A Modern Day Hate Crime

“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.

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7 Comments

  1. I am all for your chewing out that kid. He needs to hear this is real, and not a joke. Glad you told him never to darken your doorway again, too. Bravo! And that your stepson ended the friendship is remarkable.

  2. Dan

    My mind went immediately to the apple/tree analogy, but you know there's a lot of "groupthink" at that age. It's good that your stepson has distanced himself from this boy, but I'd keep an eye on common acquaintances of theirs — particularly older ones. When I was not much older than this boy, I was taken to task for using the word "faggot" by a teacher of mine who I respected. HIs reaction was more measured, less "visceral" than yours, but it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I haven't used that word since. So yes, here's hoping you taught this boy something. Good for you for standing up to bigotry, and you're right; it's terrifying to see it one so young.

  3. is hate speech also a "hate crime"?perhaps.but i can't draw this equivalence, otherwise, living in this "Grand Theft Auto"-saturated vidiot society where my nephews' peers — black brown yello red & white — use "nigga" as often as a punchline as a proxy for throwing a punch, my conscientious cynicism would rapidly degenerate into foaming-at-the-mouth misanthropy. or worse. but that's me! there's just too much ambient hate speech in the cable/talk-radio air we're choking on for me to allow myself to react to these semantic assaults. would i let it go if i were to pick up one of my nephew's phone and read"I hate blacks. Niggers suck. White Power."???all i know is that i'd be afraid of my middle-aged righteous rage at the offending teen's nonchalant dismissal of this as "a joke" and hope i'd let my hurt off the hook instead of giving this maggot some measure of sublimated satisfaction at my expense. though words can wound the way sticks & stones don't, i think i survive by taking only the latter to heart.again, that's me.anyway. your visceral anger, dear friend, is all-too-understandable and i too applaud you for confronting this boy's bilious thoughtlessness. no doubt the strange fruit doesn't fall far from the lynching tree. and yet.the swamp deepens with every generation, its stillness darkens and conceals whatever slithers beneath the brackish surface with the shock of being bitten usually being more venomous than the bites themselves. do you really believe this swamp will ever be drained? or are you counting on finding your own little island(s) in the swamp where you & yours can live safely above creeping & crawling hatreds? i'm sure we don't have obsess to the point of paranoia on the "Hate Map" on The Southern Poverty Law Center website in order to tell us what we already know.so how will you, when the time comes, explain "anti-semitism" to Amelia? whatever was explained to you or you've explained to yourself, have you really wrapped your head around the inhumanity of being hated just for being? if so, please clue me in …it's inexplicable to me.like tornadoes selectively destroying houses on ones dies of a street while leaving others on the other side (or next door) completely unscathed. or like the stubborn intractability of cancers. or like the malfeasant idea that the poor are made less poor by making the rich richer. or like "reality tv" …love ya, GSR

  4. You were absolutely right to react as you did. Bravo! I don't let kids get away with things like this either and my kids cringe when I react to such situations (although never as bad as this).My children have been raised in an International Environment where they have friends from every nation, religion, etc.. in the world. They see no color or difference. It is the greatest thing that has come out of the experience. The best way to teach them about "anti-semitisim" is to raise them in the opposite way. They will know no different and will react as you did when something like this arises. Good luck. Teenagers can be a drag. I'm sure you changed him for life! In a good way 🙂

  5. Your anger is understandable, completely. Perhaps there is a place for forgiveness too. I can't help but wonder how much this boy actually knows about the horrors of the Holocaust, the horrors of genocide, the horrors of hatred; how much he really knows, how much he has really been taught. If I had to guess I would say that he's probably had a very cleaned up, superficial exposure through some educational program designed to touch upon the topic without making anybody too uncomfortable.To really grasp the depth of the Holocaust, without first hand knowledge of or access to the direct testimony of survivors, is very difficult. It requires deep immersion. You have to look it square in the eyes. You have to get bloodied by it and become dirty with it's stench. You have to experience a taste of the trauma.How many children in America have looked at the Holocaust in anything other than a cursory manner? How many have been exposed in a way that is meaningful?I assume your purpose was to raise his awareness of the seriousness of the Holocaust and not just to vent accumulated rage. Maybe the tree from which this boy has fallen is not so much his family, but creeping community and cultural complacency. Maybe this boy has come for a reason, come not to enrage you, but to alert you too this creeping complacency? Maybe the activist in you has been awakened to a greater need, to a larger purpose?

  6. I understand your rage and the now disconnect with this person but I wonder if this were not an opportunity for you to use this as a vehicle for you and your family to enlighten and educate this young person? you could have used him coming over to your house as an opening for you to get through to him. By reading him the riot act you immediately shut this person down and became another crazy adult that he will undoubtedly be making fun of later.i think you missed a chance to change the world, even if it is one mind at a time.

  7. Follow-up:I shared this blog with my two sons, ages 11 and 10, who found it to be very interesting and sad.Recently, during an outing with two of the boy's friends along, Braden brought this up for discussion. He told of how your Mom had been so upset by the Holocaust that she had eventually taken her own life. One of the friends, an 11 year old Jewish boy, responded by asking: "What's the Holocaust?" After a brief description of the Nazi atrocities he was able to recall having heard about it.There is a need here that you have stumbled upon.

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