Why I Won't Stand Idly By

January 30, 2017

When I was 6 or 7, my mom asked me what religion I wanted to be. I knew that she was Jewish and that my dad grew up Catholic, but identified as agnostic. I told my mom that I wanted to be Jewish, but I cried because I didn't want to hurt my dad's feelings. (If you know me, you're not surprised by that.) My mom assured me that it wouldn't hurt his feelings, and then went on to ask why I wanted to be Jewish. I said because I like being different (I didn't have any Jewish friends at the time) and that I liked celebrating the Jewish holidays like Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah.

 

Later that year, my mom signed me up for Hebrew school and I started learning how to read Hebrew and preparing for my Bat Mitzvah. In Hebrew school we also learned about Jewish history, and of course, the holocaust. We had holocaust survivors come in and speak to us about what it was like to live through that time, and I remember the most commonly stated phrase was, "never again." Our teachers said we had to continue learning about and talking about the holocaust so it would never ever happen again.

 

When I was 11 or 12, my synagogue was vandalized and a swastika was drawn on the building. What I remember from then is that my rabbi, my parents, and our Hebrew school teachers were extremely upset. I remember feeling upset too, but I also remember that I didn't feel scared. I thought that it was a mean thing for someone to do, but I didn't see it as a threat. I didn't feel scared because everyone in my life had always told me that people will never let something like the holocaust happen again. And I believed them.

 

When I was 14 or 15, my mom was driving me somewhere, and out of the blue she said, "I just want you to know that your father and I will always love and support you no matter what - whether you are straight, gay, or somewhere in between." I awkwardly said "okay, mom" and rolled my eyes - as teenagers do - but later I asked her why she and my dad were always so accepting of differences. She said part of the reason is because as Jews, we were once the people who were oppressed for being different, and we relied on other people going out of their way to help us, so now it's our job to do the same for anyone who is oppressed today. 

 

When I was 21, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and she was very sick. To pass the time during chemotherapy, she made me a scrapbook about my heritage. She included pictures and stories of her parents and grandparents, who fled Russia to America during the holocaust. America was one of the few safe havens they could go to escape the brutality they were facing.

 

When I was 29, I married into an immigrant family. My husband is first generation American, and his parents came to this country without any money and without knowing a word of English, but with the understanding that in America, there was opportunity. They knew that if they just worked hard enough, they could provide a better life for their family. They started by flipping burgers and sewing clothes, and working tirelessly to make ends meat. Today, they own delis and restaurants and are successful business owners who provide jobs to fellow Americans. 

 

My grandfather, the son of Russian immigrant Jews, performed our wedding ceremony. When it came time to break the glass - a Jewish tradition - he asked us what type of meaning we wanted to associate with the tradition, since there are many different interpretations out there. Jason and I decided that we wanted it to symbolize the breaking down of barriers that separate people. We wanted our union to be about more than just the two of us coming together, but about people from all different walks of life - despite their differences - being able to break down the barriers that so often divide us.

 

All of these experiences in my life have contributed to who I am today. They are the reason I care so deeply about the rights of all human beings - not just the ones who look like me and are lucky enough to be privileged like me.

 

I've been told a lot lately that I'm being "overly sensitive" and stupid for posting my feelings on this matter as a business owner. But here is what I know: I would not be alive today, had America not been the wonderful country that let my great grandparents take refuge. I would not have the most amazing friendships with such a diverse group of people, if my parents hadn't instilled acceptance and compassion as the most important core values. I would never have met my husband and his incredible family, had America not been a place of opportunity for them to not only thrive themselves, but also help other Americans thrive as well.

 

When my teachers said "never again" in Hebrew school, they weren't just talking about Jews. They were saying that never again will we stand for that type of oppression and persecution of any group of people. Call me overly sensitive, call me a bad business person - I don't care. I just know that I will NOT tell my future children and my future children's children that I stood idly by as our generation's holocaust began.

 

 

 

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