I noticed the police cars first. Not one, but three. An accident? A bike race? As I got closer to the JCC, though, I saw them.
Not the police. The picketers.
God hates Jews. Jews killed Christ.
Their large neon signs shocked the crap out of me. I have to admit I felt a little scared, even though it was just four adults and one child (don’t get me started on that) behind a barrier, surrounded by police on both sides of the street. Looking back, it was a pretty pathetic demonstration, but in the moment, it felt huge. I wanted to roll down my window and unleash a torrent of angry obscenities on them, but I knew that would only inflame the situation. I drove on.
Jews are going to hell. God hates Jews.
In less than a minute, I was turning into the long driveway up to the JCC, and my mind immediately went to my daughters. What if they had been in the car? Well, it wouldn’t matter much now, as they can’t read. I could have told them it was a side-of-the-road party, and we could have talked about how there were pink letters on the sign. “Pink my favorite color,” Frieda would have told me. And we would have moved on.
But what about when the girls are older? When they can read? How would I explain to them that these people are condemning us? How do I tell them that there is blatant anti-Semitism in the United States? In Massachusetts, a progressive state that I am immensely proud to call my home, and in our own town, where we are supposed to feel safe? How would I explain that?
As I made my way through the JCC, I saw a group of women of all ages in an Israeli dance exercise class. It brought tears to my eyes. F*ck you guys, I thought. You can wave your stupid little signs, but you can’t stop us from dancing.
I soon learned that this angry little band was from the Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-Semitic, homophobic, family of all-purpose haters out of Kansas who has received press for picketing soldiers’ funerals, and more recently, those of Elizabeth Edwards and Elizabeth Taylor. Their frequent and senseless protests have rendered them virtually irrelevant on the national scene, even among the bigots who might have otherwise supported them.
All of sudden, my perspective went from that of a hurt and angry mother to one of interested and disgusted spectator. “When you think about it,” I said to my trainer, “Everyone hates the Jews. Whatever. That’s such a cliché. But who protests at a soldier’s funeral? That’s just absurd. Honestly, they’re like a caricature of an anti-Semite. They might as well be wearing fake Hitler mustaches.”
Humor makes it easier, but the truth is, they were still there, a stark reminder of the hatred and violence that has tormented the Jews throughout our history. And therein lays the challenge that my husband and I, along with thousands of other Jewish parents, face on a regular basis. How do we teach our children about hate and anti-Semitism? With Purim behind us, and Passover just around the corner, a good place to start might be by telling the stories of tragedy and survival of the Jewish people, and by celebrating what we have. Yes, in the years to come my husband and I will tell the girls about their family members who perished in the Holocaust, as well as those who survived. And they will learn of anti-Semitism, and unfortunately, they will probably experience it. But for now, we will celebrate our freedom, eat Bubbe’s matzo ball soup, and know that our community and our people are stronger than any little angry group of protesters with neon signs will ever be.