Always taught that there's danger even behind a seemingly kind smile. From the time I could listen or think I was told that people hated us.
When I was too young to understand anything, I was told the stories of Anne Frank.I was shown the photographs of a little girl who looked just like m, and learned that she hid from people who hated her, and captured by them. I was told that Anne died and was put into an oven. Not the fairy tale oven of Hansel and Gretel, but a real oven. Ovens where six million of my people and six million more were killed.
The stories, both biblical and historical, of persecution were drummed into my psyche. I would go to sleep at night and cry when the lights would go out, so fearful of being alone with my thoughts and no capacity to understand them. My parents thought I was a faker who didn't want to go to sleep and that i just wanted to stay up all night... but I was afraid of what happens in the dark, of who might come, wearing heavy boots, into our house and takes us away. I was afraid of the end of the world....or at the very least, MY world. I never got over my fear of turning out the light at night, I can't go to sleep in the dark, I can't go to sleep in the quiet ,my mind is too loud.
Over the years I was bullied and picked on. Elementary school children who are too young to even understand what they were saying would ostracize me, call me names and not invite me. Try as I might to blend in, there was always the teacher who would separate me and say, "Ruth you don't have to sing the songs that we are all singing at Christmas. The pretty songs about drummer boys and snowmen. It always made me feel like i was being singled out and separated for be being Jewish.
Then there was junior high. Children from multiple elementary schools fed into a large junior high school. There were children from other neighborhoods. Children who had never met a Jew....children who had only heard stories from their parents. They zeroed in on me, and I became a target. By the time they had entered junior high school, these children had been fed stories of long bearded Jews with horns, the tales of how we killed Christ their Savior, and that Jews are all rich dirty money lenders.
I would sit on the school bus in the morning, a group of boys would write the word "JEW" in the condensation on the cold windows...they would throw wadded paper at my head. A few of them would spit or chew up paper and make spitballs and blow them at me. I would walk the halls of my school, and those same boys would whip out pennies and throw them at my bare legs so hard that I would have welts on them. As stinging as a copper missile was, the sting hurt even more as they chanted "Jew , Jew Jew!!" Then they passed me, howling with uncontrollable laughter. I was told by my parents just to ignore them, that I was above all this and they were "nothing!" They said , and one day they would "get theirs" and I would find my place. ( in one, and ONLY one instance, a seismic explosion of karma happened ....the summer after high school, a pallet holding a ton of brinks fell from above onto one of the boys from the bus....)
In the late 1960's, we would watch the news....the times were allegedly changing....people in the streets were marching for Love and Peace and Equality. The "love generation" came in while I was in junior high. It was a time when America had open its eyes, and had suddenly become aware. People believed that they had evolved. This was America, the land that welcomed people with a Statue of Liberty's torch, and her and her words of "give me your tired your poor.. I lift my lamp beside this golden shore."The movement that happened in the 60s, seems to have been a warm blanket covering the cold hearts of most of America. But now in retrospect, the blanket didn't change or warm, it just covered their ugliness like a tarp. Now, in 2016, the blanket has been thrown off the bed and it is cold in America once again.
Every summer my parents sent me to a Jewish sleep away camp. It was a beautiful place in the mountains with other Jewish children from all over America. Most of the campers were from areas that have large Jewish communities like Miami Beach. They didn't grow up as one of the 15 Jewish students in a large school. Saturday mornings at camp, we had services in the chapel. There was always a reference to the cry, "Never Forget". I never did, that fear was always sitting in my pocket, ready to come out at a moment's notice. But for many children of the 60s, they lived in places where it was so hard to be Jewish. They didn't know what it was, that they weren't supposed to forget.
One night, as a top secret activity to teach all of us, the privileged campers from comfortable homes, the message went too far. (This certainly could never occurs in our bubble wrapped, politically correct society now....and it shouldn't) We were awakened by blaring sirens on the PA system, they were loud and they didn't stop. It was three in the morning, and all of our counselors and all of the staff were standing and screaming at us. They were throwing things on the floor, clamoring pots and pans, telling us to get out of bed immediately! "No no no!!!You may not grab your sneakers...No, you may not put on your sweatshirt!!!' In our nightgowns and pajamas, we were rounded up and taken to the big black top where the buses were usually parked. Crying confused children herded like animals. Yelled at as we were crying... scared and we didn't understand what was going on. They kept us standing there on the blacktop in the middle of the night in our bare feet. Then the sirens stopped and we were told to march up the mountain to the chapel . At daybreak, the entire camp sat in the chapel and were given lecture about the Holocaust. We were told how lucky we were and how we should never forget.
That night still gives me nightmares, and yet there was no real threat involved. But I felt it, and so did the other children. It was a fire alarm. And I feel now, the fire burning... and I feel my fears that I had as a little girl coming to pass. I fear for people who can't blend in as I can with my nondescript looks and my English last name, I can blend.... I can walk undetected.
Thursday after the election, I went shopping at Costco, here in Charlotte, NC. I walked up and down the aisles, and as each person passed or approached me I sized them up as either friend or foe. I felt safe as I passed people of color, thinking they couldn't possibly be part of this hate revolution but I wondered what they thought when they passed me? Did they think I voted to Make America Great? I had visions of movies about Germany in the late 30s, when Jewish families walked on the street and looked suspiciously at all of their neighbors. Wondering if that was going to be the one to rat them out. Is that the person who will alert the authorities and have them rounded up?
I know you can be sympathetic, but if you have never lived in fear, if it hasn't been ingrained for your entire life,then you can't fully understand the despair that so many feel right now. You can see things going wrong. You can shake your fist and say how horrible it is, but you cannot feel the sickness in the gut that has been growing, stewing, brewing, sitting not so quietly in the deepest part of me. You really can't if you grew up without that fear. I envy people, not for being who they are, but for not knowing what I know, I envy the people who are able to say, "OK let's move on from here--- let's take a deep breath and hold hands and make this work". I cannot hold hands, I am afraid to hold hands with the people next to me. I don't know who they are and I don't trust them. This election has taken away my entire sense of security, all of it is gone.... that warm blanket, now removed, unveiled the ugly monsters that have been under the bed all along. There's nothing to protect us.
Many people will think this is just the ramblings of a depressed woman,
and you would be partially right, but mostly these are the words of a woman whose eyes are wide open now.