I examine the grainy photograph from Charlottesville closely, trying to peer beneath the beard, hoping against hope that the faint resemblance is incidental. Hoping that it’s not the face I know. The person I once loved. The person I have come to fear.
It isn’t. Not this time.
It’s scanty comfort, though. These obscure faces at a Virginia rally aren’t so separate from any number of the people I grew up with: proud of their “Southern heritage,” flying flags that they claimed meant freedom, but that were ominous for a few among us. Indignant when it came to anything that hinted of Northern liberalism. Apparently just a breath away from transforming their senses-of-place into full-fledged white nationalism.
I was scanning the faces from the rally looking for someone who was close family–an everyday presence for much of my life; not the yearly call on holidays kind of relative. He came to the celebratory dinner for my conversion. He switched to Hanukkah presents easily. He expressed interest in our Jewish heritage.
He insisted to me that he was a “Never Trump” person, but that was some months before the nomination, and something must have changed. Maybe it was the horror of voting for Trump’s woman opponent–even a white supremacist may have seemed preferable to him, in his anger. He was obsessed with Benghazi, despite the proclamations of innumerable panels. (Let’s call it Benghazi–just this pinch of denial left. Let’s not call it what it was.)
I believed him when he said “never.” I’m Jewish; I took it on faith that family, at least, would not side with a man who so often aligned with those who hated me for that, who would slough me off as not American, or as the enemy, because of the home I’d chosen to return to.
But I’m also a convert. All conversion classes touch on the possibility of some community rejection–from friends too immersed in their own religious expressions to get it; from family who don’t see that you’re gaining so much, not giving something up. I felt lucky four years ago; I mostly avoided this. From him, I even got what I thought was the opposite of rejection. But it turns out it was fragile support; suddenly, now, I am Other again.
So my previous naiveté leaves me poring over photographs, though, of Virginia rallies, of places where Nazi slogans rang through the air. Images of proud violence. Looking, and hoping not to see.
One Shabbat not so long ago, he broke our pointed post-election silence with “Sieg Hiel.” The night became surreal. He doubled down when confronted, sticking to his Nazi salute and rushing off into a bout of paranoid ranting. I blocked him from my phone and social media; I let family know. And though I thought, in a detached sort of way, that cutting him off would fix it well enough: nothing is that easy any more.
On the four-year anniversary of my beit din, my boyfriend asks me why I’ve stopped wearing my kippah. I hedge. I obfuscate.
I can’t voice the truth yet: that a family member, spewing alt-right hatred at me–just because he could–made it feel like a farce. What right do I have to represent a community that is being attacked by someone who is my own flesh and blood?
How could I possibly be as Jewish as I feel–to the core, as if I reclaimed a lost part of my blood and being–if there’s a neo-Nazi in my family?
I finish with the photographs, for the moment. He’s not in any that I’ve seen. It is a relief. But the secondary and painful truth is that–whether he marched this weekend or not–he’s already struck an indelible blow.
I feel unsafe. Forgive me, forgive me: because of my blood, we are all less safe.
About wearing the kippah, I demur: “I’ll put it back on eventually.”
I avoid setting an actual date; the declaration is more hope than guarantee.