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.
Ruth, I understand what you are saying, I have felt such a sense of betrayal by this country and my own family. I thought we were so much better than this. When I havetried to point out his belief in eugenics, and the type of people that follow him, ive been treated as if I have no credibility. So I have been as depressed as you, because Iwas hoping for more tolerance in my lifetime, now it looks likenwhat im seeing is willful ignorance.ReplyDelete
I thought I posted on this in the morning, but don't see it?? This writing has impacted me tremendously. I think you for writing, Ruthie!!ReplyDelete
Ruth, a wonderful piece. But I grew up where you did, and when you did. One of my best friends back then was Stephanie Benson. I DID hear people whisper that she was a "Jew" but to me she was just my friend. I went on to become a Judeo-Christian, and I live in Boca Raton, a Historically "Jewish" city. I am dismayed at your fear at the election. I am sure you are aware that Trump's son-in-law is an Orthodox Jew. And that Ivanka has converted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivanka_TrumpReplyDelete
I think you need to be more accepting and stop watching CNN.
Unfortunately, not all people are like you in accepting people for who they are, not their religion or race.Delete
Please stop invalidating how people are feeling. Can you try to be more accepting of how others feel? Do you truly think Ruth WANTS to feel this way?
Perhaps the election of Donald Trump will not lead to a persecution of Jews given his family ties, but what about the Muslims or Latinos? A lot of ugliness was said about them in this election. I think we can all benefit from keeping our eyes wide open for ALL people.
I am not watching CNN...mr Bannon is the right hand of our new president and I feel threatened....lucky you to have been Stephanie's friend....she was a lovely girl, I remember her....but having a Jewish friend hardly makes you feel what growing up Jewish is like....I appreciate the sentiment of wanting us to be more accepting....if you can please tell the white supremists that are having rallies and proclaiming that Trump's win is their win...maybe then I might feel less fearful....I will not be sucked into conversations about Ivanka and her husband....or any of the children he is putting into questionably constitutionally legal positions....I also will not go into further conversation with a reply from "unknown"... this is my blog...these were my real experiences...I have more of themReplyDelete
Sorry I said anything to you at all. Go forth and be afraid.ReplyDelete
And There it is!Delete
Hi Ruth. Until this day, I thought that NC childhood shaped fear was singularly my own, filled with shame. (Thank you, Richard for sharing her piece on Facebook) I had buried that camp memory until you brought it to the surface. As a mother, I struggled to help my own children to "never forget" all the while helping them become generous and empathetic, color blind and religion blind, accepting and loving. I live in Blue California now, where all my friends told me I was wrong when I was scared he would win...and why. And that night, when I walked my dog in my very urban environment, those fears came back. Who among the many people passing harbored such hate and ignorance? All the childhood fears resurfaced, and I cannot help but look at people with sad, suspicious eyes. It's a struggle now to try to form a decent path to cope. So thank you for your post, which gives voice to me, and to many I can guess. (Née Amy Fleisher)ReplyDelete
Dear Ruth, thank you for this. I grew up a white middle class woman, but i was very fortunate that my parents were very wise and taught me not to hate. "Good people are good people" was my father's motto. I grew up knowing that Jesus was Jewish, we should love and respect Jewish people, and those who killed him did so for political reasons, not because of actual religion or race. I remember being confused when i got older and realized people hated others for their skin color, their religion, where they came from, etc. My point in all this is simply that we're out there, Ruth. There are good people all around with good hearts, and we are standing with you in solidarity. I may not have had your experience growing up, but i can and do empathize. I do see what's going on and it scares me for you and so many others. It has taught me i can no longer be silent, that i must speak up - with my words, my actions and my pocketbook.ReplyDelete
Ruthie, another excellent read, though different from the funny, often hilarious essays I thoroughly enjoy, your message comes through loud and clear. It's such an important message to everyone, perhaps more so for those who need to be educated about fear and feeling 'different' because they have never been through the pain of the hatred which you've described and it's critical that they learn that these events have been part of the fabric of our nation and the only difference between then and now is that they are not making any effort to hide their hateful thoughts and feelings.ReplyDelete
I'm so sorry for your childhood memories of being confronted with such ugliness at a tender, innocent age. I was fortunate to hold on to my blissful ignorance until my twenties when I spent several years living south in the Florida Keys. Our high school was 86%Jewish so that fear we learned about was not a part of our collective consciousness. Even so, having lived in a Jewish community outside Philadelphia through our college years, I was certain that I'd heard every disgusting name they called us because how could we not be exposed to anti-semitism as well as racism in a large city like Philadelphia? Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. In Florida, around people I believed were my friends and with whom I felt welcomed, my innocence and ignorance were shattered and lacking the mistrust that probably afforded you a bit of self-protection, I didn't realize how much hatred was directed at me with words I had never heard and names I had never been called. Fortunately for me, my soon to be husband recognized the kind of code that preceded an outright assault and he whisked me away from the haters and was always there 'on guard' because he knew what exactly was said and the jokes that were made, having grown up surrounded by that hatred and bigotry that disgusted him. Oh yes, how envious were my Philadelphia friends of my lazy, sunny, beautiful daily life in Paradise, asking me where could you possibly go on vacation when you live in the most beautiful place in the country? Well, everything is relative and I was never so happy to bring my husband home to Philadelphia, a city whose beauty may not be immediately visible but the beautiful coexistence among minorities, relative to the total hatred toward them (us) down South, has convinced me that this is home, where I'm happy to live the rest of my days.
That said, the hatred and ugliness which has grown since June, 2015, fills me with sadness and fear and anxiety. Wake up everyone because if you can't see the danger now, we're in bigger trouble than we realized. Oh Vey.
Ruth, this entry charged through me like a current. You are very brave in your vulnerability and I want to hug you and make things better. But your fear and hurt is part of you on a cellular level, and it can'take be hugged away with platitudes. I am a privileged person, of sorts. I am a woman, so there is that, and I feel the renewed and magnified misogyny keenly and rail against it. I am white, I am an average working Jolene, and I am an atheist ( and that may well make me a target as well in the new fascist regime). What I identify with most is as an empathy. I feel you. I feel every injustice and assault against the human spirit that has come from fascists and dictators throughout human history and I feel it! That so many poorly informed and lazy Americans (sorry, but lazy people don't do the homework and rely on soundbites from fake news sources)voted for this criminal, know-nothing, ignorant, self-aggrandizing, treasonous and contemptible bigot, is reminiscent of too many others in history who have inflicted sorrow that is beyond comprehension. I feel you Ruth. Without being Jewish and bullied, as you were, I have internalized that fear and pain for years because I can't ignore those horrible events in history.ReplyDelete
I hope we can embrace every like-minded individual, support them, encourage them, embolden them, and never give in to normalization of the hideous travesty that is a Trump presidency. We will rise above this. We must. I'm right there with you Ruth.
Thank you so much for you response.i grew up and identify myself as Jewish, but I have long ago realized I am an atheist....culture and heart are Jewish...but my mind doesn't allow the fairytale of any religion... I know many friends who have struggled and in their struggles were able to find comfort in it.....I look around me and believe if there was some almighty being that can do all this, he must be a sadist to let us have wars and genocides ignorance and unkindness.....I learned from yrs in therapy that I hate being part of organized religion, with all of its words of love ...while being judgmental and exclusive .... I am weary of man's mistakes and missteps....I am sad that this is the world we are giving to the next generation...I am appalled by the ignorance and the ignorant being spoon fed hate.......I am sadDelete