Antisemitism Hits Home

I’ll just say it in a straightforward manner: I was completely shocked.

Perhaps I should not have been. Like you, I read every day about the uptick in antisemitic actions and bigoted verbiage on social media. Maybe I should have been shocked that I am almost 63 years old and this is the first time I have been a target of an antisemitic incident. 

I was enjoying a Shabbat walk in the OJC neighborhood, strolling down Lester on my return to the Scheff house at about 3:45 in the afternoon. I looked like any other neighbor out for a walk, sneakers, shorts and a T-shirt . . . except that I had a kipa on my head.

A dark navy Jeep Wagoneer passed me on the street, windows down, and filled with teenage girls, maybe three or maybe four.

The girls screamed out the windows as they passed me, chanting, screaming horrible curse words punctuated with “Jew.” After two very long sentences were spewed, they broke into wild laughter and drove on. 

Teenage girls just having a fun afternoon?

Only after they were out of sight did I realize several things. First, my eyesight was not good enough to see the license plate except to know that it was New York. Second, they were chanting in unison, in rhythm, clearly words that they had chanted before. And third, I was shaking. I felt victimized and angry. I honestly did not feel afraid, but I felt emotionally violated in our sweet, quiet neighborhood.

In my world, the words “shut up” are considered curse words. I do not like hearing curse words and tend to feel it as a punch in my body. The words that these girls used felt like a powerful blow.

It took me another short while to realize that I had just experienced a bias incident. It’s strange how our minds work, trying to protect us from the stark reality.

Today, 24 hours later, I am thinking about appropriate reactions. The incident has already been reported both to the police and to our own security team at OJC. I have made a solemn promise to carry a phone at all times, even on Shabbat, for safety sake. 

And sharing the experience in this blog feels particularly important to me. If you have students in middle school or high school, please share this blog with them. The girls in that car are in their peer group. They certainly go to school with some of our children. Make sure that your children know that they should tell you or a responsible adult about anything of a biased or antisemitic nature that happens in their school or social circles, even if it seems insignificant to them at the time. Children might tell you that their “friends were just kidding.” We must educate our youth about what is funny, and what is most certainly not.

And finally, remember Rabbi Scheff’s and my teaching about being proactive rather than only being reactive when it comes to prejudice and bigotry of any kind. We can all make alliances in our own way; knowing our neighbors, participating in civic events, being curious about other minorities. We can show our Judaism proudly for the many beautiful ways in which it teaches us to be good neighbors and citizens.

I am truly fine. And I am also more motivated than ever to be a positive and educative force in our community.

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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14 responses to “Antisemitism Hits Home”

  1. Lydia Katz says :

    I am so sorry that you had this experience, my dear Rabbi. I am having the same reaction that you probably had. “What can I do”? It’s horrible to just sit here and be angry. It makes me feel less valuable. So I ask you, “What should we do?” It’s even more horrifying because I am sure those girls were aware that they were in the neighborhood of a synagogue. Walk with pride with your Kippah on. You are so much better than they are.

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      You KNOW that I won’t take my kipa off!! And I’ll be careful too. What you can do is talk to all of the young people you know and
      tell them to be proud of their Judaism! Be an activist and don’t be afraid. Everyone listens to Meema!

  2. Maxine Skopov says :

    I am so sorry you had to be the target and victim of such an awful experience. I was shaking for you when I read it. I cannot begin to imagine what these girls hear in their homes. I can only hope (however with much doubt) that one of their group felt some embarrassment or remorse. They are living in a very diverse county and have been exposed to pretty much all races and religions. What’s more, I feel sure that they have Jewish friends! What to do, what to do… 😞

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      I agree with you, Maxine. I do believe that when a group acts badly, there are one or two who feel remorse. I hope we can figure
      out who they are so that I can have a dialogue with them.

  3. DANIEL SALMON says :

    Unacceptable

    Sent to county execs chief of staff who is the acting human rights commissioner

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      Thanks, Dan, for your support and activism. I would welcome the opportunity to dialogue with these girls if we could identify them.

  4. Steve Goldberg says :

    So sorry that that happened to you. Unfortunately, we are still the target of the bigots in the world. If they knew you, those words would never have left their lips.

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      Thank you for your very kind words, Steve. We are hoping that we will be able to identify these teens and then I would welcome the opportunity to talk with them. One by one, that’s how we change the world.

  5. Carolyn Wodar says :

    I read these kind of stories in the Jewish news feeds I get but it’s horrible when it hits one of our own. I’m so sorry it happened to you but thankful you are physically safe. I too asked myself what can it do and what I did was send your blog to my grown grandchildren. Since they are all coming home from summer experiences, we will discuss.

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      Dear Carolyn, Thank you for getting the essence of the post exactly! Thank you for being a role model for your grandchildren.
      One by one, we can change hearts. We’ll never eradicate bigotry, but we can make the world a bit safer for everyone through
      our loving actions.

  6. Joan Schafer says :

    Carolyn Wodar forwarded your blog to me. I am truly sorry that you had that experience, especially so close to home. We all have had, over the past years antisemitic experiences. I keep hoping that it will change and yet it seems to be getting worse.

    Thank you for your response. Joan Schafer

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      Dear Joan, I am so touched that you wrote; I truly appreciate your concern and support. I hope that one response to my blog is
      that people will redouble our efforts to reach out to neighbors and forge alliances based on shared understanding. One by one, that is the way to effect change. I hope that you are well, and I hope you’ll come by to say hello one day soon!

  7. Rosanne Bornstein says :

    My dear Rabbi Paula, it’s been years since we have met but I still carry your essence and outlook with me. It saddened me to read your post of your experience but then gave me hope as you rose to challenge yourself and us to face antisemitism head-on. If only we could have your courage. We need to know and act together to face this awful situation in our lives. Together we can be strong. Thank you for sharing so that again you help us be strong by your example.

  8. Barbara Sebiri says :

    Hi Paula….I am soooo sorry you were the victim of such a heinous happening. You must have been so very shocked. 😢 You have always displayed such courage and wisdom in your life and teachings years ago. Do miss you here at CAI…..have passed your blog onto dear friends and hope that we all can make a difference in this frightening world we live in. We all must stand together to fight these assaults on our democracy…..be well.

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