You’ll be invited to your wife’s Full Family Thanksgiving Feast in Michigan
Attending means driving to the hinterlands around the middle knuckles of the Mitten’s middle finger. Shortly before leaving you’ll learn that this Full Family Feast does not, in fact, exist. Instead you’ll be directed to a somewhat lesser Secondary Family Feast in a somewhat less remote part of the hinterlands, at your in-laws’ cottage in a town mostly known for holding an annual ice fishing carnival on a frozen lake.
You’ve witnessed this carnival. You’ve ridden the ferris wheel atop the ice with your wife and young son, a ferris wheel you were told was unique for its age and direction of spin. You learned this from the man operating it, the man who proclaimed that he’d bolted it together himself, a man with something very clearly wrong with one side of his skull.
These are things you do in Michigan. These are the decisions you make by just letting things keep going the way they go in Michigan. …
And goes on from there. You can read it all free online here:
UPDATE 2019-10-11: Yom Kippur was Wednesday, and a guy with homemade guns and bombs tried to kill a few dozen praying Jews in Germany. He was thwarted by his own poor craftsmanship and decent locked doors. I’d really like to know that Jewish congregations throughout America have good doors, good locks, and good trauma kits. All of this is expensive; a small trauma kit—one with supplies to slow the death of one or two gunshot victims—runs ~$50. It would be nice not to have to chose which of my friends, neighbors, or family members dies and which might live. YOU CAN HELP US BUY THESE THINGS. Heck, here’s the shopping list for a minimal trauma kit. Buy the parts yourself, and send it to the congregation of your choosing. Concerned they won’t know what to do with it? Have them contact me and I’ll walk them through how to use this trauma kit in an emergency.
It’s expensive to be in the minority: You need to take days off that aren’t excepted in the “secular” work calendar; you need to buy things (garments, food, etc.) for which there is lower demand (and thus are correspondingly more expensive to acquire); you need to spend time (often on a daily basis) explaining very simple things over and over and over again to often very well meaning people; you have to swallow your gall over a very large number of very small insults; you have to search around for food or facilities or services that are suitable for you, and don’t oblige you to debase yourself or become an unwilling spectacle (although both are frequently part of your life).
Muslims face this.Immigrants face this.Folks whose genders don’t match their sexes in the predominant fashion face this.
Right now, all over America, very small groups of Jews are scratching together very large sums of money in order to buy thicker doors, better locks, security cameras, and bullet-resistant glass.
I know that you don’t wish any of us harm.And I know how awful it feels to not be able to do anything.
If you’re in the majority, then you never have to sit down in your pew and say “OK: The shooter will almost certainly come through those doors, so I need to clear people this direction.We’ll designate Person X to sprint down to the childcare room and get the kids out through the fire exit…”
If you never attend religious services, then you aren’t shopping for trauma kits—and so maybe have some shekels to spare.
If you don’t need to be dedicated brain cycles to having a plan for keeping your friends and neighbors alive for the 5 to 7 minutes it takes the police to arrive, then you have bandwidth to spare for some other thoughts—and likely some of those are “How did we get here?How the hell can we get back?”
Me, I’ve got the High Holidays next week; I’m waiting for the supplies for my trauma kit to come in the mail.I’m reviewing building schematics and Google satellite views and walking perimeters to figure how long it takes to get from a fire door to the tree line.
If you’re bummed about the surge in American anti-Semitism (and the corresponding new fad of shooting Jews in our houses of worship while we pray), there’s something concrete you can do:
This flyer is for my community, but you don’t have to send us money.I absolutely guarantee that every Jewish Federation in every part of this country is running a similar drive.We all are operating congregations and community centers in of old buildings with shoe-string budgets. Google the nearest major city to you and the word “JCC” (for “Jewish Community Center”).You’ll either get the Jewish Federation for that region, the nearest Jewish Community Center in that town, or that town’s lone lil synagogue (example: I googled “jcc billings, MT” and found these cats Congregation Beth Aaron—who almost certainly need better doors).
I’m a Jew—born and raised—but I come from a “mixed” family (they say “interfaith” now). My dad is a Jew, but my mom was raised Christian. Both my maternal grandparents—with whom I spent a lot of time growing up—were practicing Christians. Far from shockingly, my own marriage is mixed (my wife was raised Catholic, our kids are Jews who end up participating in a lot of Xtian traditions). Interfaith families are really common now, but were much less so when I was young.
As you’re likely aware, back when I was a kid there weren’t a lot of Xanukah songs for us Jewish kids. There weren’t many songs for Jewish kids, but there were some; there were absolutely zero songs for mixed half-a-Jews with an Xmas tree and a Xanukiah and a cat that managed to catch fire in the Xanukah candles every year and Xtian grandparents who came to town on Xmas Eve specifically to partake in the Jewish tradition of Xmas Chinese food.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re sort of a nation that always wants everyone to be one thing or another thing—black or white, nerd or jock, Jew or Gentile, girl or boy—and doesn’t have much patience for things that are mixed and ambiguous and a lil-o’-both. I was in my 20s, and in a Women’s Studies class, before I learned what the hell “intersectionality” was, and my identity began to make any sense to me.
This year—for the third year running—my local Jewish Community Center is collecting donations of Christmas presents, to be given to the Syrian refugees relocated here.
On the one hand, that sounds almost too perfectly absurd: Jews giving Muslims Christmas presents. On the other, it feels like basically the most perfect possible introduction to America.🕎🎄☪🇺🇸
Anyway, there weren’t many mixed kids like me when I was growing up—and there weren’t any songs or holiday specials or children’s books that reflected what I saw and felt and loved about wintertime.
So these are my songs, for all the little intersectional mixed kids out there, who don’t have any holiday songs to sing.
SUBJECT: The PotUS sanctions bigotry, assists persecution
Dear [NAME TK],
I was truly and deeply dismayed this morning to read the President’s remarks on the recent NFL decision to fine players who kneel during the National Anthem.Specifically:
“You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Just to be clear, I don’t particularly care for football, nor for labor practices within the NFL.If that employer wants to set a weird (to me) rule about how to comport oneself during pre-game musical performances, then that’s for those employers, their employees, those employees’ union, and the courts to sort out.
I’m not even that concerned to hear a President so blithely unaware of existing First Amendment precedent; sure, I learned about cases like West VA State Board of Ed v. Barnette in middle school, but not everyone benefited from my fine education, and not every President can be a noted Constitutional scholar.
But I’m extremely concerned when I hear a sitting U.S. President breezily opine that a group of people who believe differently than he “shouldn’t be in the country.”I grew up in a community with a very small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses—folks who, for religious reasons, do not pledge allegiance or stand for the National Anthem.As a Jew, I did not share their beliefs—but I was taught, by my family, my faith leaders, and my teachers, that their beliefs were worthy of my respect.More to the point, I was taught that their beliefs were due equal protection under the law—just like mine.
Violent crime in general is trending down in the U.S., but hate crimes continue to climb—and speaking out against any element of that rising tide of hate and bias seems to run the risk of having a target painted on your back by a big bully, who we inexplicably permit to continue to bludgeon private citizens from his bully pulpit, uncensured.
“Yes,” I said, “Probably the only one in this room right now.” (I thought one of the gringo lawyers was Jewish, but she had gone out to smoke, so I felt pretty safe with this claim.)
The tico husband nodded his head sagely, smiled, and said, “The Jews control all of the money,” and then his smile froze and eyes went wide as his ears registered what his mouth had just said.
I want to stress that I didn’t feel there was any actual anti-Semitic content to the statement. During both this most recent visit to Costa Rica and my last, the groom had cause to emphatically insist that there is no anti-Semitism in Costa Rica, sorta out of the blue, which I take to be an indication that it’s pretty common in some circles. But ticos are, on the whole, the least aggressive or confrontational people I’ve ever met. As far as I’m concerned, they can hate Jews with as much vigor as they might muster, as I can’t imagine that ever building up to the point where someone would even bother scratching a swastika into a bathroom stall door, let alone killing my entire family and incinerating the corpses. It’s just not a tico thing to do. They don’t even yell at stray dogs, stupid drivers, or smarmy guys whistling at female joggers from passing cars.
Found this in a stack of unlabeled 78 rpm records I bought off eBay, like, a billion years ago. No time to lay down a new track this week, so I just digitized this instead. Mysteries within mysteries, etc.
. . . that it never dawned on me that the dwarves in Snow White, etc., are Jews—especially because I was already familiar with this and this and a slew of earlier print sources (see e.g., the “Lead” section of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, Richard Wagner’s descriptions of Jews, etc.) as well as stuff like this, and so on.
Anyway, just no idea where my game was at for this one to have given me the slip for four decades.
In the weeks since Charlottesville there’s been a fair bit of “What can we[*] do about hate?” talk—on social media, in NYT and WaPo and Slate op-eds and think pieces, out on the street and around supper tables.As someone in a class of folks disproportionately on the receiving end of the most resent paroxysm of hate, I have a suggestion:
Take “Awesome Baby Steps”
EXAMPLE: Last week the skatepark in my town—the one my son and I go to, the one lots of kids in this area (and, notably, lots of brown kids) use—got hit with motor oil (intended to ruin the concrete for skating) and dozens of swastikas and slurs.
The city, of course, responded in no time, and had it all clean in hours—God bless ’em.
I went to skate there the next and found two things:1) that the park was uncharacteristically busy for an early Saturday morning, all happy families showing resolve; and 2) it was covered in this new chalk graffiti
It’ll sound dumb, but this made me feel better.This, in fact, moved me to tears. Folks punching Nazis in Charlottesville did not move me to tears or make me feel safer.Neither did folks tearing down statues (although I nonetheless applaud that, and more so applaud the many cities who have covered and removed statues in the meantime—because tearing down the participation trophies handed out to white supremacists, nominally honoring traitors, is what you should do after winning a war).
But kids coming out with chalk to make sure I knew that they continued to welcome me in civil society did make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel better in excess of the amount the defacement had made me feel awful—and that slap in the face had left me livid and enraged and absolutely nauseated with a dread so atavistic that I sorta imagine it’s more akin to what a mouse exposed in vacant stubble feels than to any un-fun emotion an employable White man might know. (This isn’t to say that White men don’t know bad times; it’s to say that there is a very specific flavor to being history’s perpetual prey).
Those kids with their chalk, that was an Awesome Baby Step. It didn’t take much—not much money, not much time, not much risk—but it made me feel a great deal better. The pay-off was totally disproportionate.
Again, I know this likely sounds silly. “Dave,” you’re thinking, “You know us! We see you every day when you’re walking your dog; we nod at each other and wave. You know we’re cool with you!”
Listen: You can never, ever presume that the folks targeted by hate can continue to feel confident that you are OK with them being Americans. Don’t argue with me about it being stupid or paranoid or insulting—it’s just a fact of life. In fact, the ability to look at rank-and-file White people with confidence and feel that this person has your back is the first thing to slip. After all, someone voted for Trump, despite all the things he said. Someone buys those Confederate flag stickers, someone goes to those rallies, someone breaks out the spray-paint, someone dials in the bomb threats. It’s just not a possible state of affairs that every White person I see is one of the “Good Guys” and all the bigots are magically somewhere else—but also close enough to trash my skatepark, flyer my streets, drive through my neighborhoods, vote in our elections, etc., etc., etc.
So, here’s one example of an Awesome Baby Step you can almost certainly do almost immediately:
Start being super friendly to people of color every day
Nothing crazy, just always make a point to smile and acknowledge and greet—like, constantly: When you pass on the sidewalk, walk into a building, at the checkout line, whatever.
The best case scenario is that these folks—who may have taken some hateful shit recently—feel less on the outs with the country. The worst case scenario is people think you are just a super friendly person.Either way, none of us think “This person is coming to hurt us.” It’s either a win-win, or just a win.The odds are with you.
(If this seems disjoint—what with me mostly talking about anti-Semitism to this point, and now I’m talking about people of color, and the Venn Diagram of “brown” and “Jewish” in America is frightfully close to just being a pair of tangent circles—just know this: My lived experience, and that of most Jews I know, is that White people who are shitty to people of color are fairly likely to be shitty to Jews, too.)
Another Baby Step in Being Awesome:
When folks get targeted with words of hate, take a moment to counteract that with words of support
EXAMPLE: Our local Jewish Family Services got a bomb threat last Monday.(In case you don’t know JFS, they aren’t an agency specifically offering services to Jewish families, but rather a non-profit founded by Jewish families to offer services in general, sorta returning the favor for the support many of our families received as refugees in the 20th Century). Our local JFS is the primary agency handling refugee resettlement for Syrians here in Ann Arbor. That particular building is also a food pantry for struggling families in general. So, threatening to bomb them isn’t just an attack on Jews: It’s an attack on the poor in general, and immigrants of all sort.It’s a mean, small-hearted, fucked-up thing to do. (Not for nothing, but if you are a White person pissed off that White families are struggling, I can tell you for a fact that JFS is handing out food support to just those exact White families that you, as a White Supremacist, want to see helped. So, really, what the fuck?! Let us feed your people, OK?)
You probably feel bad learning that some jackass felt the need to totally derail a day of JFS trying to help immigrants and poor people (people who, more so than most, can hardly afford to “come back tomorrow; we’re closed because of a bomb threat.”) Maybe you want to bend the arc of the moral universe back toward justice—but don’t know what to do. Try this:
Call JFS, tell them you support what they do, and make a donation—even a tiny one.Multiples of $18 are a traditional sum among Jews (it’s symbolic of Life), but anything is fine—or just voicing your support: 734-769-0209
As a Jew—as one of the JEWS that was told last week that his skatepark and his wife (a “white woman”) were not for him, that he should DIE—I don’t particularly care what is in any of your hearts, because your heart isn’t going to kill me.
It’s your hands that will kill me.And so I’m watching your hands.I am wary, because wariness is what got my grandfather (Z”L) out of Ukraine before he joined his father in a ditch.Wariness is what got my Aunt Lola (Z”L) through Auschwitz and to these shining shores.
Right now, your fingers dialing the phone, your voice, your words, your eye contact and smile are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Use them to take awesome baby steps.
It is 2017:You can take baby steps toward white supremacy, or baby steps away.There’s no standing still anymore—because there never really was.
[*] “We” in this case has disproprtionately—sometimes explicitely, more often implicitely—been White people (and nominally White people, like myself). So I’m addressing that crowd—but let’s be real: These baby steps work for all of us. See also MLK’s 8 Commandments.