Lately, the cursor on my computer seems to taunt me. At various times during this year, it would blink quickly on a google document, before I resigned and shut it off. The need festered, bubbled, I’d write down thoughts, and then quickly store them for later. Thoughts on anti-Semitism. Thoughts on my college experience. Thoughts on frustration. But, it never seems to be the right time. The world always seemed to have more important issues. My voice never seems to overpower the commotion. Yet, suddenly, the world has quieted, and still, Columbia University has released a statement about three swastikas drawn on a residential dormitory two weeks ago.
These hateful incidents committed in the shadows seem to outshine the noise of daily life. The microaggressions whispered under people’s breaths. The side-eyes of students during Applied Math lecture. The checkered keffiyehs worn rebelliously behind me. I was told earlier this year that I was not permitted to talk to someone. “Her friends hate you, don’t say hi to her.” I was flummoxed. I told the bearers of bad news, my supposed friends, that it was anti-Semitic. Yet, they said they did not really care. They grew closer to her, sat behind in class, and I became scared to learn. The row of students behind me became a conglomerate of anti-Israel hatred, Jew ostracization, and hostile stares. The Jew loathing followed me outside of the classroom. I had decided not to attend the BDS vote. Yet, in my shelter in the library, I heard the chants of “From the River to the Sea,” and as they crescendoed I descended to the ground unable to breathe. The abhorrence of Jews was suffocating.
In the past two weeks, somehow I also began to hate Jews. Specific Jews. Certain Jews. How could I not? Niche Facebook groups posted vitriol and private voice notes of Chassidim admitting they did not care about Coronavirus. Articles and pictures of secret Chareidi minyanim routinely popped up on my feed. On Twitter, journalists even posted the names of people congregation for weddings. With endless free time, social media provided endless evidence to hate the Ultra-Orthodox. Then, Unorthodox premiered on Netflix, and seemed to provide credence to the negativity. The Satmar Hassidim do not know about a woman’s right to choose. The Satmar Hassidim are drunkards. They are landlords. They are sheltered. They can’t get over the Holocaust.
Why are liberal Jews, such as myself, more increasingly sympathetic to a Palestinian child living in Gazan rule? Why do I cry at images of child soldiers? At blurbs of a fourteen-year-old Palestinian terrorist? Why does it grip my heartstrings? Because they are brainwashed? Because they live in oppressive regimes? Because many do not have the freedom to choose otherwise? Yet, when it comes to thousands of Jews brainwashed from a young age to not understand medical data or even basic mathematics, I’m filled with revulsion.
It is so much easier to hate the evil we can understand. Ignorance. Greed. Sexism. Homophobia. The evil that is inexcusable, yet, is bred from prejudice and inexposure. I, too, was taught in seventh grade, “mental illness is a path you can choose.” I learned that alcoholism and eating disorders were akin to the modern-day בן סורר ומורה in my Bais Yaakov classroom. If I had not been seeing a therapist due to my disordered eating, maybe I would have believed it. If I did not have a brother who I loved dearly who was gay, maybe I would have fallen for it. I did not have television or the internet. How could I have known better? Hatred is bred from ignorance.
Yet, the evil we cannot understand. Murder. Terrorism. Genocide. We sympathize with it. Hamas officials give money to terrorists. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf because of the injustices he witnessed. Nazi soldiers had to take orders. A Barnard student was stabbed because of gentrification. Even the books we read as children try to help us sympathize with inexcusable evil. Voldemort was a misunderstood orphan. There is a whole play dedicated to understanding his child, and I loved it.
In this time of quarantine, I have a request. Spend as much time opening your hearts to empathy, as you do on social media. Yes, having minyanim and weddings during a time of global pandemic is awful. Blaming women and their “immodest dress” for coronavirus is vile. Going to Florida for Pesach, and putting the elderly at risk is immoral. But, many people committing these atrocious acts, do not fully understand their repercussions. They do not know the medical literature. Their Rabbis are not giving them proper instructions. They do not know basic biology. If we are so busy hating each other, how could the world not hate us in turn?
I am likely to get a lot of animosity for this sentiment. I’m sure my inbox will be flooded with many comments saying I do not understand how reckless these people are being. I do not know that by having weddings, and Simchas, they are killing people. I do. But, instead of writing how much you hate Chareidim on your Facebook pages, on Twitter, on Whatsapp, try to push for education, for compassion, and understanding. Coronavirus is already hurting us physically. Do not let it injure your heart too.