Dear American Muslims and others feeling unsettled by the possibility of no longer being safe in your own country:
There is no delicate way to say what I am about to say, so I am just going to say two things that have been running through my mind since Tuesday night.
- I am so sorry for what you are all going through. My heart is with you.
- You now understand, in a way more visceral than any Jew of my generation, the reason for the creation of a Jewish homeland – which, although originally posited for anywhere available, ended up as the State of Israel in the Middle East.
Regarding the current state of Israel, its prime minister, its issues around settlements and all the other complications and messy realities of statecraft and daily life, please set it aside for purposes of this discussion. Not because those aren’t valid topics for conversation – they absolutely are – but because it’s not the issue I’m addressing here.
In 70 CE, the Romans dispersed most (not all, but pretty much all but the equivalent of a tiny rural village’s worth) of the country’s Jews. From then until 1948, we were an itinerant crew, depending on the hospitality and governmental vagaries of the countries to which we managed to hie ourselves.
It’s not a happy history. There’s a joke that so many Jewish kids played violin because you could pick one up and run when you got kicked out of whatever country you were living in. Jews got really good at languages, because they had to learn so many. When we were allowed to live in a place, we were often made to keep to a restricted part of town, and wear visible clothing that marked us as different. (Note: It was a thing WAY before Nazi Germany.)
My lifetime has been a period of what is best described as a golden age for Jews. I live in a country where, for the most part, we’ve been pretty welcome. (Exceptions exist, but again, not the issue I’m addressing here.)
Some of that is due to what happened in 1948, when the Jews got what no generation for more than 1,000 years had had – a place of our own, a country of refuge in which we would never be “other.” A country where national holidays would be our holidays, our shared culture and religious observance would be the norm and not the exception, where we could raise our babies and care for our elders without having to explain what “kosher” entails. Most of all, it was a country where we never wondered when a mob would burn our neighborhood, round us up and run us out of town, arrest and/or kill us.
Everything else aside, it’s a terrible thing to feel unsettled in your own home, whether that means the space on the furniture-filled side of your front door or the space beyond it, the public space.
I live in the United States because my grandparents fled Russia and Ukraine. I don’t want my country to be a place where those of us who are different are made to feel “less than.”
That said, I’m not gonna lie. Knowing what – and that – my forebears sacrificed to try and create a place that would take me and mine in without question gives me a sense of place and security.
It requires something else too. Because of my history, I have an obligation to do as much to ensure the physical, emotional and moral safety of those around me. Whatever happens over the next four years, for better or worse, I’ve got your backs. We’re in this together.