The Day I No Longer Felt Safe in My Notoriously Jew-y Suburb

Sun lit suburban front yard

I live in a notoriously Jew-y suburb. Local summer camps serve only heckshered (kosher certified) snacks, club sports play on Sundays, and Supercuts has a line out the door right before Passover. For a religious family, this makes life easier in a whole host of ways. And, to ease my liberal conscience, the town has a startling diversity, with numerous churches, a mosque, and a Hindu temple.

So, despite alarms sounded daily on my Facebook feed, there are ways in which I am shielded from anti-Semitism here in my bubble, and my children are, as well. I feel unabashedly good about this.

But we don’t hide the truth from them. From a very young age, they knew about the Holocaust, and yes, they have run to the bomb shelter in our summer home in Israel. But for them, the Holocaust feels far away—a remote, if personally compelling history lesson. And the bombs, scary in the moment, are summer companions that fade away as the leaves begin to turn here in New England.

The fears are real. As a mother, I stand in front of them as I would a crashing wave, making what is heavy seem light. But I refuse to make them feel constantly vulnerable because of who they are. Which is an excellent plan if nothing ever happens.

Walking home from Shabbat dinner this week on a sticky night, our bellies full, the kids moved with confidence. They made up their own lyrics to Hamilton songs. Usually, we would encounter other Shabbat walkers on the way, but dinner had gone late, and for whatever reason, we were alone on the sidewalk as we neared the house.

A couple of streetlights were out. It was really dark, and other than our own voices, the only sound was the crickets—their cries becoming ever more desperate as fall is approaching. And then the noise, followed by the sudden light of the headlights of a pickup truck down the road. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The driver (or at least I think it was the driver) screamed at the top of his lungs, “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!!!” He sped off, his words echoing through the trees.

My first thought was that I was pretty sure the guy was drunk, and I was glad he had kept moving. My second thought was how dumb I was that I didn’t have the wherewithal to look at his license plate in that moment, however fast it was. I was vaguely pissed at this being a lousy way to end a nice Shabbat evening.

But the kids were not so sanguine. My older daughter dropped the bag she was holding. One son asked my husband, “Was that to you, Abba?”

It made some sense, his question. As senior rabbi of the biggest synagogue in town, everyone knows him. He’s the Mayor of Munchkinland. It wouldn’t be entirely impossible. But, I felt sure that this guy was not looking for anyone in particular.

My younger son looked alarmed. “He’s not coming back, is he?”

“No, he’s not coming back.” I was nearly sure. Almost completely.

“Was it because we’re Jewish?”

I don’t know why I was so certain. Why we all were.

Back at home, the kids lingered in our room when they should’ve been heading to bed, wanting to relive the evening’s excitement over and over. By the time I went to sleep, I knew the incident would recede by sunrise. I was right. I forgot it had even happened until one of the kids referenced it over Shabbat morning babka. By havdalah (the end of Shabbat), it was a distant memory. No problem.

That’s really what I thought. Then, as we arrived at our local beach for a synagogue-sponsored post Shabbat bonfire, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. On the far side of the parking lot was a pickup truck idling. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pick-ups. To me, it looked identical to the one from the night before.

“Ima…” my eldest said as she raised her eyebrows at the truck, the hum of its engine taking on a menacing tone. “Do you think that’s…”

“No, don’t be silly, it’s just a truck. People hanging out at the beach. Relax.”

But I moved away quickly, keeping an eye on it. Funny how a single sentence, four words long, screamed into the darkness, could make me suddenly aware that a bubble, no matter how big and beautiful, is fragile indeed.

Read More:

Why I’m Actually Sad That School’s Starting

Why I Don’t Want My Children to Grow Up in a Safe Space

Orthodox Women Take On ‘Vagina Monologues’ & Make it Their Own

Leah Bieler

Leah Bieler is a writer and teacher who lives in MA with her husband and 4 children. You can follow her on Twitter @LeahBieler or on her blog at

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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