Today I’m going to tell you a story. A story that isn’t mine, and one that I don’t have all the pieces to, and one I never will. The story of my grandparents.
My grandpa was amazing, and one of the kindest, bravest people I’ve ever known. My grandma was, brave in her own way, fiercely independent, and someone who always played by her own rules. Though they are no longer here, I still think of them daily. I named my two children after them. In a perfect world, they shouldn’t have ever met – Grandpa was born in Poland and Grandma was born in Germany. They met because they were both Jewish, and miraculously, Holocaust survivors.
My grandfather went through several concentration camps, lost the vast majority of his family, but survived and eventually made it the United States. He made a life here, away from the persecution of his youth. He would answer questions to anyone who asked, and it pains me that I didn’t think to ask more while he was still here. I think he answered those questions because he was determined to remember and to educate. To make sure the world would not forget.
My grandmother, on the other hand, kept her stories hidden inside, away from us. I never once heard her talk about the war and anything that happened. I don’t know that she could even talk about it at all – she never volunteered. She loved all of us fiercely and I forever cherish that she was able to see me on my wedding day, married in a Jewish ceremony.
Both my grandparents were irrevocably changed by everything they went through. The crazy thing? If there had been no war, they likely would have never met – but they did. They met here in the US. They met because hatred forced them out of their homes, away from everything they’d ever known. The United States opened their doors and gave them a home. The US gave them a chance at life – a chance to fall in love, to marry and have children. A chance to work hard for a better life than they could’ve ever had where they came from. A chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – something it says in the Constitution, the founding document of our country.
I have been lucky in my life. Unlike my grandparents, I have never really felt prejudice because of my religion. My religion is not written on my face, in my skin, or in my hair. I have always felt accepted, just with something that makes me a little bit different than most people I know. I have never lived in fear because of who I am.
But this weekend, protestors came to my state, less than two hours from me. This weekend, anti-Semitism came to Virginia. We know from history that anti-Semitism has been around for centuries. Despite everything, it seems it still has not gone away. I never thought I’d see it here.
While I was far enough away I felt safe, the symbols they used terrify me. I never thought I would see the day that swastikas would be flown in my country, in my state. I am torn between wanting to do all the things I can and wanting it to all just go away.
I don’t know the answer to stopping all the hate. I don’t know how to make people see that it doesn’t matter what color you are, what religion you are, who you choose to be with – it all doesn’t matter. Why we’re not learning from our own history I’ll never understand. I will never understand why people hate those who are different from them.
The only thing I can understand, and the thing I can do, is to love my family, love my friends, and teach them to do the same.
I can teach my children to be curious about and try to understand others. I can teach them empathy and kindness. I can teach them that love and disagreement are not mutually exclusive – you can disagree with someone and still like them. I can teach them that you probably won’t get along with everyone, and that’s okay – but not a reason to hateful to them. I can teach them their heritage and help them learn from it.
I can teach them to pay attention. I can teach them to not be indifferent.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel