This morning I saw a local news story about the KKK placing pamphlets on cars in a nearby town on Long Island. The flyers depicted a white hooded figure and the words, “Our race is our nation.” While part of me is in stunned disbelief, the other part is sadly becoming desensitized to these increasingly frequent incidents. The election and its aftermath have exposed the deep fissures in our country and unleashed a pox of political incorrectness and outright hatred.
As a mother, I felt compelled to address this with my children. Sadly, this is not their introduction to anti-Semitism. They have experienced it personally, and then, as now, I want them to process it in an empowering way. Because they will experience it throughout their lifetime.
How can I teach my kids to have a meaningful voice in this environment when so many disenfranchised adults are feeling their own voices quelled? I question how to address the anti-Semitism—and the anti-anything other. Ultimately, I go back to the values that I have been instilling in my kids all along:
1. Be a mensch. Lead with compassion and openness. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
2. Differences are OK. You can learn a lot from someone who doesn’t think like you do, even if what you learn is how not to be.
3. There is strength in numbers. For all of the haters, detractors, and fear mongers, there are good people like you. Stick with them and speak up.
4. Your voice matters. Use it and choose your words carefully.
5. No matter how familiar it becomes, don’t accept hatred or prejudice as even remotely acceptable. Be repelled by it and called to action.
6. Except for Native Americans, everyone in the US has immigrant roots. The freedom we enjoy in this country is because of the sacrifices of our ancestors. You are exceptionally lucky to be born here, and never take that for granted.
7. As Jews and as human beings, we have endured a lot in history, and we have prevailed. We will get through this, too.
8. Be creative and powerful. In the words of visionary composer/playwright Jonathan Larson: “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” Create something that matters.
9. Being passionate is good, but when passion is channeled into hate, it is hurtful and destructive. Use your powers for good.
10. I am here for you.
I wish I could share these tips with Donald Trump, on behalf of my and everyone’s kids. I would like to ask him to use his passion, power, and words for good. I’d like him to realize that as president, he represents all of us: the ones who voted for him, and the ones who didn’t. I’d like to remind him that the kids are watching, and it is incumbent upon him to decry the acts of hatred and prejudice, acknowledge his own contribution to the environment that has made it acceptable, and unite this fractured country.
In other words, I’d like to ask him to be a mensch.