We Are Not Safe

Memorial candles for the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust

After 9/11, I had a series of conversations with friends and family about safety. The world no longer felt solid underneath them. For the first time in their lives, they did not feel safe. They did not feel that their children were safe. They didn’t trust that the United States was safe. They were shaken to their cores.

They were not Jewish.

If I ever felt safe — truly safe, as if nothing could harm me and there were no boogeymen — that ended on September 5, 1972, when a terrorist group seized and eventually murdered eleven Israeli athletes. This was just before Labor Day. School wasn’t yet in session and camp was over. I was twelve years old. I spent the day in front of the TV in the den, watching terrorists pace the balcony of the Olympic Village, and listening to my mother say “Don’t you ever forget that this is what it means to be a Jew. Don’t you ever forget.”

Don’t you ever forget.

I didn’t forget. I didn’t forget when bombs went off in Jerusalem. I didn’t forget when Nazis marched in Skokie, Illinois, past the homes of Holocaust survivors. I didn’t forget when six people were shot at the Jewish Federation offices in Seattle. I didn’t forget when one of my patients was a man with a swastika tattooed on his scalp who told me that he never thought he’d let a Jew touch him.

Don’t you ever forget.

They don’t feel they need to hide their faces.

Today white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting (among other things) “Jews will not replace us” and someone on Facebook said “What does that even mean?” It means that I am not safe. It means my daughter is not safe. It means that I do not understand what my friends lost on September 11, 2001. I do understand that people of color feel even less safe than I do because they are less safe than I am. It is possible that a madman with a gun might drive up to the Jewish day camp where my daughter works as a lifeguard, but she probably won’t be shot for having a broken tail light on her car.

None of us is safe. Hate touches us all. Hate threatens us all. If you are white and your first thought is “that’s not me,” then you are not listening. You are not listening to my voice. You are not listening to the voices of people of color. They are telling you we are being murdered. We are being systematically eliminated. We can’t breathe. If it’s not you, then you must work to stop it. We all must work to stop it.

Today white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virgina, and the President of the United States said “there is hate on all sides.” No, sir, not like this. Not like this.

My mother lived through WWII in the US. She was safe. She did not feel safe. She never felt safe. My mother died a week ago, and so was spared the sight of Nazis marching in her country.

Don’t you ever forget.

I will not forget. Munich, Skokie, Jerusalem, Charleston, Ferguson, Charlottesville. I am not safe. My daughter is not safe. None of us is safe.

Don’t you ever forget.