The Big Day is Here

The day is finally upon us. After nearly nonstop anticipation, excitement, and maybe a bit of trepidation, it is here. At long last, we’re on the eve of November the Sixth: My mom’s 90th birthday.

Yes, it’s also election day. And, as it turns out, those two momentous occasions are directly related.

A few days after my mom’s 10th birthday in Cologne, she heard the sound of breaking glass downstairs. The horror of Kristallnacht had brought history to her doorstep; and soon hate, bigotry, and injustice would rip her family, her community, and her world apart. In the ensuing years, she would escape to a children’s home in France where love, tolerance, and righteous leadership would help her piece things back together.

She came to America, met my dad (a fellow survivor and a fighter with the Partisans), and together they built what is, given their childhood experiences, a wildly successful and shockingly moral life.

Over the past few decades, my mom has worked with top educators around the country to create university courses that challenge students to find connections between periods of violent antisemitism and other acts of genocide to better equip society to live up to the mantra: Never Again.

So tomorrow is a big day. We’re celebrating the 90th birthday of someone whose personal history made it reasonably unlikely she’d reach her eleventh. And we’re voting in an American election at a moment when antisemitism (and racism, fascism, xenophobia, fear-mongering, etc.) is once again on the rise in places as far as Poland, Germany, and Hungary, and as close as Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

While she understands that everything is political, my mom is far from being a rabid partisan. The morning after Trump’s election, she said, “He deserves a chance to lead.” Well, he’s been given that chance. And politicians across the country have been given the chance to decide how to respond to his brand of leadership.

For myself, my mom, and my country, I’ve been disappointed in the results of this unfortunate experiment, saddened by the hateful rhetoric that has come to define our political discourse, and sickened by the lives lost as that rhetoric has materialized into physical violence. With links and comments in NextDraft, I’ve attempted to document the rise of hate across the world and connect that trend to those that preceded the twentieth century’s darkest days. This is in part because I see these kinds of stories emerging more often. But it’s mostly because my parents, who have never suggested such connections before, regularly describe the parallels between today’s political patterns and the ones they experienced during their childhoods.

I’m not going to tell you who or what to vote for on Tuesday. And neither is my mom. She’s 90, her back hurts, and she’s been fighting this fight her whole life. Let her eat cake. It’s our turn. What I am asking you, even demanding of you, is that in every checkbox you mark on your ballot, you vote against this burgeoning hate. That’s the best gift you can give to my mom — and your country — on her birthday.

Dave Pell writes NextDraft.