In the town where I live, there’s an empty building across the street from the high school. The building is boarded up, but I can see places around back where the boards have been pried away. On the dirty windows that face the high school, someone has smeared three swastikas.
There were no swastikas on that building three years ago, when I moved here. The first time I saw them was just before or right after our last presidential election. I have no way to know the amount of intent or awareness that went into the scrawling of the symbols, nor do I know who put them there.
Religion was always a hot button issue in my family. My dad’s parents were Jewish. My mom’s father was an avowed atheist and her mother was Catholic. This made for a rather tense mix as I was growing up. Dad got angry every year when I went Christmas caroling with the Girl Scouts. Mom said she was a Druid and the Christmas tree she always insisted on was there simply to honor the spirit of nature.
My parents and I used to argue (we called them “discussions”) about whether or not my sister and I were Jews. Mom would point out that in Israel we wouldn’t be considered Jewish because religious heritage in Israel is traced through the mother. Dad maintained there was something called an “ethnic Jew,” and even though we weren’t religious in any way, we were still Jews.
I never understood this concept of Jewishness as ethnicity rather than religion until recently. What opened my eyes were the blatant displays of all sorts of bigotry coming from various wings of the Trump campaign and administration – and the implied permission it gives to bigots who would commit violence.
The news is shocking. People are shot in Kansas because they look Middle Eastern. Jewish cemeteries are vandalized in Philadelphia and St. Louis. Trump’s administration is attempting to ban Muslims from even entering our country.
Today, in this toxic stew of prejudice, I am a Jew. And every time I drive past the high school in my town, I see swastikas.