Anti-Semitism Hits My Neighborhood!
I have taken some time to cool down from the fear and anger that has been building up inside of me since the latest string of hate attacks on Jewish schools, community centers, cemeteries, and other acts of anti-Semitism and vandalism has happened across America in the past several days.
This is not the first time anti-Semitism has raised its ugly head in South Florida since Mr. Trump was elected President. But it IS the first time it has been so close to home, and the first time my entire family was affected. These strategically calculated attacks have been too numerous to ignore, and have brought back some disturbing and sorrowful memories from my childhood.
As a little Jewish girl growing up in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1950’s, I heard hushed accounts of what happened to Jews during World War II. My father was a decorated Army Lieutenant and I lived in a housing development where at least 90 percent of the community fathers were Army Veterans who fought against Hitler and fascism. I played with children of all faiths and remember having a happy and diverse childhood. I knew that there were bad people in the world, but because of loving parents and a strong relationship with my family and our local Synagogue, I felt relatively free from anti-Semitism. I knew it still existed and the threat of it was still very real for my parents and grand parents who had grown up experiencing bigotry and exclusion on every level, but to me I couldn’t feel or comprehend their fears. In my innocent childhood world, I liked everyone and they all seemed to like me and nobody judged me by my faith. Or at least I was not aware if they did.
However, it was impossible not to notice that one street over from my house, were several neighbors who had bluish numbers tattooed on their arms. I would often come home from school to find my mother sitting at the kitchen table with women from the neighborhood, and sometimes I could hear crying from those ladies with the ugly blue numbers marring their creamy white skin.
When I would ask my mother about the numbers and the crying, she explained that the Jews who were taken prisoner by the Nazis were tattooed. She told me that people who had numbers still carried very bad memories of all the sad things they saw when they were put into “The Camps.” I tried to find out more information, and while she tried her best to answer and still be honest and age appropriate for my inquisitive young mind, she let me know that the survivors had all lost their families during the war and were treated cruelly in the camps. That much I seemed to comprehend, but I didn’t fully understand the extent of what these people had endured.
I may have been very young, but I was extremely curious about all the people with numbers and kept quizzing my mother to learn more about them. And I was instructed NOT to stare at their arms. They all went to my Temple and always seemed kind and gentle, but also appeared to carry an unspoken burden of sadness with them. (Even when they laughed.) And that was confusing when seen through a child’s eyes. I knew there had to be much more to this and my confusion haunted me.
I recall one afternoon after walking home with my older brother, instead of going out to play; I crouched down outside the kitchen and hid. I tried to listen to the conversations my mother was having with the women from the neighborhood. I recognized the voice of one woman crying. It was the beautiful raven-haired lady who lived behind us. She was speaking a mixture of English and Yiddish and sobbing. I couldn’t understand all her words just the horror and sadness in her voice along with gasps of air and sobs emerging from what was usually a warm and inviting room. And so being intrigued, I peeked in, only to see her lovely face contorted in agony! I instinctively got up and ran to her and gave her a big hug. I started crying too at her grief, even though I didn’t understand the implications of her tears. I couldn’t have been more than five at the time because I do remember being in kindergarten.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned the extent of why she had been crying. When I was young my mother obviously did not go into detail about the Holocaust. I only knew my pretty neighbor had been put into a concentration camp simply because she was Jewish. I knew for some reason she could not have children and sometimes cried because she wanted them desperately, but the war somehow made her unable to become a mother. Well, that had me confused!!!
I was very aware of how she fawned over me. She and her husband owned a clothing shop for children and she would design and make gorgeous outfits as well as selling other brands. She’d delight in having me try on various styles of dresses and model her creations before putting them in the store window. Honestly, she made me feel like a princess! Yet, even when she delighted in watching me twirl in her fancy lace and satin dresses, I could still sense the overwhelming sadness behind her smile. Sometimes her eyes filled with tears when she watched me.
What I discovered years later, when my family moved to Florida and I was a teenager, was that this beautiful, Natalie Wood look alike, had been tortured by the Nazi’s. Her entire family had been shot and killed in front of her, and she was saved as a young teen simply because of her extreme beauty. She had been passed around from officer to officer to do with her as they pleased, and then when they tired of her, experiments of some kind were performed on her that made her unable to have children. I was never told anything else, no matter how much I asked. As I grew up I realized her torture was much, much more than even my imagination could conjure up. So, to this day, I still don’t know the horrific treatment she must have suffered. And I still shy away from reading about Dr. Mengala and his inhuman experiments, because I can still see her beautiful face and I don’t want to think about what she might have been forced to endure.
Every time I hear of an anti-Semitic act, I think about the beautiful lady who lived behind me when I was a little girl. Her dark, shiny hair and bright smile that lit up the room, but who cried sometimes in my mother’s kitchen. And I remember how she would gently grab my hand and I tried so very hard not to gaze at the blue numbers on her arm while she whispered into my ear that I was such a lucky, special girl, and how she wished that she could have a beautiful little daughter just like me!
She even told me once that I reminded her of when she was a little girl. (Now, keep in mind I was a feisty child, and often spoke my mind a little too much for the 1950’s! Compared to my mild mannered older brother and my baby sister, and being the notorious middle child, I was a spitfire and well aware of being the most challenging of the three children in my family.) So, to have “the dress lady” tell me that she too was a bit “spirited” when she was little, made me happy. But, at the same time, even as young as I was, I somehow knew that those memories of herself were before the Nazi’s came and took away her “spirit .” Because even though her beauty remained in tact, and her smile was as lovely as any movie star on the cover of Photoplay Magazine, there was always sadness behind those dark eyes of hers. I understood that deep down, when she looked at me, she saw not only the little girl she would never have, but also the girl she could never be again.
I tell you this story dear readers, because this was as close as I ever got to understanding some real life pain the Nazi’s caused. Her husband had numbers too, but he was a quiet, intellectual man, who only smiled and nodded at me and mostly kept to himself. It was his beautiful wife whose warm heart and kind smile that I remember most. And her longing eyes… which made me understand that being a mother was a gift not everyone was lucky enough to experience.
So, I share this memory to explain to you that for the first time in almost 68 years, I am afraid while living in America. I have felt safe in my country up until now. In the 1950’s I watched Jewish Concentration Camp survivors persevere and try to live their lives even through their sadness. They deeply loved this country with all their hearts and souls. I protested for equality and women’s rights during the late 60’s when I was in college, and I am still fighting for those rights even now that I am in my late 60’s and a grand mother. I lived my life never worrying that my country was anything but the essence of democracy and freedom. I felt safe living in America.
Not until Donald Trump ran for President has that changed. And suddenly anti-Semitism has personally affected my family and myself. And now with this string of daily vandalism and bomb threats it affects my entire community, my religious freedom, and every person in this country. And just two days ago it affected my grandchildren’s school and the Jewish Community Center down the street from my home.
What is happening in this country is shocking. Especially since these acts are play-by-play incidents that are exactly like what Hitler and his band of Nazis did in Germany to the Jews in the late 1930’s. Trump is systematically making anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry something the people in this country are becoming numb to. It is so frequent, that nobody is watching or caring any more. Even the police are not taking threats seriously. “Another false alarm” one local officer said about the JCC a few streets away from my home the other day. As if it were nothing at all. But it isn’t nothing at all. It is a big deal. A very big deal!!!!!!!
Those of us who have studied history know what this is, and what is to come if we don’t stop it. I predicted this rise in hatred would happen if Trump won the election, and people did not want to listen. BUT now it IS happening. He has incited masses of people to do his dirty work. He preys on the weak and incites hatred and bigotry in the minds of the fearful and the uneducated. We all need to protect our children and grandchildren from the monstrous things that are about to occur in America if we do not stop Trump and Bannon. I cannot resist Trump by myself, but I will try. I will continue to reject his policies, write my representatives, phone them, and protest!
I will give my life to save this country because freedom and justice matter. And my children and grandchildren matter and so do yours! No matter what faith they are or what color they are. They ALL matter!
“We the people” CANNOT IGNORE WHAT IS HAPPENING. WE CANNOT NORMALIZE TRUMP’S BEHAVIOR! And we cannot allow anti-Semitism to rise again. Not ever!!! America needs to unite and remain strong against bigotry and hatred. We must demand that freedom of the press continue and that our right to life, liberty, and THE pursuit of happiness is not denied or destroyed. And we must fight and resist every single day if this is to remain the land of the free. WE MUST RESIST!!!!!! Please, JOIN ME!!!
I want to continue to hold my precious grandchildren (pictured below) and know that we are all safe and free!!