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This morning, the meeting I was in at the synagogue I work at in Dallas was interrupted by one of the rabbis on the clergy team. âIâm sorry I need to miss the meeting. Thereâs been a bomb threat at the JCC. Last week, 17 JCCs in cities around the country received threats. Today, seven more received them, including the one in Dallas. Weâre meeting to determine our response and next steps. There will be a staff meeting in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, this is the world we now live in.â
Yes, unfortunately, this is the situation in which we live. I called my husband after the staff meeting at which we were briefed on the threat and security protocols for our building were reviewed. I shared what I knew.
âHateful cowards!â he responded. After we had spoken, I went back to my office to try to return to my âto doâ list. But my thoughts kept returning to the state of our union.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 cases of reported hateful harassment and intimidation in the 10 days after the November election, including in schools, business and on the street. The post-election incidents followed a year in which the FBI reported a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, and similar crimes against Jews, African Americans and LGBT individuals also increased. Overall, reported hate crimes spiked 6 percent. Since many incidents go unreported, the actual number was probably higher. As a Jew and a member of an interfaith family, it is my responsibility to demand and work toward inclusivity in the Jewish community and in this country.
Our country has been through dark periods before with leaders who refused to speak up and stand up for those suffering injustice and experiencing violence. We know the consequences of hate both on our soil and abroad. So why are our leaders and fellow Americans not doing more to stop this alarming trend of hateful harassment, intimidation and episodes of anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic behavior? And, what will it take for our leaders and communities to say, âEnoughâ?
When will those who #ChooseLove speak louder than those who hate?
Recently I had an article published on a Jewish site about a dream I had. It was a political piece, and during these rough, media-frenzied times I received a ton of comments, most of them not the loving kind. I am often asked to write pieces about my Jewish experience, my interfaith experience and my everyday experience as a mother. How do I incorporate two faiths in my home when I am Jewish and Adrian, my partner, is Mexican Catholic? What and how do we teach our daughter about our vastly different cultures and faiths?
The first comment I received was harsh: âThis is the stupidest thing Iâve ever read. Just pure drivel!â I had struck a political nerve. Also, I should mention that I talked a lot about Hitler in my piece, a little about Anne Frank and how my dream was recurringâa real nightmare. But nowhere in my piece did I tell my audience who to vote for, or condemn them for choosing a particular party they feel represents them. What I did question was how to teach my daughter to have loving-kindness and tolerance for the things I donât believe represent me.
As I scrolled down, I saw there were almost 80 comments. One man said, âMs. Keller would look great in my oven.â That same man uploaded a picture of a bar of soap from a concentration camp with a Jewish star on it. There were also all sorts of comments about my interfaith relationship. âYou have shamed your people and disobeyed the Torah by mating with a goy.â (âGoyâ is a term used by Jews to describe people who arenât Jewish.) One person took my article and posted it on another blog, where people commented again about my family, saying, âI feel bad for your guinea-pig daughter.â Then I got some personal hate-mail emails.
One person wrote: âYou neurotic Jews are so hilarious. You preach to us about âparanoid style of American politicsâ and the scare mongering of Joe McCarthy, but you see Hitler under every bed. LOL.â And, âBefore you morally supremacist and narcissistic Jews pontificate about how holy shmoly you are, you should consider a few things.â I had clearly raised some eyebrows. Someone else told me to pack my daughterâs bags full of tacos and burritos and prepare her for her trip south.
Ellen DeGeneres says she never reads anything about herself, good or bad. Now I understand why. Itâs easy to get sucked in to all that hate. Itâs easy to want to respond to every single person who has something to say. But I believe in freedom of speech; I just donât believe in stupidity. I also believe in Shakespeare, which is one of the reasons I only replied to one person who had personally stalked me via email to get her point across. I simply replied, âThe lady doth protest too much, methinks.â Itâs one of my favorite lines of all time fromÂ âHamlet.â
What bothered me the most wasnât the blatant anti-Semitism; it wasnât the insults to my writing. What bothered me were the insults on the blog where my article was re-posted. Those people were talking about my daughter, my beautiful, innocent, carefree 1-year-old daughter. It was a moment of clarity: There are people who love to hate other people. There are people who are so unhappy with their own lives, their own situations and their own senses of self that they have to troll around the Internet to find someone they can hate.
The funny thing about the computer is that it doesnât have a face. If I had written an article for a class or a conference and people disagreed with it, there would probably be some hand-waving, some discussion, maybe even a healthy debate. Because there is no face on the Internet there is no consequence to what people say. Many of these commenters hide behind fake names. One manâs name was âBill Kristolnach,â a pun on âKristallnachtâ (the âNight of Broken Glassâ when the Nazis shattered everything Jews owned as the Holocaust began) and Bill Kristol, the political analyst.
But the comments about my child threw me for a loop. Is this what she will come up against in school? What will I tell her to do? How should she respond? What if someone tells her to go put tacos and burritos in her backpack because sheâs being deported, even though sheâs an American citizen? Will she believe them? Will she be scared? What will I tell her to respond if they say she has shamed the Torah? Will she believe in a God who is merciful, who will save her from this hatred? My 11-year-old self would tell her to put her fist through someoneâs face. But thatâs one of the reasons I was kicked out of an Orthodox yeshiva, and Iâm trying not to repeat the past.
What will I say? Because there will be days she wonât understand who she is or where she comes from. There will be days she asks what it means to be Mexican, what it means to be American, what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be Jewish. I hope to continue the traditions of both the Jewish and Catholic holidays in our home in order for her to learn, grow and one day decide who she is and who she will become. That is her choice to make, not mine.
One of my favorite quotes to repeat when I am faced with adversity is by Nelson Mandela: âNo one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.â
The hateful comments were later deleted from the original site, but a few more personal hate emails did make their way into my inbox. Hate is a good lesson. It teaches us that history really does repeat itself. It gave fuel to my original article and had people reading and thinking. Hate twists and turns itself around to fit in the places where love never existed. There are people who already hate my daughter because of her skin, her two religions, because of me and who I am, because of Adrian and who he is. All we can do in response to hate is to love. We can love and love and love. Then we can also punch a wall and scream into a pillow.