Thursday, January 31, 2019

So this happened...

I wanted to write about this on Monday, but it was a school half day, so I didn't get to it. Then our heat and fridge broke. Obviously, in frigid temps those two things took precedence. I didn't want to forget to put it out there though, because I think it's important. Especially in light of other things I'm seeing on social media, from people I used to have very warm feelings for growing up, that turn my stomach. I can't blame them though for being in a bubble. These two happen to be typical white American males. They've never had to experience what I did this past weekend.

It was E's birthday and we went to the Palisades Mall in Rockland County NY last Sunday. There are all kinds of things to do for/with kids there. He'd gone there with a friend for the friend's birthday so he knew what he wanted to do. B took him to do the activity he wanted to do- 5 Wits. It's some kind of Escape Room thing. I went to walk around the mall.

I never go to this mall. I think the last time I went there it was over a year ago. Or more. I think we went there a few times when E was much younger. It's out of the way, it's huge, and we have three malls by our house. Like within ten minutes of me and each other. Then two more still closer than Palisades. However, Palisades is four floors and has stores we don't have. Like, an As Seen On TV store. You all know how much I love As Seen On TV.

The Palisades Mall is in West Nyack, NY. That is in Rockland County. People who live there and around tend to just call the whole area Rockland instead of using town names. I don't know why. Maybe because it's a small county? Bear with me while I give a short backstory on the area. The demographics always included Jews and Orthodox or Hasidim to be exact, but the population has exploded in the past few years. I don't know how many years this has been going on.

I'll also tell you that I don't know the difference between Orthodox and Hasidim. To me, they're the same or very similar. I actually tried reading what the differences are and I didn't get it. If I didn't get it, as a Jew, then you KNOW the rest of the non-Jewish population doesn't know the differences or that there ARE differences between ANY of the sects of Judaism. Let us not forget that I once wrote about how a mom in town said I can't be Jewish because I'm "sexy Jew and don't wear the outfits..." and another said I don't "have the big nose or the curly hair".

The situation in Rockland is a hugely controversial topic because the Orthodox community is very insular and doesn't use the public school systems. They build houses of worship and schools that are tax exempt. It screws anyone not in their community. I get that.

Let me just put it out there, as I'm sure I have before- I'm against any form of extreme religion. I'm also against religious institutions having tax exempt status. They make plenty of money and they can pay taxes. From what I've read, the whole scene is a problem in Rockland with what's happened to the public school systems there because of how everything has gone down with this particular sect of Jews. If I had to pick a side, I wouldn't be siding with the Hasidim. I stand by thinking their loopholes on how to get around the "rules" are complete BS. If you're going to observe, then do it. You don't want to observe it, you don't. A string or a pole doesn't magically do anything.

The bigger problem, for the rest of us, is the rise in Antisemitism in this area, that has come from the Rockland takeover, as it's been called. First of all, I need to say- Orthodox/Hasidic Jews are not my people. I'm pretty sure they don't even consider me Jewish. I'm Jewish by DNA but I'm not religious and most people who read this blog know I call myself "the atheist Jew". If I had to be pigeonholed into a group, I'd be considered Reform. Most American Jews I know are Reform or Conservative which, in layman's terms is Jew-Lite and Jew-Middle. The non-Jews in Rockland see us as all the same though. We're all just "Those JEWS".  When people are spewing hate against "those Jews", they become my people, and I become theirs.

Whether we are or aren't the same, none of us should have swastikas painted on our homes & businesses or other Antisemitic acts done to us. And, trust me, if  you're any kind of Jewish and read the comments section in any of the articles about this topic in our local papers, you'll be building a bunker in your yard and asking your closest non-Jewish friends if they have an attic to spare, just in case. B likes to measure people in terms of whether he thinks they'd throw us in the ovens or hide us in their attic.

If you think I'm exaggerating, here's what happened to me...

I'm in the Palisades Mall. It was Sunday, so that means Shabbat was over and the Orthodox Jews flock to the mall because they can't shop on Saturday. I was waiting for an elevator with an Orthodox family of five. The elevator door opened. There was an older white guy with a cane - I'd say probably in his early 50's but looked older because of crazy and a hard life. The other was a couple of unidentifiable minority status. I don't even know that they were the same. She looked Latina and he looked Indian to me. It's important to the story to know they weren't white, but clearly something that led him to assume they were not Jews. I'm white, and don't look like any particular group. I could be anything. People typically are surprised to hear that I'm Jewish. In my experience, often, people of other cultures that only know stereotypes and few to no Jews, don't realize that people who are very pale, with blue eyes and straight hair can be Jews.

The Orthodox family, in clearly in stereotypical modest/black dress, got on the elevator and I followed. Immediately the cane guy got loud, saying we're all going up, and asking where they were going but not really listening. It's very confusing there- it took B and I about twenty minutes to find an exit and it still wasn't the correct exit. The family appeared not to be paying attention to the guy, probably because he seemed like someone who would/could get belligerent.

The family and I got on at level two. I was getting off at level four and so was this man and the other couple. The family decided to get off on the third level. As soon as the door closed, the man started yelling, sort of more to the minority couple, saying, "Of course they don't know where the F they're going because they're f'ing Jews". Presumably he thought they'd agree to his rant since they didn't "look" like the Jewish family. The couple immediately were annoyed and said something like, "Just stop, that's not cool". He just kept going on, belligerent, "F'ing Jews! They're ruining everything, taking over Rockland, taking our jobs. They own everything and everyone...." I just raised my hand and was like, "I'm Jewish & you really should shut the f*ck up..." and I walked out of the elevator. He yelled, "Well, I went with a Jew once but I didn't like it!"

That's all I had time to say. I was in that elevator for like sixty seconds and this all went down. All the things I could say or do flashed through my mind, but they all ended up with me in handcuffs. I had seriously considered grabbing his cane and then beating him with it. I can totally see how violence happens because I felt violent.

I left that elevator so pissed. On the one hand, I don't live in Rockland. The stories I've heard of Hasidim aggressively going to people's homes trying to get them to sell so they can make some kind of a compound, are insane, rude, and whatever else you want to call it. On the other hand, just like not all Christians are hate mongering fanatics, not all Jews are these Jews either. Not all the Jews in their own community are doing anything but just living their lives. Like, the family in the mall. They were just doing their thing, shopping and walking around like anyone else. Any time you start talking about groups of people with blanket statements, there's going to be a problem. He's certainly not the only person to think this about "the Jews". ALL THE JEWS.

I saw him hobbling behind me and I debated going back three times. Three times I turned around, looked at him, and decided to keep moving. What was I going to do? I wasn't going to change his mind. He also looked crazy. I thought to myself- What if E had been with me? Would he have said something? Would he expect me to do more? Would he have wanted me to do more? What would the conversation be like after? What if I confronted the guy further and he had a gun? It's not like it would be a foreign concept for a crazy angry white guy to start shooting up the place.

I was angry that E would've had to hear such ignorance, but knowing he'd be hearing it somewhere, at some point, because, as people who can fly under the radar because our skin is the same color as theirs, we always do, eventually, hear it. If only I made money every time I heard "Jewed them down" in my life.

The scenario is real. Antisemitism is real. Hate crimes are real. This is why I have a problem with the comments that I'm seeing from people I grew up with, that are pro the current administration. Calling democrats "pieces of shit" on Facebook. Still yelling Benghazi when I see none of their outrage about the troops that 45 has gotten killed. Definitely no call outs when 45 stays silent on hate crimes.

I feel like it's because of 45 that people think it's okay to say stuff like this guy said in the elevator. The President isn't denouncing any of the hate that's come forth. Am I a "snowflake" for being angry over Antisemitic ranting? Would they brush it off, saying that's it was just one guy? I've had conversations with non-Jews where they've expressed surprise that there have been incidences of Antisemitism in North Jersey. Or they just full on refuse to believe it's rampant enough to be an issue. If you've never had an experience like mine, then you don't know what it's like to have a real fear that you or your family could be attacked just for being born with certain DNA, color, sexual orientation, etc.

That guy at the mall just represented to me a whole unknown number of people who will always find a reason to hate the Jews. Crazy or not, he just reminded me that I don't have to even be dressed the part or do anything negative, and it doesn't matter what positive contributions to society I make, I will just be hated for the blood I was born with.

The real pieces of shit are those who refuse to see they live in a very safe bubble and stand silently as those who don't have that cushion continue to have hate perpetrated on them.

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