Anti-Semitism is a thick and pervasive ooze that is covering our earth, perhaps even more so today, than at any other time since the Holocaust … and it needs to be addressed as the “global harming” it really is.
That said, I want to tell you the story of my first experience with anti-Semitism many, many years ago, when it wasn’t quite as virulently rampant as it is today. As a young boy growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was living with my mother in a rather nice established neighborhood of semi-detached and single homes that was predominately Jewish. The huge synagogue was just down the street and the Jewish deli one block in the opposite direction. Our regular Sunday brunches purchased from that deli were the best, replete with cream cheese slathered bagels, and whatever smoked fish or fishes were the decided upon choice for the day.
In the lower grades while in Elementary School (kindergarten through 6th grade), I was surrounded by those in the “tribe” and thought nothing of it. It was my normal. I was an active youngster and was always outside (weather permitting) playing with my friends, when not in school. Back then we lived at a time when as a child you could leave the house and disappear for hours, with never a moment’s worry. The rules were simple, do your homework and chores first, followed closely by “be home for dinner” and then “be home before dark.” My mom, as did all the moms back then, had this amazing gift for tracking their children down, if need be, or if it were getting too late especially on a school night. It was a much kinder and gentler time for certain and well before mobile phones. And, before anyone asks, it was well after the time of Moses and his Tablets (the stone variety).
Life was good and it was finally time to move on to the Middle School (7th through 9th grades), which drew from the surrounding neighborhoods, not all of whom were Jewish. I tended to get along with everyone and was fairly self-sufficient, so I had no problems making the adjustment to the new environment where my kind were not at all in the majority.
And then it happened, one day in the schoolyard one of my close friends was being horribly bullied by three non-Jewish boys and it was really escalating when I finally noticed what was happening. I ran up to the three bullies and demanded that they leave my friend alone. Their immediate response to my comment was, “another dirty Jew bastard” (their actual words were a bit saltier, but I cleaned it up for this telling). Followed by a snarled, “and what are you going to do about it,” as they all laughed in my face. That was their second mistake, the first being picking on my friend.
For me, that was the first time I’d ever been referred to that way and my reaction was rather swift and sure. My knuckles found the jaw of the fool who made the horrid anti-Semitic remark, rather quickly. One well placed right hook later and he was lying sprawled on his back on the concrete surface of the schoolyard. The other two fools looked at me in utter disbelief. Now it was a fair fight, two of us against two of them. It seemed like forever before anything else happened, but the two remaining and still upright bullies decided to quickly vacate the scene. By that time a crowd had gathered around us, as tends to happen when there was a schoolyard fight. My friend and I thought it best to walk away and we did, calmly. Neither one of us were ever bothered again, when we were together or individually for that matter. Truthfully, I was glad. Fighting wasn’t really my thing.
If there is a lesson to be learned from my story, it is indeed a simple one. Stand up for yourself and be prepared to act with resolve if need be. For me and at that age, turning my cheek or ignoring what was happening wasn’t an option. Today, as a not quite so young a man, I might try to reason first, but I will defend our right to be, always. May it be G-d’s will and may we all live in peace.