In 4th grade, a classmate drew a symbol on my brown paper book cover with his yellow no. 2 pencil: a cross with right angled arms extending clockwise.
“What’s that?” I asked him.
“A good luck symbol. Cool, huh?”
But it was kind of cool looking, and I loved to doodle. By the end of the school day, I had decorated my entire book cover in these symbols.
At home later that night, my dad stormed into my bedroom with the decorated book in his white knuckled grip. He was angry and uncharacteristically serious. “Who drew this?” he roared.
“I did…” I responded. I was confused. I didn’t understand why I was in trouble.
“Do you know what this means!?” He asked, still visibly angry.
“Good luck,” I yelled back on the verge of tears, “A boy drew this one and told me it meant good luck. I drew the rest of them. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”
He took a deep breath and looked down at the book. He responded calmly, but sternly.
“No. Not good luck. This is a symbol of hate against Jews. It’s a swastika, the symbol that was used by Nazis. These are the people that put Papa Al’s family in a concentration camp and killed millions of Jews just like us. Don’t EVER draw this again, and if you see it, tell me right away.”
I started crying.
“It’s ok. It’s not your fault,” he said hugging me, “Just please don’t draw it again.”
After my dad left the room, I ripped the book cover off and tore it into pieces so tiny that you could no longer make out the symbols. I was hurt and embarrassed. I didn’t want to go back to school the next day, and I didn’t want to be Jewish anymore. I was the only Jew in the class, and despite his claims of ignorance, the boy who drew the swastika on my book must have at least known that it had a negative connotation towards Jews. This was not the first or last time I was singled out and harassed as one of the few Jews growing up in a primarily Christian suburb.
I had forgotten about the swastika incident until the events in Charlottesville this Saturday brought back this memory vividly. Except these swastika-touting individuals were grown men, not misinformed 8-year-olds. When they chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “White lives matter” they fully embraced the hate, bigotry, and antisemitism that this symbol represents. Their intolerance towards people of color, Jews, and anyone that isn’t like them was so strong that they rallied in the streets wielding torches, shields, and helmets. Clearly, peaceful protest was not the intension here. It was a revolting display of hate and xenophobia that unsurprisingly turned violent.
I am no longer that shy 8-year-old who is embarrassed to be different or ashamed to be Jewish. I am the middle-aged mother of two young boys who is enraged by the leaders of our country. Because it’s not surprising to me that this sort of hate and bigotry exists in America. But it is disheartening that our president took two whole days to denounce white supremacy and neo-Nazis hate groups, and only after immense public pressure. This is the rhetoric that emboldens bigots to openly spread their disgusting views and act on their intolerance.
I’m enraged, sad, and I feel helpless, as I’m sure my dad did when he found my school book covered in swastikas. Hate is such an immense, ambiguous entity, and, as a whole, it feels impossible to fight it. So, I’m going to do the only things that I can do: I will keep calling my congressmen to stand against injustice; I will support and fight for public leaders that will defend equality of all people; I will continue to teach my boys tolerance, love, inclusion, and practice these in my daily life as an example to them; I will openly share my views with anyone that will listen.
No one person can take on hate all at once, but if we each do what we can to counteract it, little by little, it will start to disappear like the swastikas I ripped up on my book cover. I have no doubt that the good in this world outweighs the bad that we saw displayed in Charlottesville this Saturday. Keep fighting. In the end, love will prevail.