I am afraid and I do not like that feeling.
What happened to my country, Die Goldene Medina, which Jews came to at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and for which they sacrificed so much? They may not have discovered the streets were paved with gold, but they did find the Four Freedoms emphasized by Franklin Delano Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
My ancestors, and maybe yours, embraced this country. They took English-speaking courses at night in the local schools, accepted many different kinds of jobs to earn money and made sure their children were educated.
They came in steerage, speaking only Russian, Polish, Lithuanian and similar languages. They were united by one commonality, Yiddish. I’ve heard the story about my Bubbe Finkle traveling across much of the European continent, with her two little boys and all the wordly goods she could manage. They slept in barns along the way, with one goal spurring them on: getting to America and the husband who had gone before to prepare for his family. Though my mother was born in Lynn, my father was born in Odessa. He was one of eight living children. His father was a rabbi and mohel.
A medic in the army, my dad served on the battlefields of Paris during World War I. He brought his patriotism to my brother and me. I remember how my father would take me out of bed and carry me into the kitchen to listen to Kate Smith sing “God Bless America” during World War II. It’s something I will never forget.
Growing up in Mattapan, like other children my age, we knew there was a war on but for the most part our world didn’t change. That is, until I discovered my mother reading the newspaper with tears streaming down her face. She was crying about the deaths of young servicemen and women. She was crying over the slaughter of the many Jews killed only because they were Jews.
Although most of us in the local areas were Jewish, I never thought about other religions or nationalities. Attending Girls Latin School with students from every part of Boston and of every race and color was an eye-opener. That wasn’t a problem; my mother brought me up to believe that we were all “children of God.”
My first experience with overt anti-Semitism was when I had a summer job in Boston. During lunch one female employee was telling a story in which she referred to someone as a “dirty Jew.” I was stunned, especially when she turned to me and said, “But you’re different.” Was I? How was I different? I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
Many years later, I was interviewing a retired firefighter. When I asked about the former Putnam Lodge in Danvers, he said it was arson. “That was Jewish lightning,” he said. I could hardly wait to leave the apartment.
Coming back from a family visit to Florida, an older woman took the seat beside me. She had flown down to sign off on her condo and she was happy with the sale.
“I got more than I expected,” she said. “I sold it to some rich Jews.” My first reaction was to change seats but there was no place to go. My conversation was no longer enthusiastic but she didn’t seem to notice. While getting ready to leave, she turned to me and said, “Thank you for the delightful conversation. I really enjoyed talking to you.”
Oh how I wanted to let her know that I was Jewish. But again I didn’t speak up.
But no longer can any of us do that. We cannot ignore what is going on.
My Jewish space has been invaded. No longer do I feel safe going to temple. I noticed during the High Holidays police presence was doubled.
No longer do I get out of the car and enter the temple for a Friday night Shabbat or Saturday morning study and service without checking the area. Where once I opened the door and went in, now I ring the bell and wait to be admitted.
The past few years my great-nieces and nephews have had to contend with speakers allowed on their college campus, causing total mayhem. Their favorite subject: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Unfortunately, in many cases there is no rebuttal, just a lot of passionate misinformation.
We read about Jews celebrating Hanukkah in a rabbi’s home only to be attacked. Synagogues have been the site of massacres, congregants have been murdered while praying. Jewish newspaper offices, centers of learning and places where Jewish people congregate have been attacked and people murdered.
Now is the time to speak up!
Myrna Fearer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.