Like many Americans, I lay in bed sleepless and demoralized on Election Night. Pondering, processing. What kind of country is this?
Also like many Americans, my husband and I thought about moving to Canada.
Honestly, we did more than think about it. At various points over the past several months, after refugee bans were announced, cabinet members with zero experience were confirmed, and press conferences during which the term “Holocaust center” was coined, we talked about it out loud. A lot, actually. We talked about finding new jobs, selling the house, leaving behind the friends we’ve made and the roots we’ve put down.
For years, it’s been trendy for Democrats and liberals here to muse about defecting to Canada. Apparently, the idea is even worth some cursory online research—recall how the website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada went down under the weight of U.S.-based traffic—even as the vote tallies were still coming in.
But unlike most Americans, we could actually do it because my husband is Canadian. Born, raised, and educated in Canada through university. Though I am American, our young son is a Canadian citizen by birth, too. The border would be open to our family, without too much complication.
And that night in November, we wondered what it means to raise a child in a place that chose Donald Trump to be its leader. A nation where a presidential contender’s flaws like narcissism, misogyny, impetuousness, dishonesty, and pettiness—just to name a few—elicit a collective shrug, or worse, a chorus of cheers?
It’s an unusual time. To add to this dismay, we do not live in a place like New York, surrounded by yiddishkeit and likeminded souls with comforting views on diversity and anti-Semitism. We make our home in Tennessee, a red state that favored Trump over Hillary Clinton by 26 percent.
Living here feels different now, both as a Jew and the wife of a green card holder, especially when I’m side-by-side with supporters of a president who caters to neo-Nazis and demeans immigrants.
This winter, a clever social media project produced for Holocaust Remembrance Day provoked me particularly. Russel Neiss, a Jewish educator living in Missouri, created a Twitter account that automatically tweeted the individual names (and often photos) of Jewish passengers on the infamous MS St. Louis who were turned away at North American ports in 1939. Poignantly, each tweet named the death camp where the rejected refugee was eventually murdered. The count went viral.
My name is Joachim Hirsch. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz pic.twitter.com/pfvJtMpIps
— St. Louis Manifest (@Stl_Manifest) January 27, 2017
I do not fear for my own safety in the current climate. Yet I had not been expecting an opportunity in my lifetime to find out whether “never again” is lip service or a genuine credo.
The St. Louis Manifest project was asking the same question. This time, as Canada opens its ports to refugees (not to mention expats like my husband), here in the States, history is asking us to responds. The Trump years, it seems, will actually be a series of tests. Between the rallies, protests, legal challenges and an outcry from business and religious leaders, the early signs of resistance are encouraging. Principled people are showing that we understand the value of learning from our past — and yet when bills like the AHCA are passed, we still wonder.
When I attended a vigil after the President’s travel ban was signed and saw thousands of faces illuminated alongside mine—not in a city with “coastal elites” but in the South—it felt like Americans were already earning a passing grade. The next round of this fight may be about foreign intervention, healthcare, voting rights, or attacks on the media and honest journalism. The possibilities for injustice and inhumanity at the hands of an insecure leader are many. I am hopeful we’ll pass those tests, too.
I say “we” because yes, we’re staying. But in the coming years our family, and indeed all American Jews, will find out exactly amongst whom we are living.