A Jew Vacationing in America
A Blueprint for Ending Systemic Racism
While I barely got to leave the State of Ohio as a kid, save one road trip to Washington, D.C. at age fifteen that my parents had saved up for, I’ve been blessed as an adult to have been able to take my three kids across the globe.
Paris. Marseille. Rome. Milan. Amsterdam. London. Barcelona. The Swiss Alps. Mexico. Just to name a few.
This year, with COVID-19 and all, we obviously weren’t hopping on any planes. Luckily, we live in the beautiful State of Colorado. My kids, girlfriend and I debated on a few spots within a five-hour drive. Taos, New Mexico. Aspen. Vail. We ultimately decided on Steamboat Springs.
Of course, the vacation was still amazing, as it always is with my fun, gracious kids.
But one thing stood out about Colorado as I reflected on Morocco, Panama, and other places we had debated visiting, but couldn’t, this year.
It was our ability to display our Jewish identity without fear.
For all of its art and beauty, in Paris, I had to instruct my two teenage boys to wear baseball hats instead of the yarmulkes, the Jewish skullcaps, that they normally wear on their heads. Jews have been the subject of numerous physical attacks and harassment over the years and it’s considered downright dangerous to walk around Paris if you’re noticeably Jewish.
The latest attack in Paris was August 13, 2020, in case you’re wondering. A French Jewish man was beaten as his assailant yelled “Dirty Jew! Dirty Jewish son of a whore, you’re a dead man! We will kill you! Dirty Race!” Then one man proceeded to choke the Jewish man while the other one punched him.
My kids and I had strolled that same French neighborhood just a year ago.
Marseille was actually on a high terrorist imminent attack alert the day we visited the city. Definitely a Denver Nuggets or St. Louis Cardinals hat — no yarmulke kind of day.
In Turin, Italy three years ago, we witnessed Italian military troops armed with machine guns guarding the city’s main synagogue. You’d better believe I made my kids wear ball caps. There wasn’t a specific threat that day. They guard the synagogue every day of the year because, in one of the soldier’s words when I asked him, “we don’t want to be like the rest of Europe, so we’re here to prevent anything from happening.”
Not long ago, an Argentine public school had a Nazi-themed school project.
In Berlin, a teenage Jewish student was strangled by peers as they yelled anti-Semitic slurs at him.
In Ukraine, a famous Jewish writer’s statue was vandalized with swastikas.
In London, a rabbi was hospitalized after being attacked on the Jewish sabbath while his assailants yelled “Kill Jews!”
In Columbia, a Jewish monument was spray-painted with swastikas.
In Denmark, over eighty Jewish tombstones were painted with swastikas.
In Sweden, Nazi yellow stars, the kind used to mark Jews in the Holocaust, were sprayed on a Jewish community center.
In Poland, political campaigns included “Beware of Parasites,” referring to the Jews.
In Belgium, a prominent university began teaching sign language for the word Jew by using hands to demonstrate a big nose.
In Austria, a Holocaust exhibit was defamed with swastikas.
I could go on and on. This is just a snippet from a recent two month period.
Fortunately, vacation in Steamboat was a bit different.
It didn’t dawn on me to tell my boys not to proudly sport their Jewish head coverings in Colorado. They wore them everywhere we went. To shop in downtown Steamboat. To get ice cream, more than once. To get our daily coffee at The Wild Plum, around the corner from where we were staying. To hike. To zip line. To go ATV’ing in the middle of nowhere. To ride the gondola. To mountain bike.
We ran into people from all over. Colorado. Missouri. Texas. Utah. Oklahoma. New York. And of course the locals. Not once did we fear for our safety. In fact, we were treated like kings everywhere we went.
I don’t want to oversell. I’ve had my fair share of anti-Semitic incidents here in the U.S., and indeed every Jew still experiences anti-Jewish bullshit from time to time even in the land of the free. There are still wackos who shoot up American synagogues every few years.
But, let’s be honest, the day-to-day experience for Jews here in America still is far better than the rest of the world.
If we can remove obstacles and achieve that level of safety and opportunity for Jews in America, a place that once banned us from universities, multiple professions, and voting in some states. A country that once rejected immigrant ships of Holocaust survivors and sent them back to Europe for slaughter. A country that made us change our last names when we arrived at Ellis Island to be less Jewish. A country that turned a blind eye to Hitler’s genocide until the war came to Pearl Harbor. A country that kept us out of most clubs and organizations. A country where my own grandfather was only the second Jew allowed to attend dental school at Ohio State in the 1920s.
Then we can change systems and do the same for Black and Brown people.
Us Jews would’ve never made it to a place of relative safety, success, and peace in this country if society and systems continued to deny us opportunities, continued to deny us promotions in jobs, continued to keep us out, continued to treat us like parasites or animals, continued to segregate us into certain neighborhoods and continued to shit on us every day.
Time to do for people of color what America, after years of prodding, finally did for the Jews.
Jeffrey Kass is an award-winning author, Pushcart Prize literary nominee and author of “Oreos and a Pack of Marlboro Lights,” a collection of lightly fictionalized true stories, essays, and even a poem covering a wide variety of subjects including race, religion, relationships and coming of age matters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his website www.jeffreykassglobal.com