In my family’s Duxbury home, we have a large portrait hanging on the wall of a woman in a headscarf who looks wiser than her years, lovingly referred to as “the Bubbe on the wall” (“Bubbe” means grandmother in Yiddish). This woman, born in a small Jewish village outside of Kyiv, had two daughters. As anti-Semitism rose in Ukraine, and with it, violent pogroms, she worried for her daughters and urged them to move to the United States. While one of her daughters, my great-great-grandmother, quickly adapted to life in the U.S., her sister missed her village, and wanting to be there to care for her aging mother, decided to move back to Ukraine. The sisters kept in close contact, writing to each other constantly, until one day in late 1941, the letters stopped. My great-great-grandmother went the remainder of her life never knowing exactly what had happened to her family.
Unlike in Western Europe, the Nazis did not take prisoners out of much of Eastern Europe for forced labor, experimentation, and murder in concentration camps. Instead, in Kyiv, they ordered the immediate extermination of all Jews; gathering up over 30,000 Jewish civilians, my family presumed among them, and shooting them, point-blank, into a massive pit at the Babi Yar ravine.
The portrait of the Bubbe hangs proudly at the head of our dining room table to this day. Even though the lives of her and her family were cut short, their memory is never lost. Her presence reminds us just how precious life is, and how easily it can be taken away. Furthermore, her seat at the table is defiant; though the SS tried to murder the Jews of Kyiv, many of their descendants live on to tell their tales, and more than that, to thrive. She has sat at the table for birthday parties, for Shabbos dinners, for medical school acceptances, for marriage announcements. This sense of memory and resilience is so vital to the Jewish people, a people who have been hated, persecuted, and killed for simply existing for thousands of years, yet continue to persist.
Using “Auschwitz,” the name of a Nazi concentration camp that killed over a million men, women, and children, as an audible in a high school football playbook was clearly in poor taste, but for many, this ignorance and callousness hit much closer to home. I can’t help but wonder how long Duxbury would have used this term had someone not spoken out. Though dozens of players and Coach Maimaron were undoubtedly familiar with the play call, it took someone from the Plymouth North team to be the one to condemn its use. As activist Ginetta Sagan said, “silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” In World War II, this silence killed. What has allowed anti-Semitism to persist so prolifically throughout history is how insidious it is. The Duxbury High School football incident is indicative of a broader culture of complacency surrounding anti-Semitism and bigotry within Duxbury.
Having grown up within the Duxbury school system, what is most remarkable about this situation is that while it is upsetting, it is not surprising. There is a widespread sentiment that “Duxbury doesn’t have a race problem,” yet I can think of countless times when I have experienced and bore witness to bigotry. This perception may stem from the fact that, in our overwhelmingly white town, it is often assumed that since nobody is there to speak out that the problem doesn’t exist. In reality, prejudice is deeply ingrained in our culture, and this homogeneity in itself stands testament to our intolerance.
We must turn inward and work towards becoming an inclusive town that challenges ignorance. There is no easy solution to Duxbury’s problem, but the path forward demands introspection, accountability, and education. I am hopeful that we have moved one small step in the right direction by showing the next generation that actions have consequences. However, we need to continue to condemn bigotry, educate our community, and ultimately eliminate this culture of complacency if we ever hope to have a Duxbury that stands against anti-Semitism and intolerance.
Sebastian Taylor writes from Duxbury.