Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scrawled Walls in Brooklyn

Once again, this is not the post I had prepared for this week (Darn it, will that thing never see daylight?), but I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the heap of anti-Semitic scary going on in Brooklyn, especially since it’s something that affects both New York and Jewry… yaknow, those things relevant to the blog.

So, as I’m sure most of you have heard, there have been a few scary incidents happening in Flatbush recently: the car-torching and swastika-graffiti of two weeks ago, the stabbing of a clearly Jewish woman on Avenue U, and most recently, the defacing of the Avenue J subway sign to read, well:

Wow. Real clever, anti-Semites. Bite me.

While I know these aren’t government-sanctioned hate crimes or anything, I find them pretty darn scary, especially since I know the neighborhood well and recently started working there every day. I’m only there in daylight hours, so I’m not really afraid of getting attacked or anything, but there is a certain painful uneasiness that comes with the knowledge that any one of the people you’re passing on the street now could secretly harbor an irrational and racist hatred of you just for existing, which is so strong that they felt compelled to torch cars and stab people just to show it.

But let’s put things in perspective. As I’ve said before, we New York Jews are incredibly, unbelievably spoiled in terms of tolerance. When I hear my parents’ stories of growing up in communist Hungary, or even when I visit Europe in this much-less-frightening era, I can say for certain that we are lucky as heck and that any persecution we face is freaking MINOR in the historical sense. And really, that’s one of the things I like best about New York: the fact that I can get on a subway car wearing my biggest Magen David, and be surrounded by people of all backgrounds who don’t even bat an eyelid at me or each other.

Which is very welcome considering the reaction the same accessory would get in Europe:

And that zone of relative safety includes Brooklyn, a boro which (some of you may recall) I have a rather tumultuous relationship with… okay, fine. I pretty much dislike Brooklyn. Not in theory, but going there always seems unnecessarily tortuous. I take the train there every day, and there is never a ride without some extended stop between stations:

Or that especially creative form of cosmic torture, the need to switch to a train that only comes once every fifteen minutes and seeing it pull in just as the train you’re on has decided to just not let you out:

And let’s not even discuss DRIVING, with enough double-parkers to send any native Queens-er to Anger Management.

I digress. Brooklyn, even with its blatant inaccessibility, is a hub of American Jewish history and culture. Heck, it’s got Jewish museums, some amazing Kosher restaurants, and the best bagels I know of. It’s Eden if you’re looking to embrace your ethnic stereotype (which I have also done so shamelessly, just to be a real New Yawker).

Which just makes this recent surge of incidents all the more scary. I mean… this happened in Flatbush, where Fridays see Shabbat bouquets sold on every corner.

So it really makes for quite the unpleasant bump when you’re on your way to work one morning and you happen across a blatant sign that YOU (and your family and friends and everyone like you) ARE (still, even though it’s 2011) HATED. If you’ve ever had an anti-Semitic slur hurled at you here or abroad, or if you’ve ever stumbled across a swastika spray-painted on a park bench, you know that awful, sinking feeling of confusion. And if you haven’t, well… this is kind of what the first glance feels like: 

And this may seem overdramatic and out of proportion, but let’s be honest here. Racial/religious hatred of any kind is SCARY, and while we may be used to hearing of it from lands and decades far away, we’re not so used to getting it here. And I might not be so worried, I might actually brush it off if I thought we Jews would stand up for ourselves and each other, but let’s face it. Very often, we are our own worst enemies, each thinking that we’re doing Jewry right and that everyone else is completely WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. 

But enough about that. We discuss that quite a bit already on this blog. What does it take for us to band together? Is that even possible, or are our differences too great? Are we deluding ourselves into thinking we can ever make this “Am Echad, Lev Echad” thing work?

Ah, Brooklyn, how you make me think. Mostly when I’m stuck on the subway for half an hour. But anyway…

Another thing that prevents me from chalking this up to the actions of one nutjob is what’s been going on in the news lately, or more specifically, on Wall Street. You know, the Occupy Wall Street people. Now, I’m not saying they don’t have what to complain about. I truly sympathize with people who can’t get a job. Heck, I’m not exactly rolling in dough myself. But there’s something about the protesting economy thing that always seems to bring out the worst in people.

I think we’ve all seen pictures of signs yelling about Zionist conspiracies or that video of the nice lady barking about how the Jews are hoarding all the money. Thankfully, these seem to be coming from a minority of the OCCUPYers. But it's all happening at once, and I can’t help thinking that whoever is spray painting and stabbing has been watching that video too… and that they might have been caught by now if the cops weren’t being held up making sure the OCCUPYers don’t riot. 

And honestly, what gets me most mad about it is the fact that, as a Jew, I know how untrue their accusations are. I mean, come ON! Here we are being accused for someone else’s troubles, when we didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody likes to blamed for something they didn’t do, especially when we could complain about not having enough money as much as any of them. I don’t have a high-paying or even well-paying job, but I take the job I get. I’m not doing what I got my degree in, either, but I do what I can. So I find it really rich to be hearing about how we Jews apparently have it all. 

It’s like that old joke where one Jew finds his friend reading the Neo-Nazi newsletter and demands to know how he could stand to look at that trash. To which his friend replies: “I would read the Yiddish paper, but in that one we’re always being persecuted, anti-Semites are accusing us, our brothers and sisters are starving…whereas in this Neo-Nazi rag, we Jews own the government, we have all the money, we run the media… we’re doing so well!”

Yeah, well, like they say, we laugh to keep from crying. All I know is, my mind is boggled yet again at stupid human behavior, and the same question keeps coming back to me: hey, Angry Vandal… what did I ever do to you? Well, we’re not going to change their minds. All I can hope for is that we might look with slightly wider eyes, and maybe notice that it’s time to put our minor differences aside and band together… if only just a bit.



  1. Great read. Random comments no one cares about:
    It's sad, but jews are our own worst enemy. Shocker.
    Also, not to sound paranoid, but america is not safe for Jews anymore. It's growing less and less safe. Truth be told, only place safe is Israel (ZIONIST PLUG) and even then...

  2. Yeah, Jews are being slaughtered left and right in America now. There is nowhere to run. There is nowhere to hide. Except Israel, where everyone is sheltered from antisemitism and violence against Jews is simply unheard of.

    Wait... no, nevermind, that was just something I saw in a blog comment somewhere.

    Ask anyone who knows me, authorette of this post included -- I believe completely that Jews need to know how to defend themselves, and I mean in America, too. And I like to think I score pretty high on the Zionism continuum as well. But it's ludicrous (and yes, paranoid... sorry about that) to say that America is not safe for Jews anymore. Even though our president's middle name is Hussein. Even though our last president was a right-wing Christian. When I see Jews being persecuted in America at the same level as they are currently persecuted in Israel (have you tried davening on Har HaBayit lately? have you tried telling a Jew in America he's now allowed to live in X neighborhood?) I will start to become concerned.

    Until then, I will be continue to be annoyed by people who make comments like yours.

  3. Clearly, the above comment should read "have you tried telling a Jew in America he's NOT allowed to live in X neighborhood"... 'cuz you know, that would be illegal. In America, anyway.

  4. Amen to that, Daniel. America is hardly unsafe for Jews, let alone any minority. Yes, incidents do happen, and some places are more "unfriendly" than others. But those are the exceptions. As a whole, America is a phenomenal place to live from a tolerance perspective. As an immigrant, I'd be more concerned with the difficulty of gaining citizenship than with hate-crimes.


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