My Southern Momma groomed me to be a well-mannered lady with class, poise and grace. Unfortunately for her, the old question of “were you raised in a barn” rang true as I happily grew up on a horse farm. Consistently covered in dirt from taking care of my beloved pony Charlie Brown, the traditional customs of learning to be a southern woman evaded me.
My mother nonetheless, forced me to continue in my southern training by having me recite Emily Post, walk in heels balancing a book on my head, and having weekly formal dinners, among other tortures for a horse-crazy little girl. As I simply adore my Momma – a woman with eight post-graduate degrees and a personality like fire – I soaked up everything she has ever told me. One such rite of passage for any southern girl is the learning of how to handle those, who G-d bless their hearts, are not the ripest of peaches on the peach tree – here meaning, one’s enemies.
My mother, despite having a look when she’s angry that can paralyze the bravest of souls – to the point of my questioning any blood relation to Greek mythological figures – explained to me that when coping with individuals with whom we would rather not, the secret is “a life well lived”. “It drives them crazy!” as my mother would say in follow-up to this pearl of wisdom. I was utterly confused! I knew a woman (my mother) who’s mouth was like a poetic sword, why couldn’t I just speak my peace, bring a person down a few notches and then move on? It took years to figure out my mother’s wisdom, but it has finally set in, all thanks to those suffering from the social condition of “Israelophobia”, G-d bless their hearts.
As a Jewish-American in the deep south, I didn’t really face anti-semitism. This isn’t to say that anti-semitism doesn’t exist in the South, simply to state my own experiences. Thus, when I was accepted into a Scottish University for my first masters degree, I didn’t think much of it – anti-semitism that is. I knew that Europe had a long history of anti-semitism and that reports of anti-semitic events in Europe were occurring with more frequency. Nonetheless, I never suspected that I would be the victim of anyone, I dreamed of year exploring castles, riding horses in the highlands, and being in awe of experiencing studying at one of the most prestigious and historical universities in the world.
Sadly, my dreams were far from the reality of mega phones, screaming, calls for the death of Israelis, cyber-bullying, anti-semitic graffiti on daily walks etc etc. I watched as Jewish students desperately hid their identity to feel safe, experienced professors directly state their dislike of Jews, and listened as Israeli students describe being kicked out of a bar for being Israeli. Is was interesting yet concerning to witness otherwise sane emotionally-stable individuals, flip into a Hyde-like figure at the very mention of the word Israel – a country in which they had no academic knowledge nor one in which they had ever visited.
I was concerned not only by the extreme emotionally-charged outbursts by the most common of people, but also by the fear and security concerns of the Jewish community within the U.K. I had never experienced a synagogue needing security personnel to question individuals as they attended services, nor for there to be security codes on the front door of a place of worship. I never knew of Jewish students fearful to speak about their Jewish heritage in fear of discrimination by University lecturers! All of these events, shocking as they are, were due to public opinion on the State of Israel – the Middle East’s only democracy and a world leader in scientific and medical advancements. As I continued to live in Scotland, it didn’t shock me to discover an employee of a street stall had a burning liquid thrown on them, simply because the owner of said stall was Israeli. Essentially, my impression during that year, was that the targeting of Jews on the premise of unbridled hatred of Israel, seemed trending within not only Scottish society, but in Europe as a whole. This isn’t to say that Scottish people are anti-Semites (my grandfather was Scottish yet married a Jewish woman), only that I have met anti-Semites in Scotland.
With all of this said, I knew my year in Scotland was and forever will be plagued by the hatred I witnessed and endured. Nonetheless, I had a chance recently to sit and organize my photos. I went year by year and event by event. When coming upon my year in Scotland, I couldn’t help but note that amid the stress, emotional damage, psychological toll etc etc, I still had an archive of pictures from that year of happy times with great people. It was an utter relief in every way to see these pictures! I had managed, despite every possible obstacle, “to live a life well lived”; to smile, love and grow. I travelled immensely, took advantage of every opportunity to excel, made incredible memories, and met trusting friends. With my pictures, I also discovered my mother’s aforementioned wisdom of a life well lived. Whilst thousands around the world hate Israel and target Jews at every opportunity, I don’t hate Arabs; Palestine (yes I believe in a Palestinian State); Europe; or Europeans and any opportunity I take is one in which propels me forward in the direction of my dreams. Essentially, I focus on living a life well lived, while those nasty rotten peaches, G-d bless their hearts, continue to shrivel up. My southern mother is quite proud.