my racist summer vacation

by Leah Bieler

So, I know I've been away for a while, holidays, new school year, four kids times three pair of shoes each = I've made friends with the woman at Zappos. Also, I've begun work on a book, fiction for a change. I'm hoping to have it done before my youngest graduates college. In 2028.

This blog post in the Forward is edited down, but I'll put the longer version here and link to the edited one. After the war this summer, I am worried what the Jewish community around the world is becoming. I'm not interested in minimizing the anti-Semites that have come out of the woodwork, nor the genuine evil within Hamas. But I don't want those things to change who I am and what I believe in.

See, I'm so worried, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. 


For some reason, when parents are speaking with their young children, they often employ the royal “we.” “We always say thank you when given a gift,” “we wash our hands after feeding the goat,” “we don't bite our sister.” This formulation is most commonly used in the aspirational, as in, “despite the fact that you've just bitten your sister for the third time this week, we, the powers that be, do not condone such behavior, and expect you to do better in the future.” 


This way of speaking always grated on me. It seemed by some verbal alchemy to remove responsibility from both the child and the parent. With my own children I favor the “responsibility all around” approach. My response to chomping on one's sister - “the next time you bite her, you will have no TV for a week” - puts the onus on both of us. The child will suffer consequences, and I will suffer as I follow through on my threat for a whole entire week, even when said child begs with the most pathetic eyes ever.


In July, I heard this “we” over and over as Jews around the world (appropriately) condemned the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. “we Jews don't do this,” they claimed, even as empirical evidence to the contrary mounted. Some Jews do do this. But they are clearly the exception. Jews know what it's like to be persecuted. That means we don't hate Arabs because of who they are, but we hate how some Arabs behave. We are most certainly not racists. Ok. If you say so.


Until recently I felt vaguely proud of the manner in which my whole community handled questions regarding race. Then last month, I found myself becoming one. A racist, that is. 


This summer, as sirens blared, we experienced the physical stress that comes with even the few runs to the bomb shelter that we had in Jerusalem. The flip in your stomach, rush of adrenaline, heart racing, that washes over you every time you hear a siren. Any siren. Last week, driving on the bucolic 2-lane Cape Cod highway, an ambulance approached. As my breath quickened, I glanced in the rearview mirror. My daughter smiled back at me and whispered, “tzeva adom.” Red alert.


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