PEABODY – This past Saturday afternoon, my friend and colleague Rabbi Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad and I were taking a Shabbos stroll on the way to the beautiful Peabody bike path. To get there, we had to walk for a short bit on Lowell Street.
Walking and chatting and visibly Jewish – kippas, beards and tzitzits flying about – was apparently too much for a bunch of pickup truck drivers. There were 3 or 4 large pickups, one with red hubcaps, and modified mufflers to sound really loud as they drove by.
The driver of the first truck slowed down and flipped us the birdie and yelled out “****ing Jews.” A moment later, he threw a penny out of his window and shouted another anti-Semitic slur something to the effect of “go pick up the penny, ****ing Jew.”
Now, I am not unaccustomed to people yelling things to me or honking from the safety of a driving vehicle that I cannot catch up to. However, the angry and hateful vitriolic tenor was new and quite upsetting. My kids have often shuddered when we walk the streets to or from shul and a car drives by (usually with a few silly teens) and yell or whistle at us. Recently, one of my kids said, “Tatty, why do they hate us so much?”
I didn’t have a good answer, so I deflected and told him that they were just a bunch of rowdy kids excited to be driving their own car, so they were just being silly. This Shabbat insult was nothing of the sort. This was simple, clear, unvarnished, hate.
I write this today to bring awareness to the hate in our community (or at least driving through our streets) and if you know of that caravan of trucks, please report them. We will never again be silent in the face of hate. Never again means NEVER AGAIN! And that can only happen when we stand up to it, announce it, report it, call it out for what it is EVERY SINGLE time we see it.
Like Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin recently told Germany, we will not get rid of our yarmulkes because of those who hate. The solution is not to get rid of the kippah. The solution is to get rid of the hate.
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Then there is the academic side to it.
Why does this person hate so much? I have never met him. In all likelihood, he never met an Orthodox Jew in his life. I’m confident he never did business with an Orthodox Jew. Still, he felt the need to endorse the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are thieves and cheapos.
He didn’t look Middle Eastern (no Kafiya or anything so identifying) so I am assuming this was not related to the growing anti-Jewish, anti-Israel hate (well documented in films where children and adults in many Middle Eastern countries are taught to hate). No, this does not mean that every Middle Eastern person is anti-Israel and an anti-Semite. This was a homegrown form of hate that is starting to invade this country – spreading from the halls of our government to our college campuses and beyond.
So what’s the source of the hated?
My only guess, and that is all it is, is a guess, is the upbringing and training. Children – and later adolescents and adults – are impressionable. If they are taught that McDonald’s is a healthy square meal, then in all likelihood people will raise their children that way. If they are taught that rich people are evil or that people of color are dangerous, then they will likely transmit that training to their progeny.
If they are taught (as many children, here and abroad tragically are) that there is a sub-human group of people that are a danger to society, a blight on the pure human race, for whatever concocted or perceived reason, that will be transmitted to their children.
So, to you, Mr. Pickup truck driver: 1. Shame on you. 2. Shame on those who taught you to be a wimp and shriek from the safety of your vehicle with the ability to speed off. Next time you have something to say to me, pull over and say it to my face. I want to see if you are still so brave. 3. I actually don’t hate you; I am mostly sad for you. Mend your ways and I will forgive you. 4. Most importantly, not only for my children’s sake, though that is the main reason for me personally, I am not going to tolerate your disgusting hate without responding. I will announce it to the world every time, and stand up to you. I am not afraid of you.
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Today, I write on Memorial Day. Our soldiers fought for the right to live in peace and to practice the faith of your choice, and for that I am eternally grateful. I don’t think they fought for people to yell, scare, frighten and promote hate and division.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman leads Chabad of Peabody.