My grandparents were living in Italian-occupied Libya in the 1930s. They were wealthy merchants who traveled throughout the Muslim world doing business with other entrepreneurs. In 1936, Mussolini entered a pact with Germany and many of Libya’s Jews, including several of my aunts and uncles, were sent to concentration camps, where they remained until the end of the war.
I have spent many hours listening to my family’s stories about those days. Stories about how Mussolini went from a journalist to an enemy of the free press, about how religious and racial differences were used to separate people, about how fear was used as a tool to create nationalistic pride.
Because my Saphta was a French citizen, she was not put into the camps. Still, she went every day to visit her daughters through the fences and do her best to console them and the other prisoners. She watched helplessly as they lost babies and suffered through illness and near starvation. Her strength is what carried them through and helped my aunts survive until the war was over and they could escape to the new state of Israel. Her lack of prejudice is what allowed her to both give and receive help from her Arab neighbors, which ultimately enabled my family’s successful immigration. Her trust in humanity is the foundation on which my aunts and mother went on to raise their own children.
My Saphta passed away when I was 3. Although her physical presence in my life was minimal, the impact that she’s had on me has been tremendous. I think often of her kindness, her faith, and her unshakeable belief that we are all the same in the eyes of God.
This last year has been a stormy one in America. Racism, nationalistic pride, and fear have become weapons that have been used by candidates to gain political power. I wonder sometimes what my Saphta would think about these days. Would she worry about the incitement of violence at political rallies? Would she hear echoes of pre WWII division in the war against immigrants? Would she feel safe for the future of her Jewish great-grandchildren?
Perhaps you’ve seen the video that has been circulating around the internet. In it, Jewish grandparents warn their grandchildren about the dangers of voting for Trump. The bubbes and zaydes threaten to haunt their grandchildren if they don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.
It’s a playful video, containing such humorous threats as, “ I will make your kale wilt extra fast,” and, “I will only allow you to swipe right on Tinder for rabbis’ daughters.”
But, the message is clear, and not so funny in the end. Many of our Jewish elders see a Trump presidency as a threat to our community. I feel certain that if my Saphta were still alive, she would agree.
Also, don’t forget to check out the video below: