The world weighs heavily on our shoulders this week. And when I say “our,” I mean all Americans. A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last weekend has brought to the forefront of our minds the most negative, most hurtful American stereotypes. These represent the very worst version of ourselves as Americans, as close-minded neo-Nazis who hate all that is “other” in our hearts and minds. Blacks and Jews saw Charlottesville as a direct threat, and it made every other reasonable American uncomfortable within an unsafe, violent world, where cars are used as weapons in crowds and armed white supremacists are given a platform to demonstrate. This “rally” should never have been permitted by local authorities and should never have happened.
However, the media brought the blame not to local authorities (who were probably trying their best to defuse a bad situation that had gotten out of hand too quickly) but directly to Washington and placed the fault squarely on the head of President Donald Trump. Had I woken up Monday morning without having seen the weekend’s news, I am sure I would have thought President Trump himself had been “rallying” in Charlottesville along with the neo-Nazis, wearing a triangular white hat.
The problem is, this isn’t about the Trump presidency or Confederate-era monuments and whether they should exist or not, though it gives me pause to watch the South rewrite its history by toppling monuments, vigilante-style, to create safe spaces. (Are these markers of Confederate generals not part of American history and have been for 200 years? Will we dismantle the battlefield memorials next, change the names of institutions and even streets? Indeed, there’s a Stonewall Jackson Public High School in Manassas, Virginia; Roger B. Taney Road [Taney, the fifth chief justice of the Supreme Court, was a slavery defender and delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford] runs right through the Jewish and African-American neighborhood of northwest Baltimore. Thomas Johnson Senior High School in Frederick, Maryland, is named for the state’s first governor, a slave owner. And that’s just for starters. Do we change those names? Will we pretend nothing bad ever happened in America in order to create “safe spaces?”)
The issue, like many others, is how states handle foundational values like free speech and assembly, and whether hate speech is allowable in any format. Hate speech is something I am seeing all day every day now, as I reject comments from our Facebook page. They come in almost hourly. These mainly relate to the “dirty Jews” as part of the Mahwah and Upper Saddle River eruv controversy. These are painful reminders of how much the residents of these two towns, and those with whom they have aligned, employ stereotypical images as weapons to poison the minds of others. They say they don’t hate all Jews. They say they only hate “Chasidim,” with their many dirty children and how the Chasidim don’t pay taxes and visit their pristine parks. Despite this “distinction,” every comment I delete chinks away a part of my joy and pride of who I am. As an American.
It makes me think of my college roommate, who is today still a good friend, and how even though she’s Italian, and Catholic, she is not now nor has ever been a member of the mafia. Or how my Irish friends in Washington, D.C., are not all alcoholics. Or how many of my African-American friends have MBAs and master’s degrees and are busy climbing the corporate ladder, not standing on welfare lines. And for that matter, how so many of my college sorority sisters have law and medical degrees and are living lives filled not with bubble gum and spring flings but are business owners, doctors and lawyers, working and stay-at-home moms and otherwise useful members of society. One of my sorority sisters even lives four months a year at McMurdo Air Force Base in Antarctica as a civilian contractor. How’s that for stereotype-bashing?
“Today it’s Jews, tomorrow it’s Catholics. The next day it can be about any other faith or any other background,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), when I reached him by phone this week. He shared that he has been getting multiple messages from people who see the commentary surrounding the eruv as hate, pure and simple. He said he runs into people in diners, in grocery stores and receives comments from many concerned with the hate speech. “When you commit hate-driven speech; listen, we all have children. People are sick to their stomach about what they are seeing,” he said. “You can get into details about zoning and ordinances, but now this is about hatred speech and anti-Semitism. This hatred and rhetoric is not American.”
Gottheimer also told me he connected the hate in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River to Charlottesville. “As we saw in Charlottesville last weekend and with this issue here, the same hate is happening in our world. The words used not just in town council meetings but outside them, this is plain and simple anti-Semitism and hate speech. I am deeply concerned and have been in regular touch with the towns and with leaders in the community on this issue,” he said.
I am an American and I call out the words against “dirty Jews” and “Chasidim” as hate to me personally. All of these labels and demonization of entire groups should bother all Americans, just like Charlottesville’s white supremacy rally bothers all Americans. I don’t care how one distinguishes who is a Jew who is acceptable and a Jew who is a “dirty Chasid.” We are all the same as American citizens, and we are all also individuals with unique, foundational identities that should be celebrated in all forms. We have names and faces. We have Facebook pages and children. We are people, not stereotypes. We breathe the same air, live and pay taxes in the same way we all will someday leave this earth. Death and taxes affect us all the same in this world, olam hazeh.
The same zoning ordinances used in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River can be used against me and everyone else. I use an eruv on Shabbat, so should the letters that have been sent by Upper Saddle River residents to the governor about eruvin being unlawful ensure mine is taken down too?
I see the hate and I know it’s there, even if Mahwah’s council president says this is about enforcing local laws. Just as every Jew should oppose violent white supremacy in Charlottesville, every Jew and every American who values the First Amendment should recognize the misguided rationale behind this “zoning enforcement” in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River. I will never forget the words uttered about the “Chasidic incursion” in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River after everything else is forgotten.
There is no “Chasidic incursion” in Upper Saddle River and Mahwah. There is a hate incursion. An eruv is a symbolic boundary and does not hurt anyone. Violence and hate hurt people, not eruvin. Even as Americans vandalize away that eruv, the more lasting damage of showing us what hate looks like, and giving it a face, is already done. Just like in Charlottesville.
By Elizabeth Kratz