“I hate Jews. Kikes suck. Heil.”
The above words were posted on facebook by a 16-yr old who hangs around my stepson. They were posted on another kid’s page, the soft spoken best friend of my stepson and a boy I have grown to adore. This isn’t the first time that he’s left his i-phone unattended allowing anyone within reach to post what they want under the guise of his identity. One can always tell by the vulgarity and the button-pushing, boundary-breaking language that it isn’t him, but this had crossed a line that hadn’t been crossed before.
I felt like I had been sucker punched. I sat there and stared at the words. My reaction was so visceral, so raw, that I truly began to shake. I called my husband and with a tone of voice I didn’t even recognize as my own, said “Look at ___’s status update NOW.” I implored my husband to call my stepson to (a) make him aware of this post and (b) find out who had written it. He called without hesitation and it didn’t take long for my stepson to tell us who it was.
He happened to be sitting next to my stepson with a group of other kids and I demanded to speak to him. I absolutely lost it on him, my anger escalating the more I spoke. It is hard to remember exactly what I managed to spit out in my highly charged rage. He initially tried to make excuses, said it was a joke, that they always did stupid stuff like that, that he’d forgotten that I was Jewish, and if he had known that I was a facebook friend of ___ he never would have done it.
So, imagine for a minute, what this unleashed in me. I thought that young people were more enlightened these days. I thought that for the most part, we were beyond all this. I began to spew out the details of my own personal connection to the Holocaust, that my mother was a survivor and that ¾ of her immediate family had been killed and how DARE he refer to this as a joke. I left out the part about how many Holocaust survivors and scholars ended up killing themselves, including Primo Levi, who hurled himself down a flight of stairs, and writer Jerzy Kosinski who suffocated himself by wrapping a plastic bag around his head in his bathtub. I left out the part about my mother’s eventual suicide as the result of the sadness and loss that she was never able to shake.
I ended the conversation, after some conciliatory “Yes ma’ams” and “I’m sorry ma’ams” by telling this kid that he was not welcome in my home where he had once come for dinner, and that I hope that was the last I would be seeing of him. I was tempted to call his parents, but I had no idea who I might be up against. The tree created this apple. Who knows how far or close, it has fallen.
I don’t pretend to be a “religious” person. The last time I went to temple during the high holidays I felt like such a hypocrite that I decided that it might be the last time I try to fake it through another service. I listened to the sermon, appreciated the words that the rabbi said, but was quite frankly terrified by the ongoing discussion on the lack of an afterlife. However, like many other non-observant Jews, the cultural connection to who I am is very authentic. I’ve got this history that connects me very directly to the epicenter of anti-Semitism. Right now I am in the middle of a book about the American ambassador to Berlin during the cusp of Hitler’s rise to power. I am reading about Jews being randomly jumped and beaten to death for not “Heiling” as the SS paraded down the street. I am reading about how laws were being enacted to stop Jews from practicing medicine and law. Even though I would never pretend to possess all of the information to educate a 16-yr old, or a 90-yr old on the events that created someone like Hitler or the Holocaust, I know enough to muddle through the basics.
Sooner than later I’m going to have to explain to my now 10-yr old daughter how her grandmother died. Her best friend just did a book report on Anne Frank so I was able to at least tell her that my mother was also hidden, not in the attic, but in the basement of a family’s home. When I was my daughter’s age, I knew that my mother didn’t really want to be alive anymore, but I don’t want to open that can of worms just yet.
In the end, who knows if I taught this kid anything. My stepson has ended his friendship with him and I am no longer connected to even the friends of his I love on facebook. Maybe I should just look at this unfortunate blip as an opportunity to have discovered my inner activist. Or, maybe, I should just be terrified.