The President Spoke & I Stayed Away

I almost never miss a presidential address. I can remember watching Ford, Carter and Reagan as a little girl; as a college student it was Bush 41; as a newlywed and later a new mom it was Clinton; then W… and then Obama.

The crack of the gavel and the traditional phrase “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States…” announcing the arrival of the leader of the free world in the House Chamber gives me goosebumps.

Tonight I refused to watch. Tonight I deliberately “let” my kids NOT watch. As a patriot who believes deeply in the integrity of our country and the sheer brilliance of our founding fathers, I must admit: tonight, I simply couldn’t muster up my statesmanship skills. I couldn’t watch – and it was purely for selfish reasons.

You see, yesterday 45 suggested that the attacks on the Jewish community – on JCCs, on Jewish schools, on college students, and Jewish cemeteries – are being perpetrated by Jews themselves… and if not them, then by Democrats – to make HIM look bad.

He didn’t make the idea up himself. Apparently he was simply “repeating a neo-Nazi conspiracy theory that has claimed the attacks are ‘false flags.’ Supporters of that belief – who include the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke – believe that such attacks are being perpetrated by Jewish people in order to undermine the White House.”

Like the “Sheriff’s Star Debacle” of Summer 2016, this rocks me to my core. I am nearly speechless (yes, nearly, but not quite). It’s like I’m standing at the parade screaming that the emperor has no clothes, but everyone has earplugs in.

You see my daughters, and subsequently my family, were the victims of more than one of these acts of terror. And let’s make no mistake: that’s exactly what this is: anti-Semitic terrorism. Specific acts meant to hurt, terrorize, and disrupt the lives of Jewish citizens across the country.

My youngest attends our local Jewish day school where she’s taught the core values of Judaism right alongside algebra, and Hebrew language right alongside American history. Where they work to infuse Jewish perspectives and Jewish pride into her day while at the same time delivering a phenomenal education.

On the day the call came to our JCC (which shares a campus with her school) she and her friends left their classrooms abruptly. Pencils and notebooks out, books and websites open. They’d been midway through Language Arts class where they were doing research and prep on both sides of the renewable energy vs. fossil fuel issue for their upcoming 7th grade debate.

I imagine it must have looked like one of those mannequin challenges on Facebook – only there were no people. Just a bird’s eye view of an eerily silent classroom left at a moment’s notice.

My daughter and her upper school classmates helped the younger students from their own school and the JCC’s preschool make the long walk through snow and cold to a safe place… Some kids gave the jackets right off their backs, some gave piggy-back rides, and still others held tinier hands in their own – keeping them warm and ensuring their owners wouldn’t slip.

At the end of the day – literally – they may have been safe in their beds (or ours); but their sense of security, and surely some of their innocence, was shattered.

Try this for some great bedtime conversation: Try explaining to your child – you know the one you’ve taught to play fair and treat others the way you would want to be treated; the one you’ve taught to help those in need and to be a citizen of the world… respectful and inquisitive about other cultures. Try telling them that someone, somewhere out there, HATES them simply because they’re Jewish.

Sounds harsh, right? But the truth is – I didn’t even have to tell her. She already knew.

My eldest is a senior at the University of Minnesota. She graduated from her sister’s current school ages ago, but her sense of pride, leadership skills and deep understanding of the breadth of ideas that go into the phrase “Jewish community” astound me.

She’s spent a good portion of her free time during college working alongside her friends and fellow students at UMN Hillel to build a respectful campus community. They’ve invited other faith groups to break bread in the hopes that it might build a foundation for further dialogue – only to be stood up. And they’ve been confronted with swastikas and Holocaust cartoons and neo-Nazi flyers.

She’s been sad, mad, frustrated, hurt, infuriated and scared. Not “Nightmare on Elm Street” scared – but the nauseating, pit-in-your-stomach-scared that comes from having a world-sized rug yanked out from under your feet.

Luckily she’s taken up kick-boxing. So when the wave of fear gives way to anger she’s got a constructive place to let it out.

I don’t kick box (it bothers my knee), so I’m left to use the cathartic capabilities I’ve been blessed with: words. I’m angry and frustrated and frankly, pretty sad. Partly – or possibly mostly – because I’m sick of people saying, “that’s not what he meant.”.

He knows exactly what he is doing and so do I. He’s selling a lie at the expense of my community and I will not, under any circumstances, be a bystander. He still continues to not call these hate crimes or terrorism – be it domestic or foreign – and when you say one thing on twitter and another on the teleprompter it is clear you’re telling your base one message and the world another.

That’s my selfish reason and I’ll stand by every one of these probably-too-many words if it gets just one person to open their eyes and see. Words matter.