“I can’t fall asleep,” my son told me as he walked into my room one evening last week.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We watched a movie about the Holocaust today in camp,” he explained.
The Holocaust, I thought – giving Jewish children nightmares since the Holocaust. It was the right thing to show at camp, since it was the Nine Days, which is a time when we remember the tragedies that have befallen our people. I told him that it’s OK to feel sad, because the Holocaust was incredibly sad, but that thank God, we are safe. I added that when I constantly remind him how blessed he is, this is the sort of thing I’m referring to. But in the back of my mind I was thinking: kid – things could change at the drop of a hat.
A few days later, I was reminded of just how right I was. My friend and I were walking home from shul on shabbos afternoon, which happened to be Tisha B’Av – the most calamitous day of the Jewish year which marks the (twice) destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, as well as numerous other catastrophic events throughout Jewish history. It was the beginning of our exile. The beginning of our living in a world where not every gentile is necessarily happy we’re around.
When Tisha B’Av falls out on shabbos, due to shabbos’s sanctity, we push off most of the mourning practices until the next day, so much so, that you could almost forget about it. And as my friend and I strolled along the sidewalk, on that sunny afternoon, enrapt in our conversation, I almost did.
But then, all of a sudden, I heard yelling from behind us. We turned around to see a woman standing by her front door, who began to berate us:
“You people never say ‘hi’ to anyone but each other. You just walk along, ignoring everyone else.”
My friend and I were stunned. You people? We stammered out the word “hi,” but were so speechless, being referred to this way and accused of something we don’t do. We both go out of our way to say “hi” or nod and smile at everyone we pass. I believe ALL Orthodox Jews should do this. We simply didn’t see this woman.
Our neighborhood is not an insular or extreme place where the Jews stick to themselves. People are friendly and worldly and open.
“I wonder if she would have been happy watching Nazis round us up if she had the chance,” I asked my friend as we continued on our way, suddenly struck by the fact that our otherwise “pleasant” shabbos Tisha B’Av was pierced by the hatred we were supposed to be remembering.
Just as the shabbos had concealed the severity of the day, so too, a stretch of quiet and peacefulness can lull a people into thinking that virulent anti-Semitism is a thing of the past. But Jewish history has a way of repeating itself. And until we bring the lessons of Tisha B’Av to the day after, the week after, the month after, and so on, we will have no comforter; our friends will betray us; they will become our enemies.
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Anti-semitism is alive and kicking today, and it shouldn’t come as a shock to us anymore. I live in a highly dominant frum-Jewish neighborhood, and of the meager interaction I have with Non-Jews, I have had several encounters with anti-semitism. Once, when I was on a bus, I dropped some money, and when a fellow passenger came to return it to me, another passenger saw. She proceeded to tell her friend “It’s guaranteed, it’s always THEIR money that gets dropped, somehow”, and after that, she promptly proceeded to do justice by kicking me. I was on a public city bus, and a high school teen; all I did was accept money that belonged to me. I was so caught off guard, I didnt even confront her properly- just looked at her like “what?”, to which she answered “sorry”. It took me a good hour to recover, since I never expected to see such a blatant display of anti-semitism in this day and age, on my territory.I was so shaken and stunned. If that’s not baseless hatred, I don’t know what is. I’ve also had several “Heil Hitler” and “Get out of this Country” type encounters. And its not like I come across Non-Jews regularly. We should all be incredibly grateful for the opportunities we have in this country, yet not get swept away; people are so loyal to their political parties, or their various affiliations with other things, that they forget we aren’t one of them. But we aren’t, and as the pattern of history has shown us, we never will be, and mustn’t forget that.
I remember that when I was living in Israel, I went to a reception at N’fesh b’ N’fesh and some guy was talking about how he regularly went into East Jerusalem and the West Bank Palestinian areas freely and without fear. I asked him how he accomplished that, to which he replied, “You can go anywhere you want. Unless you dress LIKE THAT.” And he pointed at me. This was before I developed the snap-back retorts that I now rattle off so easily, so I just gave him a mean look until he turned away. I was on a bus IN ISRAEL and two women were speaking in French, which I didn’t understand, until the one woman said, “Daati Leumi” and I looked over to see her POINTING AT ME. And that was in Israel! In the U.S. I have been prejudiced against in jobs and higher education. At this point, I honestly don’t expect anything different from the goyim.