I live in a nice little town in Northern California. Nothing really happens here and that’s the way we like it. But this month a passerby spotted a swastika on the campus of our local high school. Someone had creatively used removable traffic barriers to form the swastika in the grass between a parking lot and classrooms. I live across the street from the school, but didn’t hear about the incident for two full days. I eventually heard about the crime and investigation on one of our community Facebook pages.
Our town has a few pages that are geared towards safety, community awareness, chat and events. Most of the posts are about bad teenage drivers, panhandlers, or someone breaking into a mailbox. The pages have rules but as you’ll soon see, they’re relatively unclear.
On to the details:
Someone posted on our community watch page to express concern and inform us that this incident had taken place. No one was hysterical, most people thought it was a vile yet stupid act of teenage vandalism. Oddly enough, a group of people seemed to look for any excuse they could conjure up to avoid calling this act anti-Jewish. It was made abundantly clear that despite the ongoing investigation, people had decided it wasn’t a hate crime.
One theory was that it was done by Indian students as a “cultural thing” because we have a large Indian population that lives in the neighborhood due to it’s proximity to Intel’s campus (seriously?!)
Many parents seemed to think their high schoolers have no clue what a swastika is, so therefore these “pranksters” likely didn’t know they were doing something offensive. How can an 18 year old not know what a swastika is? The survivors of the Shoah are still alive. I find it appalling that this history is already being forgotten. It was brought to my attention that Schindler’s List is no longer shown in public schools because there is nudity. Parents argued that there was no real reason for their children to know about these events at their age. As someone who was immersed in all things Holocaust, it’s unfathomable that people are unaware of what happened to us.
The administrators ignored comments implying that this wasn’t a big deal, they even allowed ones that said “get over it” to remain on the page. I began commenting along with two other local Jewish women. The administrators did nothing to control the comments despite the fact that all of the Jewish participants expressed feeling uncomfortable with the comments that bordered on being anti-Semitic. We were eventually asked to move our discussion to our community chat page and were told that any further comments would be deleted.
Later that evening, someone started the conversation on the local chat page and that same attitude began to permeate the thread. A gentleman started commenting that Jews didn’t need to make it about us, that we needed to get over it and stop. His comments became more and more aggressive and I eventually made a statement that he must be either naive or an anti-Semite. I also left a comment explaining my own experiences with anti-Semitism. I explained that despite hearing a variety of anti-Semitic slurs throughout my life, I have never encountered someone destroying property to form a swastika unless they really didn’t like Jews. I explained that it’s alarming to hear people brush it off as nothing and assume a Nazi symbol is NOT indicative of a hate crime, even while the investigation is pending. I firmly believe that a community should assume the worst and put its foot down to send a clear message that NO members of the community should be hurt or abused.
My hands were shaking with rage, my heart was beating out of my chest — but I kept my composure. It was around 10 pm when I was tagged by an administrator. She demanded that I send her a private message to have a discussion, she also tagged the gentleman that told Jews to “get over it.” The tone was condescending and parental. I was clearly hurt and disturbed, yet she demanded that I message her. I responded that I was very upset and if it was mandatory at that very moment, to just remove me. So what did she do? She removed me. I understand that I gave her permission with that statement, but the fact that she actually did it leads me to think that the administrators lack the skills to manage these situations. They possibly lack common sense as well. A friend that remained in the group sent screenshots of the gentleman I had gone to war with calling me a coward and a variety of other things. His comments weren’t removed, and neither was he, at that point.
I contacted two administrators and let them know that I felt they had completely and utterly failed the Jewish community, and that I resent their pages serving as a place for racists to congregate. One administrator responded saying that I was removed for breaking rules and that they can’t remove people for their opinions. However, she was unable to tell me what rule I had broken.
This isn’t outside my scope of understanding. I am the lead administer for a group of around 700 folks, and we routinely remove people for violating community standards. If someone is there to inflict pain and insult other people, they’re not welcome in our community. It’s truly shocking that the administrators would say they *can’t* remove people making vile comments because they’re entitled to their opinion too.
Still, no one has explained what rule I broke. I’ve asked multiple times. My friends sent me copies of the rules, and I still fail to see what I did wrong. So, the result is that I’m permanently banned. After a long and fluffy conversation with an administrator, I was told that we can “all learn something from this.” Finding moral equivalency between the racist and the victim takes some serious mental gymnastics. I don’t applaud their efforts, I’m saddened by their attitude.
I eventually found out that the gentleman who had been so rude to me started sending the administrators death threats and began harassing them. Karma sucks, baby.
I am somewhere between hurt and amused that I have been given the same punishment as an openly racist, aggressive person. I find it appalling, but I am doing my best to shake it off.
I’m writing this because I feel let down by my town. I feel sad. Yes the police did their job. Yes ONE news station reported on it. But where’s the community support? I feel angry. I feel like no one cares. What if it had been an act of vandalism or hatred against another minority. Would the administrators tolerate an attack on homosexuals? How about African Americans?
I can’t wrap my mind around what happened. I can’t believe I’m banned from our community page. I can’t believe that I have been branded a trouble-maker because I stood up to a racist.
I’m reminded of the powerful words of Martin Niemöller, one of Hitler’s foes:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me
Always speak out. Never shut up. Don’t be shy.
I hesitated to let my daughter wear her Jewish star the following day and it caused a giant pit in my stomach. The immense guilt I felt from standing down, even in that small way prompted me to reevaluate and rethink the situation. Instead of shying away, I decided to rock my entire wardrobe of Judaica. Today I wear two necklaces — a Star of David, and one stamped with “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (I am my Beloved and my Beloved is Mine.) On my wrists I wear a Hamsa and the Sh’ma. I am a walking display of our signs, symbols and prayers. I top it off by putting my baby in her cute onesie featuring her name in Hebrew.
Loud and proud, loud and proud.
My grandfather didn’t survive the Shoah only to have descendants that stand down. I stand proud and I stand tall.
To my friends that rushed to my defense, took time out of their day to call administrators — thank you, thank you, thank you. Kol Hakavod and may your sense of justice never waiver.
Peace, love and light.