While planning a summer visit to my hometown a number of years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to send my Israeli son to the local Jewish Community Centers (JCC) day camp – the very same day camp that I had attended when I was a kid. I wanted him to feel at home in an American Jewish summer camp and connect to my own formative experiences there.
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What I’d forgotten during my years of living in Israel was that the JCC, while certainly offering a Jewish framework, was truly open to everyone. My son’s fellow campers included children who were Jewish, Christian, Muslim, white, black, Asian, Hispanic and more. They all sang Jewish and Israeli songs and learned Hebrew words, and the only person who seemed bothered by the fact that the camp’s “career day” was officially called “Occupation Day” was me.
Detractors may enjoy calling me a snowflake, but every time I read about yet another round of bomb threats at JCCs (many of which house pre-schools, schools and daycare centers) across the U.S., against the backdrop of memories of that summer and my son’s collection of friends, I am reminded of the outrageously surreal days and weeks following Donald Trump’s election win, when the number of hate crimes began to spike.
My Jewish and Arab-Muslim and Christian friends were targeted online by racists and bigots who seemed to revel in being as vile as possible – sometimes attacking them for having the “audacity” to be critical of Trump, while at other times, for promoting diversity. On some occasions, it was simply for having a Jewish- or Arab-sounding name. It was bad enough during the campaign, but once Trump was elected, the situation escalated dramatically. It was horrifying – but it wasn’t shocking. After all, we had quickly grown used to once-fringe racism, bigotry and misogyny being mainstreamed into the public discourse without missing a beat - often by Trump himself. At the very least, he seemed to condone it when it came from others. At times, it appeared as though he actually thrived on the divisiveness being created in his name.
But the lack of surprise didn’t moderate the fears of so many of my Jewish friends and myself. More than being afraid, though, I was seething. So many of the Trump supporters I encountered in my circles – not including the uninvited racist trolls - refused to acknowledge that it was happening; they opted not to believe that Trump had created an environment of tolerance for such hatred during his campaign. These people – among whom were pro-Trump conservative Jews - argued, unfriended and blocked me. They were patronizing and insulting, annoyed with me for raising the issue that anti-Semitism was increasing and that Trump was the enabler.
I was sickened by the people who were twisting themselves in knots trying to pretend that these hateful incidents weren’t happening when there was a growing body of evidence to the contrary. I was hurt that some of these individuals were friends and former classmates, people I’d known for most of my life and actually liked, despite our differing beliefs. It was astonishing to me that instead of being supportive of minorities being targeted by hate speech and trying to understand the fear, we were actually in a position of having to try to prove (usually unsuccessfully) to these people (some of whom were members of minority communities themselves) that these events were even happening and then get dismissed or belittled for that fear.
Now, just three months after the election, it's gotten worse. Bomb threats have become a “regular” fixture in Jewish communities around the U.S. Graffiti and vandalism have grown more prevalent, including hundreds of Jewish graves being damaged over the past week.
Part of me wonders if the plan is to continue making these threatening phone calls until we become complacent and then strike for real. Who’s to say that these people won’t grow bolder? After all, the president clearly doesn't care - he's too busy trying to delegitimize the media, taking rights away from the LGBTQ community and pretending that science isn't real. If he truly cared, he'd be tweeting his anger, as he does about nearly every stupid little thing that raises his ire.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time since the election trying to understand how so many people made the choice to vote for Trump, a candidate who courted the alt-right and received glowing endorsements from racists and white supremacists. It’s hard for me to grasp, especially since quite a few people in my circles made that choice, people who I know from years of acquaintance aren't bigots, racists or homophobes.
Clearly our red lines in terms of what we were prepared to accept in a president were very different. You elected a man whose followers think it's okay to repeatedly call in bomb threats to pre-schools. Well done.
Liza Rosenberg is American-Israeli writer living in northern Israel. She has written for various local and international publications and news organizations and works in the high-tech industry. Follow her on Twitter: @lizathewriter