Monthly Archives: July 2020

I have had enough. Black lives matter.

In 1994, I attended, along with a number of my colleagues from the Capital District Educational Opportunity Center, an Office of Special Programs (OSP) conference in downstate New York. After the opening night’s dinner, I wandered over to  venders’s tables that had been set up in an adjoining room.  The items included many  that reflected the African-American population which OSP served: Kente cloths, African artwork, Maasai beaded bracelets.

I also saw books including The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Black Like Me.  I stopped dead in my tracks, however, when I saw The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. A quick scan through the thin volume told me all I needed to know: it was an sickening, highly exaggerated  claim that Jews had a disproportionately large role in the black slave trade relative to their numbers.

Livid, I raised my voice to the vendor. “How can you sell a book filled with  anti-Semitic lies and garbage?” I demanded. “This is a New York state-run conference!” 

The vendor told me it was his right to sell anything he wanted. I marched back into the dining room, found our EOC director, and expressed my anger. When he downplayed the situation, I blew up. “If you don’t find a way to get rid of that book, I will walk out of this conference, get a bus home, and contact everyone I can in New York State to tell them that the OSP is condoning anti-Semitism,” I said.  “I won’t stay here if that vendor remains under this roof!”

Seeing not only my rage but also my determination, the director brought me over to the woman who ran the conference. She said, “I will take care of it.” The vendor wasn’t asked to leave, as I had hoped, but the book was no longer on his table—or any other table at that conference.

I later learned I was not alone in my reaction to the 1991 Nation of Islam publication. When Dr. Tony Martin, a black professor at Wellesley College, assigned the book to his introductory African-American history class soon after its 1991 publication, Jewish students protested and four national Jewish groups recommended the professor’s job status be reviewed. [He remained on staff as a controversial figure until his retirement in 2017.] Both the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith have published rebuttals comparing the book  to “the most infamous works of antisemitic propaganda in the 20th century.”Most importantly, the book’s thesis has since been refuted by mainstream historians, including the American Historical Association.

I had forgotten about that incident for twenty-six years. But when I saw the video of  George Floyd dying under the knee of a callous, arrogant white policeman on May 25,  I felt that same rage—and more. And I understood the incredible anger and massive protests that followed. If I could be so vociferous about a book, African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians—the entire world —had every right to say, “I’ve had enough. Black lives matter.”

In the weeks that have followed Floyd’s killing, I have become even more “woke.” Through discussions with friends, participation in newly found groups on social justice, and through voracious reading of both books and articles on the topic, I have learned that my empathizing with those who are the victims of systemic racism falls deeply short of fully experiencing their pain and anguish. It is time for me to speak out with the same voracity for George Floyd and against 400 years of systemic racism in our country.

I have always felt that as a Jew I understood discrimination, racism, and prejudice. Hadn’t I had students in my first teaching job draw swastikas around my picture in the school yearbook? Hadn’t I been  told that I was good at “wrangling a bargain” because I was Jewish? Hadn’t I read hundreds of books and articles bout the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust and attacks on Israel?

But I started to listen, really listen and reflected on my life as a privileged white person. When my son was home from college on his summer break, Adam used to go for his run at night to avoid the heat. I worried that he would be hit by a car. But I never had to worry that he, like Trayvon Martin, would be stalked and even killed because he was “in the wrong neighborhood.”

I reflected on s my Upstate New York neighbors, a bi-racial couple, had experienced. Their son was pulled over by the police because he was driving his father’s red sports car. The same young man was almost arrested when he was locking up his family’s restaurant, as the police thought he was breaking in.

The first week of the protests, I stopped by to chat with my Florida neighbor and just blurted out, “I am so sorry for all you have been through as a Black mother.”

“I know you have a good heart, Marilyn,” she told me. “But we’ve been fighting this battle for 400 years.”  One of her battles: When her family was living in Philadelphia, her son was asked to visit some of his white friends in their neighborhood. “I sat him down and told him no,” she said. His being in that section of town was too dangerous for a young Black man.

My friend Mayra opened up to me about her life as a Hispanic woman married to Robin, a Black man. Her family wouldn’t talk to them for years. Meanwhile, Robin, who had a very successful position as a supervising editor for a major network, had been pulled over and slammed against walls more times than he could count as police had questioned why he was driving in his own neighborhood.  Another time, Robin and Mayra were guests at a large party  of one of the network executives. Robin was talking to a co-worker close to the front door of the large home.  Incoming guests assumed he was the hired help and kept handing them their coats and pocketbooks

Another friend shared her story of how her husband Bill* was the victim of road rage, an encounter that began on a toll road ended just inside their community’s security gates. The car with a white man at the wheel drove through a parallel gate, pulled along beside him, and cut him off.   The man then jumped out of his car, berating Bill for passing him on the parkway ,and demanded to know why he was in the 55+ community “You obviously don’t live here,” he was told. The driver’s wife, who was in the passenger seat,  offered to get out their gun. Fortunately, the incident ended when Bill drove away.  Because it was captured on Bill’s dashboard camera, it is being investigated as a hate crime. But I know that his residency would never have questioned if Bill were white. 

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that before May 25, I didn’t “get it.” But I am trying to catch up. I feel like the demonstrator at a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Bethel, Ohio, who held a sign reading, “I’m Sorry I’m Late. I Had a Lot To Learn.” May the memory of George Floyd be a blessing to his family and our country. And may we all continue to learn and move forward to a more equitable world. 

*Not his real name.

SOURCES

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1993/10/17/half-truths-and-history-the-debate-over-jews-and-slavery/6b2b2453-01da-4429-bd50-beff03741418/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1994/02/11/farrakhan-101-at-wellesley/6e55eea2-e9f1-44b9-8dd5-d2bfd36d3fbf/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

The_Secret_Relationship_Between_Blacks_and_Jew

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Martin_(professor)

Looking for the Silver Lining

Glass half full!

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle….Always look on the bright side of life. Monty Python

If these were normal times, my husband Larry and I would have already flown out to San Francisco to meet our new grandson. If these were normal times, I would be writing this column in Colorado, where we would have settled into a summer rental close to our daughter, her husband, and my four year old granddaughter. These are NOT normal times! Because of COVID-19, Larry and I are staying in our home in  Florida for the first time since we moved here five years ago. 

The two of us are both very disappointed, but we are finding  silver linings. We are healthy, we are safe, we are in a community that offers walking trails and swimming pools. We have discovered tree-lined streets, serene ponds,  and quiet trails that we had not explored before until we began 

And we have re-discovered each. We have never in our 46 years of marriage spent this much time together, and we are loving it. We walk or bike together almost every morning and then cool off in one of the neighborhood pools. In the afternoon, we sit on the lanai, where we work on crossword puzzles and read books. After dinner, we play three games of Yahtzee  (I won the championship in May; as of this writing, Larry is  in the lead for June.) Then we settle onto our couch to watch shows on Amazon Prime or Netflix. In some ways,  I feel as if we are on some type of extended honeymoon.

Many of our friends, who are like Larry and I are fortunate enough to be retired and not dealing with health or financial issues, have shared with me how sheltering in place has resulted in hidden blessings. 

My cousins Ruthie and Yaacov Kiflawi, who live in Washington State, have found joy in their own surroundings. They spend hours on their deck, which overlooks the Little Spokane River. Teri Chaves, who would normally be up and out of her home at 9 am, now sleeps in and then takes a leisurely walk. She then enjoys her morning coffee on her screened-in porch while watching the abundant Florida wildlife.

Teri is also using this time for intellectual pursuits and learning.  In anticipation of a 2021 post COVID 30th anniversary trip to Italy with her husband Mike, Teri is learning Italian with the help of a phone app. Susan Hoff-Haynes  is learning Spanish with the same app and has also taken several Great Courses. Michelle Moriya has audited free on-line courses from several prestigious universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. 

Others are testing out their green thumb. Sarah Rubin designated a corner of her lanai for an herb garden; Susan sent me pictures of her raised garden beds behind her home in Upstate New York. Virginia  Allain, who is complete her family’s genealogy research, is also working on establishing roots into the soil by planting  her 2020 Pandemic Victory Garden. “It serves as an affirmation that I intend to be around for months to come despite this virus,” Virginia wrote in her blog.  https://findingmymom.wordpress.com/…/the-victory-garden/.

 Candace Thompson stated that the months in quarantine have been the best months of her life, giving her an appreciation for little things “A simple ride in the car really brings me joy now where it would’ve been nothing more than something else to do prior to the pandemic.”  In what she calls a  “true sense of agency and empowerment,” she planned ahead of the curve by stocking up on foods, creating reading and movie lists, subscribing to streaming services, and downloading workout videos on YouTube. Since sheltering in place, Candace has also joined several community-based advocacy groups that hold Zoom discussions on topics including COVID-19, racism, and the upcoming elections. 

Zoom and other collaborative technologies, are being used to make closer connections with friends and family. Her friend Marilyn Tayler, who also is participating in the advocacy groups, is using the collaborative technologies to connect with old friends. Naomi Biderman Allen FaceTimes daily with her grandchildren, talking to them about their day and reading them bedtime stories. 

For some families, the pandemic has meant even more time with their extended families. Since Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order, Howie and Sandie Vipler have stepped in as the full-time day care providers for their two granddaughters, age 1 and 4. “Time—especially with our grandchildren— has become more precious since this virus has struck,” said Howie.

The pandemic has also brought the-strangers-who-live-next-door together. In March, Joy and Ross Aronson are enjoying  sidewalk chats—while social distancing—with people in her community whom she had never met as they all take their daily walks. An animal lover, Joy was also pleased to meet up with people who were walking dogs that they had rescued from shelters, another positive result of sheltering in place. 

In some cases, unexpected illnesses have resulted in life-saving interventions. While vacationing in South Carolina, Ira Smolowitz complained of COVID-19-like symptoms. His symptoms of dizziness and  shortness of breath, they soon learned, were signs of a heart attack.  Emergency surgery, five days in ICU, and three months  of virtual doctor visits later, Ira feels blessed to be on the road to recovery. Ira’s wife Judy has been his rehab coach and number one cheerleader.  “It’s a tough time to have medical need,” said Judy, “but we made it.”

In a similar situation, Richard Porter, a friend from Texas, had triple bypass on March 13. The day after he was released, Dallas issued a shelter in place order and the hospital that was to provide follow-up services closed its doors to non-COVID 19 patients,  His wife Betsy, who spent her career as a nurse, willingly took over Richard’s cardiac rehab. Neighbors helped by providing meals and dog walking services. On May 13, Rich celebrated 60 days of recovery by completing a 3.5 mile walk. “We saw the silver lining in the slowing down of our lives that helped in Rich’s successful recovery,” said Betsy.

Sunny Hersh rediscovered—“for the umpteenth time”—how much she respects and loves her family. Her husband Scott has been painting the house and cooking wonderful meals. Her children are doing an incredible job of balancing their parental and career responsibilities. Even though her attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter, Sunny said still “has enough bandwidth to dream about the future and appreciate all of the above!”

Others, are creating their own “silver lining” scenarios. Becky and Mark Silverstein, who have cruised 47 times in the last 20 years,  re-imaged their shelter-in-place experience as SHIP (Shelter-In-Place) life. Their bedroom is now their cabin and their lanai as the balcony They watch television and listen to music in their  “entertainment venue.” They enjoy breakfast and lunch at the “buffet” at the kitchen counter and dinner at their dining room table. 

Only one week into SHIP life, the Silversteins hit-err— an iceberg. That first Friday, they dug into their weekly pre-Shabbat house cleaning, which included changing the sheets, cleaning the toilet, and “swabbing the decks.” “We were rudely reminded that we are not just passengers,” Becky said ruefully.“We also are serving as the crew.” 

Okay, not totally smooth sailing. But Becky and Mark, as many of us fortunate enough to be healthy and financially able to cruise safely through this pandemic, can always find a silver lining.

First published in (Capital Region New York) Jewish World, June 25, 2020.