By Dahlia Laury, Staff Writer
Three years I’ve been living in New York City. Three years I’ve ridden subways, walked alone at late hours, been surrounded by thousands of strangers, and for three years I’ve never been afraid. Yes, I carried around pepper spray in my backpack, per my mother’s request, but I never even learned how to use it.
Every day this past week, every day of Chanukah, I checked my Facebook feed to see horror stories and rampant anti-Semitism too close to home. I took the subway today, December 29th, 2019, and I was afraid. I was genuinely scared to sit on the 1 train for 40 minutes alone. How messed up is that? But even more messed up, I was scared because I can no longer think to myself, “This will never happen to me, it always happens to someone else.” My thought process can no longer be that naive.
I wear pants on the subway, I keep my head down, and I don’t look obviously Jewish, if I’m being quite honest. But it doesn’t make a difference. I still feel unsafe. Now I carry my pepper spray – and actually know how to use it – and I bought a small electric taser. Being able to defend myself is actually relevant to me now, because now I know it can happen anywhere at any time, and it’s not getting better.
Personally, I have only had one real anti-Semitic experience that I can recall. It was technically anti-Zionistic, but there is no true difference.
My friend and I went to Greece after our year in seminary, and we took a day trip to climb a volcano in Santorini. We went with a diverse tour group of people from many different countries. At the time, I wore a necklace that said my name in Hebrew. My friend and I reached the top of the volcano, and we were amazed by the view. I said to her that the mountains reminded me of Harei Eilat. We heard a voice behind us say in Hebrew: “Dahlia, Ze Lo Kimo Ha’arei Eilat.”(Literally – “Dahlia, this is not like the mountains of Eilat.”) Confused, we turned around to see the man speaking to us. Awkwardly laughing, I asked him how he knew Hebrew and if he was from Israel, and his response was unexpected. “I am not from Israel; I learn Hebrew to undermine the Israelis and help my Palestinian brothers.” Sounds like he was joking, right? He was not. At all.
This made us uneasy, and we stayed away from the man as much as possible for the rest of the trip.
At that moment, I felt scared. I didn’t know what to do or what to say, so I didn’t do or say anything.
On the subway today, for the first time since Greece, I felt that same fear. One of the worst feelings in the world is helplessness. Hearing about attack after attack is crushing, and there isn’t much we can do. We can remain vigilant, we can carry pepper spray, we can hide who we are. But none of that’s fair, it is just a reaction to a harsh, unjust reality.
In April 2017, I went to Poland with my seminary. We went to a town called Jedwabne, which is known for having handed the Jews of the community over to the Nazis, and is even known today to have many of those same people still living there. The same people that locked 300 Jews in a barn and set it on fire were possibly the same people sitting on a park bench reading the newspaper in front of me. There, I wasn’t scared. There, I was vigilant and aware, but not scared. Living in New York City, I am aware that there are pickpockets and strangers holding people up at gunpoint for some money, and I am not scared. I am aware of the many people who are mentally disabled and begging on the street, or overly aggressive to anyone passing by, and I am not scared. I am not used to Jews being targeted in the streets for existing – now I am scared.
Ready for the craziest part of this all? I knew it would happen. We all did internally, to some degree. We have been warned for years that once we are comfortable in a situation, it tends to go sour. Especially in Judaism. Of course, no one wants to hear that. No one wants to know they will one day feel unsafe, and they will fear for their lives. Germany in 1935 didn’t want to hear it either. Back then the government, the people, other countries, they all let it happen. When we say Never Again, we mean Never Again.
It’s about to be 2020. Why is America regressing to the Dark Ages where a single life is so unimportant? All our technology is created to make life better and longer, but it all means nothing if we are apathetic to those around us. We found the cure to polio, smallpox, measles, and strep, all of which used to kill people, so why don’t we have a cure for baseless hatred and anti-Semitism?
I felt unsafe today, and I don’t ever want to feel that way again. We can’t keep waiting for external factors to wake us up and remind us who we are. We are the Chosen Nation; we keep being chosen, whether we like it or not. I don’t have the answers, but if something is going to be done to prevent future attacks, it has to be done now. We can’t wait, and we can’t live in fear.