The recent attacks on Jews in New York and New Jersey have me at a loss. I am confused and unable to do what I normally do, which is to find a solution. I am unable to qualify, let alone identify the root and core of the problem.
Finding solutions is a part of my personal dynamic. I consider myself a problem solver. If there is a problem in our house, I fix it. This past weekend a bird became stuck inside of our ceiling and roof and, being the person that I consider myself to be, I got it free. It flew out the window and I had another success under my belt.
Solutions are, to me, an application of willpower. They are an opportunity to craft an outcome, regardless of the obstacles. I do this with my work and because of it, I am successful. This confidence in my ability has not though, allowed me to come to a solution to the problem that is AntiSemitism. It has not allowed me to change the direction of flow of this mighty and negative force. A force that has pervaded and persisted in the minds of those who consider us their enemies.
There are those who say that we must “understand” it. That we can only combat AntiSemitism by knowing its root cause. I don’t know that this is the truth. This assumes it to be a mental disorder and I do not consider it to be as such. For it to be a defect of the mind there would be tertiary or adjacent issues in the individual who hates the “Jew”. Most often, this is not the case. Most often, the hatred is singular, focused and unrelenting. An Anti-Semite can live a normal life, love their children, put food on their table. The only difference between them and others is their total and utter surrender to the clarion call that asks them to hate the Jewish people.
I grew up in a place where we were called names. It was a working-class, blue-collar town and in order to survive, you had to have a thick skin. Because of this, the concept of “water off a duck’s back” was a life lesson that you needed to adopt if you were going to survive. If words were all that I needed to be concerned about, then I probably wouldn’t be all that worried, but words are not what I need to worry about right now. Right now, people are being hurt. People are being killed.
I don’t know how to process this confusion. How to process this fear. I don’t know how to convince myself that everything is going to be okay. Which, for me, is odd. I consider myself fearless to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running blindfolded into traffic, but I’ve been in bad situations, some of them dangerous, and I have come out on top. I have been victorious. With this though, it’s different. Our most vulnerable, our most defenseless and our most outwardly Jewish are the victims.
I remember in college, being at a speech given by the Israeli ambassador visiting our campus. It was uneventful until a group of students stood and started chanting that he was a war criminal. This continued for some time and eventually culminated in the group of angry students turning toward the Jewish students in the auditorium, specifically those of us wearing kippot, and calling us names and cursing us. In all of this, I most remember a young Orthodox girl crying as she was overwhelmed with tears. Never in her life had she experienced such hate. Nothing had prepared her for the fear that was gripping her at that moment in the auditorium.
This is the fear that is being experienced in the Jewish community right now. Specifically, in the most visible part of our community. A community that lives inside of itself and because of this doesn’t even understand why they are under attack. The irony is that neither do the rest of us. How can we? Aren’t we supposed to be safe?
When I got the news of the attack in Monsey my wife and son were two states away at my in-laws’ home. I digested the news alone, in solitude. For a fleeting moment, I asked myself if the lit Chanukiah in the window and the blue and silver Star of David made me a target. “Should I take it down?” “Is it safe?” I kept it up throughout the rest of the holiday. I won’t give in. I am a problem solver. I will use my willpower to convince myself to NOT be afraid.