Marianne Novak

How did they know she was Jewish?

I haven’t written to this blog in a while. I guess I didn’t feel it was my place to comment on the current horror of the Jewish people. I was getting frozen yogurt with one of my daughters when my other daughter sent a text that simply read, ‘The boys are dead.’ I began to cry and said that now there will probably be a war in Israel. I did not comment but sent condolences to the grieving families. When the war began, again I did not comment, although I did share and continue to share many other pieces on Facebook. I did not comment because I was not the one running to a bomb shelter. I was not the mother or spouse worrying about a loved one in the IDF.
But then as the anti-Israel rhetoric grew around the world and in the US, I knew it would be a matter of time that real hatred in the form of overt, unabashed antisemitism would rear its ugly head. And it did-in my neighborhood-and in my child’s face.

A few weeks ago, my middle daughter celebrated her sixteenth birthday. As is expected and hope for by every one her age in Illinois, she spent the first part of her birthday getting her driver’s license. She past her road test and both I and she were elated. The next day was Friday and I sent my newly minted driver off to run some pre-Shabbat errands while I went to take a shower. She made it to the kosher bakery with no incident and then drove to the local small supermarket to pick up other items. In front of the store, there were three large white bald men (skinheads presumably) yelling antisemitic threats and obscenities to all the patrons in the parking lot. My daughter quickly ran into the store and got what she needed. When she was leaving she noticed that a number of elderly Jewish patrons were cowering by the door, afraid to leave. She saw that a man wearing a kippah in the store called the police. She then left quickly, ran to her car and came home. After my shower, I realized she had left me four messages on my phone. My first thought was that she as a new driver had already had her first fender bender. When she told me what happened, I first was relieved about the car and her physical safety. It took a while for it to sink in, that she had just experienced antisemitism, up close and personal, for the first time in her life. I posted the incident on my Facebook page. While most of the comments were concerned about her safety, I common question kept coming up. ‘How did they know she was Jewish?’, many people asked.
Here’s the thing–it doesn’t matter if she was Jewish or not. (Truth be told, with her curly red hair and pale skin, she truly looks stereotypically Irish). It doesn’t matter because no one should be subjected to hateful vitriol–no matter who the target is– while trying to go vegetable shopping. It wouldn’t matter which hate group decided to hold court at the supermarket. This wasn’t about free speech and assembly. The men outside the store were trying to intimidate and frighten. It is no accident that they picked Skokie. For those of you who are not up on your US history, Skokie was the site of a planned march by bumbling neo-Nazis in the 1970’s. The Nazi’s were famously represented by Jewish lawyers from the ACLU. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, after an extremely convoluted legal process, the Nazi’s did march, but not in Skokie, which at the time had one of the largest Holocaust survivor populations in the country. After that incident, most in Skokie, thought this stuff was over.
As other overt antisemitic incidents have occurred around the Chicago area, many have voiced their concern and others have shrugged and said,’Well, it’s a free country and it’s free speech.’–Uh,no. There are a myriad restrictions on speech including hate speech. Hate speech doesn’t have to be directed to someone in particular to be considered a crime. Just by saying it, in public (or on the web for that matter), puts that speech under scrutiny.
So, it didn’t matter if the three thugs outside the supermarket knew if my daughter or any of the patrons were Jewish or not. What matters is that they felt comfortable to come to a public place, a place with a sensitive history regarding antisemitism, and spew hate all over the place. That’s what really matters.

About the Author
Rabbi Marianne Novak recently received Semikha from Yeshivat Maharat. She lives in Skokie, IL with her husband Noam Stadlan. She is an educator for the Melton Adult Education Program and a Gabbait for the Skokie Women's Tefillah Group. She recently joined the Judaic studies faculty at Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago, IL.