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anti-semitism

Now My 7-Year-Old Understands Anti-Semitism

Hamsa

Early on Saturday morning — about an hour before the horrific news broke of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left eleven people dead — I was laying out my kids’ clothes, in preparation for a family photo shoot. Since this was a special occasion, I asked my 7-year-old daughter if she wanted to wear her hamsa, a Jewish amulet in the shape of an open hand that’s intended to ward off evil and protect the wearer. Hers is sparkly and pink, and was given to her by my parents the day she was born. She usually lights up at the chance to wear her “big girl” necklace. But this time, her face clouded over. “Mommy, I want to wear it,” she said. “But if anyone ever asks me what it is, I don’t really want to tell them.”

“Why, honey?” I asked, already fearing the answer. While hate crimes and hateful rhetoric have recently been on the rise, she’s been shielded from it. Or so I thought.

“Because Trump hates Jews, and what if the person asking me about my necklace likes him?” she said. “Then they may hate me, too!” Her little mind was spinning furiously; she’d clearly been thinking about this.

Hamsa

Staci James Photography

My heart skipped a beat and the lump forming in my throat grew bigger. At 7, she doesn’t yet know what the Holocaust is. But the very thought that she could comprehend that someone could hate her simply because of her religion was just too much to bear.

Choosing my words carefully, I asked, “Where did you hear that he hates Jews?”

“On the TV. He doesn’t like Jews, Mommy.” To be honest I don’t know what she heard or when, but clearly, something had stuck.

In that moment, I could have tried to water it down. I could have told her Trump’s daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids are Jews, which is true. But the bigger truth is, I don’t think any of that matters — especially after his initial silence and then “both sides” bullshit after Charlottesville, when he continued a rally Saturday night in Illinois the wake of a massacre, and had the gall to essentially blame the temple for not having armed guards. (Would that have even mattered, considering four policemen were shot?!).

In my opinion, Trump’s Jewish family means very little when stacked against everything else. So instead of tempering my daughter’s feeling, I pulled her close. I told her I am so sorry she heard that. I also told her that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, and we should be proud to be Jews.

“I am proud, Mommy,” she said with a shy smile.

“Good,” I said, kissing the top of her head and breathing in her freshly-shampooed hair. I fastened her sparkly hamsa around her neck, and she wore it to our family photos with pride.

Hamsa

Staci James Photography

The conversation with my daughter naturally was front and center in my mind when I heard the tragic news out of Pittsburgh. After shedding tears for the victims, and saying a silent prayer for their families, I made sure to flip the TV to Fixer Upper. We didn’t listen to NPR in the car. In light of what transpired an hour earlier, I needed there to be zero chances she could hear about Jews being murdered at shul.

While I wish this had been an anomaly, it isn’t. Hate crimes against Jews are on the rise. About two years ago, I penned an essay for Kveller lamenting the increase in anti-Semitism since Trump had been elected. And sadly, as I feared then, it’s only gotten worse these past two years. Significantly worse. I don’t feel safe in Trump’s America for many reasons, and today’s Pittsburgh tragedy is just the most recent example.

Today, my daughter will go to Hebrew School, where active shooter plans — similar to her elementary school’s — are in place, and counselors will be on hand for the older kids. All of this extra care should make us parents feel safer, but instead, it just makes me feel sad. When I was a kid, we didn’t have to have police outside our synagogue. We didn’t have active shooter drills during religious school (or regular school, for that matter).

My kids are only 5 and 7; they don’t fully understand the implications and history of anti-Semitism. But they are growing up in a post-Charlottesville world, where hatred toward Jews is no longer hidden but on full display, with neo-Nazis taking to the streets in khakis and tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us!” To my disgust and profound disappointment, they are growing up in Trump’s America — where our president has been accused of inciting violence, at worst, to being indifferent to it, at best.

My heart breaks a thousand times over thinking about the enormous loss the families of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue must grapple with. And it breaks a thousand times more for all of us, Jews around the world, and our children — that, in 2018, we live in a world where we are hated simply because of our religion.

As a small act of solidarity, I wore my hamsa necklace today, with pride. And if someone asks me what it means, I won’t be afraid to tell them. I’ll wear my faith on my sleeve, for all to see. I’m proud of who I am. We cannot let the darkness win.

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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