I’ve been loving seeing so many fellow Jews coming out of the woodwork in the wake of Charlottesville–Pink, Billy Joel, Jack Antonoff–to name a few, either openly discussing their Jewish identity or wearing it on their (literal) chests. Instead of shying away from the bigotry and anti-Semitism out there, they are owning their truths and shouting it from the rooftops: “I’m proud to be a Jew! Hate won’t win!”
Yet in spite of my own Jewish pride, I was still a nervous wreck on a recent Sunday. My daughter’s Hebrew School was hosting a “Welcome Back” picnic at a local park, and because of some post-Charlottesville anti-Semitic graffiti in our otherwise open-minded and liberal college town, I had deep anxiety about going to an event held outside the temple, in public, where men and boys would be donning kippas—an obvious symbol of Judaism.
What if someone called us horrible slurs? Threw rocks at us? Threatened us? The picnic wasn’t publicized, so there was little chance of anything of the sort happening, not to mention the fact Kalamazoo is an incredibly diverse and welcoming community on the whole (it’s one of the things I love most about living here)–but I hate that I was worried that it could happen; that for a moment I questioned fellow community members with no just cause.
It perplexed me: In the wake of Charlottesville and given the spate of hate crimes over the past year, how do we strike the balance between fears that are legitimate and fears that are unfounded? Between being cautious of our surroundings and being paranoid?
I didn’t have the answers. But I knew one thing for sure: We’d go to the picnic. The haters wouldn’t win and keep us from living our lives. Hysteria solves nothing.
But how sad is that I considered not going because I was worried about our group being physically or verbally assaulted? This isn’t the world I want to be raising my kids in. And it’s not the one I want you raising yours, either!
Fortunately, the picnic was great–and incident-free. We reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen most of the summer, my daughter was thrilled to trade Shopkins (far away from us!) with a Hebrew School classmate she’d missed, my son had a blast saturating his shorts splashing in the lake, and we chatted up some other interfaith families like ours.
What’s more, the park was full of families–black, white, Hispanic, etc.–all doing their own things, all enjoying a late-summer day at the park, sharing smiles and small talk. My favorite observation was that a group of Muslim families were hanging out right next to our pavilion, grilling.
For an afternoon, it felt exactly as it should be: we were all part of one family–our little Kalamazoo community. The color of our skin, the language we speak, and the God we worship didn’t matter. For an afternoon, we were just a bunch of people at a park. And it was beautiful.