t make the reading any easier to internalize, I felt safe beyond the pages. 

I felt so lucky that this unthinkable moment was over. 

Being the only Jewish student in my grade in high school gave me a glimpse into what it was like to be that one who was set apart from the rest. Unable to attend football games on Friday nights or be part of key volleyball tournaments and homecoming dances that took place on Yom Kippur, I grew up feeling different. 

Fast forward four years to having just graduated from a school with an extremely strong Jewish and pro-Israel community: I have never felt more connected to Judaism. 

I continued to feel lucky each day that the same unthinkable moment in history was over.

This summer I was able to travel to Berlin, Germany with some of my closest friends from Penn. Though this was a place I had somewhat feared my entire life, I felt safe. The city is still rebuilding and the Holocaust memorial is still relatively new, but I felt safe to be a Jew. Recently returning home to Wichita, Kansas, I have never been more unsure. Not in Germany, but in America, land of the free, a couple of states over, there are actual human beings enacting the same tactics that I had always feared. 

What comes next? To what end do we allow free speech to breach morality?  I wish I had the answers.

Though widely understood that the violence in Charlottesville was poorly handled by President Trump, we need to stop pointing fingers. This was not the fault of one person. Related events, to varying degrees, have happened in our country before. There have been vandalized synagogues, shattered Holocaust memorials, open firings in nightclubs, senseless shootings, police brutality, and hate crimes of every sort. Most moments result in a broken community and an unrepairable unwillingness to see through the party lines to what both the right and the left share: a common humanity of knowing the difference between right and wrong. The violence in Virginia is an American issue, not a duel between parties.

The Alt-Right neither encompasses nor represents every person on the right, and instead of furthering ourselves from someone across the aisle, let’s start elsewhere by closing the gap. What’s the point of continuing to denounce generalizations of right and left when we all know that this was wrong? The violence in Charlottesville is more than you and me, and more than right versus left. This is not about being a Trump supporter or not, this is about knowing when enough is enough. 

We should not allow this “horrible moment for our country” to create a deeper divide among us, for this could become more than just a “moment.” This obscene “moment” could escalate as we have seen “moments” like this escalate in the past. This is a turning point where we should move forward, united, in the fight against senseless hate. We are stronger as a nation if we can come together, across parties and as humans, to combat the violence in Charlottesville and beyond.

How do we do this? That is the difficult part - but we can all start somewhere. 

Whether its watching the Vice video attached above, starting conversations with those in our families and communities, or taking time out of our days to engage in acts of kindness, we can all start today. I am going to start by educating myself further on terminology surrounding extremism to understand the Alt-Right, the Alt-Light, and Antifa. I’m going to keep talking about the violence in Virginia, ensuring that I do not remain passive. I’m going to start by sharing this with my family and friends and figuring out the next steps. 

Let’s start conversations. Let’s talk with others who might think differently than ourselves. Let’s talk with those across the aisle, from both the right and the left, who are currently being tuned out by the violent. Let’s not lose faith that human beings have the capacity for love and human kindness. Let’s continue to fight the good fight. And let’s try to slowly lower our fingers and point towards our shared humanity, because we have way more in common than we might currently believe.

Now I urge you to re-familiarize yourself with this quote, by Martin Niemöller, as it is closer to home than it has ever been. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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