Today on many levels was just a normal Israeli day. I ran around doing errands, dealing with Israeli bureaucracy, hearing my favorite songs blasted from cars on the streets, and walked down the beach to Yafo.
That is exactly what made today so weird. In America, today was not a normal day. As I could tell from post upon post from my friends in the States, something big was happening. Neo-nazis and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) held a rally in Charlottesville, VA, a beautiful, musical college town which I have fond memories of. I’ve been there twice, heard great live bluegrass music, and hiked in the nearby mountains.
One of the Nazis literally drove their car over a counter-protestor, killing the woman.
On the one hand, this was shocking. I lived in the U.S. almost my whole life and I’ve never heard of a massive Nazi rally, even in the most conservative parts of the country. Estimates are that 1,000 people came. For something that’s supposed to be fringe, that’s a shockingly large number of people to come to a random town in rural Virginia. For any Israelis shaking their heads saying this is “overblown” (מוגזם), you are naïve and literally know nothing about America other than Britney Spears and Times Square in New York. You complain all the time how Americans are so “polite” and never say what they think. So if that’s true that we keep our opinions to ourselves, then 1,000 Nazis showing up at a public rally (not approved by the police) is a very big deal. Get your heads out of the sand and realize that if this phenomenon grows in the U.S., it’s going to affect Israel and the rest of the world big time.
While this rally was shocking, it was not surprising. I’ve experienced a lot of bigotry in the United States. I went to a sleep away camp in North Carolina for many years and I actually met a camper who told me he was in the KKK youth group. I told him I was Jewish and he said “I don’t mind the Jews as much, I just hate those n*ggers”. While riding the Metro in D.C. I’ve been called a spic. At my progressive liberal arts college, Wash U, my roommates once had to defend me from a fellow student who was homophobic and trying to attack me- in my dorm. At the same school, I wanted to go with another gay guy to a dance and the people there told me “it’d be better if you didn’t, they won’t like it.” At my diverse suburban high school, a girl once told me “you’re cool, you’re not like the other Jews who are all loudmouths and stingy.” I was holding hands with a guy once in the D.C. area and a man followed us yelling “faggot” until we snuck into a restaurant. As recently as a year ago, I was literally thrown out of a taxi cab by an evangelical pastor for being a gay Jew. To this day, I still find it hard to wear the rainbow yarmulke I wore on my head in that car. And that makes me sad.
The examples I gave above- I could give many dozens more. I think every minority in America can.
That’s because Nazism and bigotry are not new to America. There was a pretty strong Nazi Party in America in the lead-up to World War II, to such an extent that many believe it caused Franklin Roosevelt to reject Jewish refugees who were later sent to death camps. Of course the Ku Klux Klan has been murdering minorities for 150 years- African Americans, Jews, Catholics, Latinos, you name it.
My point is this- while in some ways we’re witnessing a new and scary phenomenon, in other ways, it is a revival of long-standing American social movements. What this means is this is not about any one person alone, it is about a movement. You can’t extinguish a movement with an impeachment or an election. You have to solve deep-rooted societal issues (I think many of which are economic and addressed by neither political party) and ultimately extinguish the hatred.
To my friends in the U.S.- my heart is with you. Remember that with all the anger, it can be easy to misdirect it towards people who might otherwise be open to your message. Practice self-care and keep an open heart as you try to build a better society. Focus on what you can control and accept that there are things you can’t.
I found it strange today. I couldn’t figure out why I was so upset. I knew I was upset about what was going on in America- that I was worried for my friends. But things were great here. The sun was shining, I was eating a delicious chicken shnitzel, and I felt safe. Everywhere around me were Jewish songs, Jewish signs, Jewish policemen, Jewish everything. While Nazis marched in America, I couldn’t have felt safer.
I felt all sorts of conflicting feelings. The pride for having predicted this would happen. The relief and happiness that come with having made a good choice to make aliyah to escape these problems. Deep sadness for the state of America. Fear for my friends’ safety and well-being. Anxiety for my non-Jewish friends who can’t make aliyah and hoping they’ll find a sense of security.
Overwhelmed with emotion, the 103 degree heat index, and the LOUDNESS of every Tel Aviv street, I raced towards the beach.
The beach at night is perhaps the only (fairly) quiet place in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is a city smaller than D.C but with the energy of three New Yorks. Sometimes, I just want some friggin’ peace and quiet.
I hopped on the phone with my friend Shadi, a Syrian refugee living in Erbil, Kurdistan in Iraq. Shadi is my Arabic conversation partner, even going back to when I lived in the States. Through the organization Natakallam, I pay to practice my Arabic and Shadi earns a living.
Shadi is awesome- he’s Kurdish, so we love talking about our minority experiences. He’s also extremely open to my Judaism and my gay identity. Whenever I’m in need of some positive energy and affirmation, I hop on Skype.
Today, I told Shadi all about what was going on in America. How I felt happy in Israel and how I felt scared for my friends. How I felt guilty for feeling happy with my life here while my friends suffered. I compared notes with how his experience was as a refugee.
And then he opened up. Turns out, Shadi’s mom and dad still live in Qamishli, Syria where he grew up. Four years ago, he fled to Erbil, a Kurdish city in Iraq, both because of the civil war and because his wife has leukemia. Apparently, treatment is much less expensive in Iraq. So as to allow him to focus on helping his wife with chemo, his daughter stayed seven months with his parents in Syria- in the midst of a civil war. Thankfully his daughter is reunited with him and his wife now and he is learning coding so he can be a computer programmer. One day he hopes to return to Syria.
Interestingly, Shadi and I both chose to escape bigotry (there is intense persecution of Kurds in Syria) by going to places where our peoples are the majority. There’s something about living in a place where you’re normal that’s healing and gives you a great sense of security and validation.
I don’t share Shadi’s moving story to try to minimize my own pain or that of my friends in the U.S. Rather, I share it to put things in perspective. Things are bad in America right now. Fortunately not yet to the extent that they are in Syria, which makes me count my blessings and helped calm my anxiety.
Yet things in America will get worse. Several years ago, when I told my friends Donald Trump would become President, they thought I was nuts. Putting aside the question of whether you support him or not, my prediction was correct. All the babbling idiots on CNN and MSNBC and the pompous writers in the Washington Post didn’t see it coming because they live in a bubble.
Now they ponder how the courts or the elections or this and that will help. It won’t. Time to accept reality- American democracy is unraveling. Either it will be stitched back together by an engaged and powerful citizen movement. Or it will die.
To my American friends- I’m praying for you. Even as I write this. I love you and I want you to be safe. You have to decide how to move forward. Want to stay and fight for a better America? Absolutely your right and your choice and I applaud you. Want to get the hell out and build a life elsewhere like I did? I totally support you. Just understand what’s going on so you can make an informed decision. I think there is a substantial possibility that the U.S. is headed for a civil war or intense civil strife. I hope to G-d almighty I’m wrong, but just be prepared that this is a real possibility and plan accordingly. If there’s any way I can help, in particular for those considering aliyah, I’m here.
To my Israeli friends- wake up and smell the coffee. I’ve talked to several sabras (native-born Israelis) today and nobody seemed to get why this was a big deal. Even on the website of Yediot Achronot there was no mention on the front page, although there was an article about a woman who became a Jewish food guru. What happens in America affects us- our foreign aid, our diplomatic support, aliyah (I’d bet there was a spike in applications today), etc. An America where Nazis are gaining power is bad for Israel and bad for American Jews. Start paying attention and realize that listening to Rihanna and having a cousin in L.A. doesn’t mean you understand America. Read JTA, Huffington Post, even the radical left-wing Socialist Worker and the right-wing Washington Times. You could even go further off the deep end and look for extreme right-wing blogs, but I won’t recommend that on my blog 🙂 The point is be informed because this affects our friends, ourselves, and the world. I’m always happy to suggest resources or chat.
After my conversation with Shadi I made my way to Yafo, enjoying the summer breeze as it hit my face. I made my way to my favorite baklava spot, hung out with my friend Sager who works there, and bit into a delicious slice of heaven. I could’ve sat for two hours telling him all about America, but I just relaxed and soaked in the fun. The tension in my body faded and I felt safe.
Something I hope my friends in America will feel soon too.