The Day My Children Learned About Hate

We celebrate “Christmakkah” in my house — a joyous blend of Christmas and Hanukkah, where we light candles and eat latkes and trim a tree and hang stockings. Neither my husband nor I are particularly religious. What we share with our children are the traditions of our youth and our birth religions. I used to joke that I dreaded the day when I had to explain to my children that Santa does not belong to them. I had no idea that losing Santa would be far from the worst lesson they would learn about what it means to be Jewish in America.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a text message from our local Jewish Community Center (JCC) that they had received a bomb threat. They were evacuating to the neighboring private school. It was the third bomb threat in as many weeks, and one of over 80 threats happening across the country.

It was the first time both my children were inside the building.

I knew it was coming. Given the wave of threats since January, the cemetery vandalism, the apparent rise in hate crimes nationwide, I figured it was just a matter of time until a bomb threat would happen while my children were at the JCC. My son spends five days a week there rehearsing with the J-Company, a very special theater program for children ages 7 to 18. And my daughter hangs out in the café on Mondays doing her homework. With threats coming almost weekly, the odds were high that they would experience an evacuation.

The JCC is primarily a gathering place for children. It has a preschool, after school care, sports programs, theater programs, art programs, all for children. With JCCs being threatened across the country, I imagine thousands of parents like me who have spent the past few weeks calming themselves and their children, questioning their own resolve to continue bringing their children to a place that may not be entirely safe.

I sat my children down after the first bomb threat and we forged a plan. Keep in mind, most children know nothing of bomb threats. I had to explain the concept to them. They are 10 and 12. I had to tell them that someone is calling the JCC and announcing that a bomb has been placed in the building. [A FUCKING BOMB!] I assured them that the threats were merely a hoax, likely by some “prankster,” but the JCC has to take each one seriously and treat it like it is real. I let them know that my husband and I are notified immediately when it happens, and we would come get them at the evacuation spot.

I made light of something that is anything but light. I attempted to reduce a hate crime to just a prank, in hopes that my children would miss the deeper message. I suggested it was just a prank so that when they were escorted by security guards, they wouldn’t panic or cry or lose it. I essentially lied to them.

For the most part, it worked. When my son got home yesterday, he told me that he knew it was “no big deal” and he was completely calm. And then he shared that the younger children in his cast, as young as seven, were scared and crying and screaming. My ten year-old spent the afternoon reassuring crying children using the same lie that I had used to reassure him. It was just a hoax. A prank. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to see here. Sitting at La Jolla Country Day School, waiting to be dismissed, my children were surrounded by other children, frightened and confused.

They made it home safe and sound, seemingly unscathed by the gravity and drama of the evacuation. And then my son asked me this question:

“Why are Jews hated so much?”

The perpetrator of this so-called hoax had succeeded. He schooled my children in a lesson of anti-Semitism. The wave of threats, the cemetery vandalisms, the internet trolling, the omission of Jews from public statements about the Holocaust. The intent is to make us feel hated, less than, different, unwelcome. This is how it begins.

I spent yesterday afternoon attempting to explain hate to my children. I watched them deflate as the reality of it washed over them. How could someone hate them simply for being born Jewish? Worse than any bomb threat, this is something they cannot escape. It is no hoax or prank. And it is hidden everywhere, not just in community centers filled with children threatened by hateful, ignorant cowards. It is bubbling to the surface, fueled by racist rhetoric that has become mainstream. It is becoming our new normal.

There is no safe evacuation plan for hatred. I cannot come up with a lie to make them feel like this is no big deal. My outrage is palpable. They can see it on my face and in the tremor of my voice. They can feel my helplessness.

This is how it begins.