When Hate Hits Home

In Israel we see and hear it every day. the bloodcurdling threats promising our destruction fills the airwaves across the Middle East. We watch while innocent children are indoctrinated with Jew hatred that echoes the most vile anti-Semitism of the Nazi era. We hear the vitriolic speeches of our enemies promising our extermination, denying our right to exist and, worst of all, exclaiming that we are less then human, the offspring of pigs and apes.

Many of us take this personally, especially those among us whose families have suffered the cruelties of Arab terrorism and the horrific deaths of friends and neighbors, slain by all manner of weapons. We see, almost daily, the unrelenting assault on our streets and roads, the stoning of our vehicles and the throwing of fire bombs upon our police and security services when they attempt to defend us and themselves from harm.

No less vicious are the verbal attacks on our nation made by the representatives of foreign states in the halls of international debate. Indeed, the United Nations, an organization whose foundations rest upon the bones of the victims of mankind’s cruelest conflict, especially upon the ashes of one third of the Jewish people, whose slaughter led great men of that time to pause and reflect on what evil the forces of fascism and Nazism had wrought upon the face of the world. If one visits the site of this once noble entity, across the street from its headquarters, there is the Isaiah Wall with the inscription etched in stone where the words of the Jewish prophet of peace evidence the phrase-” Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ To my mind, if Isaiah were alive today to witness the vituperation against his nation and people, he would take a sword and scratch those words from the wall itself.

For the nation of Israel has found no respite from hatred within the chambers of that august assembly.  Israel has been unjustly brought before the bar within those halls and accused of the very crimes that were committed against its people-genocide, racism, aggression and all manner of indecency attached to the life of the Jewish state. Israel, it appears, sits in the dock as the lone Jew in the courtroom of a kangaroo court with a jury hell bent on its sentence of death.

But, as a nation, we are built of stronger stuff. We do not shirk in our defense, nor do we cower on bended knee before our accusers. If anything at all, we have been taught a hard lesson-that surrender yields death, that to submit to the enemy only brings contempt, and that concession in the face of international pressure carries not peace, but more violent aggression in its wake. No, as a sovereign state we have the ability, the purpose, the duty and the means to guard our precious homeland against those whose words and acts seek to destroy us.

However, what of the individual, outside of the protective shell of our sovereignty faces the cruel reality of anti-Semitism? Our brothers and sisters in the Exile ( and it is an exile whether they choose to recognize it or not) especially in a Europe which is assuredly becoming a far less friendly continent, filled with Moslem extremists and political enemies of the both the right and the left, to maintain their safety in the face of ever increasing Jew hatred and open acts of murder and defilement. For some, far too few, the answer is to return home to Israel, for others, it is escape to another corner of the Diaspora. But, I fear for the many, that a false sense of security, such as that which endangered the Jews of Europe over 70 years ago,  will lull them into a false sense of hope that things will get better.

Even in the American republic, the scent of the overwhelming ordure of anti-Semitism is not as evident as Europe but nevertheless has not been eliminated. Sure, there are always the politically racist malevolent movements and the growing evil of the nascent rise of Moslem terror in many parts of the United States.  We have also been witness to the cat calls of those who, even in cities like Miami, Florida, who have chanted ” Jews to the gas!” A pro-Hamas demonstration yielded the scene of an enraged Arab screaming ” I will kill the Israeli motherf–kers” posted on the internet.

However, sometimes the assault is an individual one. Growing up, as I did, in the Bronx, Jew hatred was something that I happily ignored. First of all, I never thought much about it until my adolescence when I studied history and recognized the odd numbers tattooed on the forearms of some of my grandparents’ friends. More curious than outraged, I hardly ever questioned why they were so marked or for what reason. It just never occurred to me and besides, there were far more other interests that took up my time.

Until one day, the first day of the Six Day War, when I arrived at my first period class in high school which was World History. I was 15 years old and having never been active in any Zionist group-I doubt that I even knew the word. Honestly, I could probably not even found Tel Aviv on a map, no less tell you anything about Jerusalem. Hebrew school was to me, as it was to most of my friends, a royal pain in the ass that we had to endure the hours after regular school, sitting in a room for 3 hours, repeating words we did not understand to have a ceremony in a few years which we couldn’t wait to get over and forget just as quickly. Sure, we knew we were Jews, we knew that we were privileged to get a few extra days off from school because of the High Holy Days and Yom Kippur-days we used to gp to the park, play ball, and even on Yom Kippur, gorge on pizza and White Castle hamburgers cause the kosher delis were closed those days. Judaism, was, to put it simply, not very important.

But on that one day, that one morning of June 5th, 1967, I walked into a classroom filled with most of my friends, and a student whom I never really knew, probably from a different neighborhood, was saying loudly enough to be heard, that he was happy because the Jews in Israel were going to be slaughtered. Actually, he said, “You Hebes are going to get what’s coming to you now.” All I can remember is that I was dragged off of him by a few of my friends as I was pounding his head on to the floor of the room.

A few days ago, my son called me from the US, to tell me that he had left work early because he was too upset to continue. He told me that one of his co-workers had said this to several others in his workplace, close enough for him to hear it.

“How do you get 10 Jews in a car? In the ashtray.” Instead of punching the bastard’s lights out (because he was the boss’s son) he went to his supervisor and reported the incident. He also told me later, that this was not the first time that this bigot had told anti-Semitic garbage in his face. Well, the next day, when my boy went to work, he was fired. the supervisor told him that it was due to his leaving early-even though he had reported the incident as was the right thing to do.

My son had never experienced anti-Semitic action before. He was more than angry, I wonder how many young people have reacted to the first knowledge that being a Jew was often to be ridiculed at the very least or physically assaulted at the very worst. Reminded me of the scene in the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement,” where Gregory Peck’s son comes home from school hurt and crying because some thug had hit him and called him a “dirty Jew.” I wonder how many parents, wherever they live, have had this heartrending experience.

When this hate rears its ugly head against an innocent child, or a full grown adult, especially for the first time and from a quarter that always seemed to be bereft of this type of prejudice, how does one react? I was lucky-I was only a teenager and had nothing to lose, except some bawling out from the boys’ dean and threatened with suspension. Oh, after being told that I had no right to strike anyone for the remark made, I told the dean ( who was Jewish) to, in polite terms, to place his criticism of my act in the deepest recess of his anatomy. No, I was not suspended from school either-in fact, I was very proud of myself and I was very lucky to have a granduncle who was sympathetic to my action and loaned me the first Zionist book I ever read-Leon Uris’ “Exodus.”

My son has notified the local civil rights organization in his state, he is going to pursue his legal recourse and i am very proud of that. I am glad that he didn’t resort to physical attack as his father did-the times being far different today and him being a young father and husband with a lot more to lose than a fifteen year old boy with a mean right cross.

As Israelis, we must fight anti-Semitism abroad with all the political and juridical instruments available to us.  At home, we must never let our guard down and always hit back harder and stronger at our enemies and make them suffer. We have a further duty and responsibility as a nation to protect and safeguard the freedom and security of our people wherever they live and be ready, in extremis, to welcome them home when they are forced to flee for their lives.

When the hate breaches the doors of one’s home, when the hate hits home, in whatever guise, it must be met head on and fought vociferously, When it strikes at a child in a playground or a classroom, when it makes itself known in a boardroom or a factory floor, it cannot and must not be ignored. To allow it to pass as a harmless joke or statement taken out of context, is to accede to its relevance.

So I say to my son, and to the sons and daughters of our people in Exile, when the hate crosses your path, it is time to return to the homeland, the land of Israel. For only here, in this blessed, tiny Jewish country, can you raise your children as proud and unafraid Jews and face an ever growing world of bigotry and prejudice with a fierce determination to live every day and when it’s called for, knock your enemy on his back.

As the late, great Zionist hero, Vladimir “Zev” Jabotinsky wrote many decades ago-“A generation shall arise, proud, generous and fierce.”

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.