By Esti Polotsky
When my sister texted in my family chat that school was canceled because there was no power in the high school, I thought nothing of it. Little did I know the backstory behind it. As I was going about my day, scrolling through my Whatsapps, I saw a text about an alleged antisemitic event that occurred at two schools in Denver, my hometown.
Suddenly, I was very confused because I didn’t hear anything about this up until that moment. With a quick Google search of “Denver Academy of Torah,” the name of my high school, a few articles popped up with the words “hate crime” included in the title. As I kept researching, I saw more articles about two events that occurred at two different schools within a mile of each other. One of the schools was my alma mater, Denver Academy of Torah, and the other was a public school close by called George Washington High School. The articles alluded to the incidents possibly being related to each other, but there was no definitive proof yet. At George Washington High School, the building and bleachers were vandalized with graffiti of hateful words and swastikas. At Denver Academy of Torah, rocks were thrown into windows, damaging an electrical box. I realized: this is the reason there was no power in the high school; this is the reason why my sister texted that school was canceled.
After putting all the details together in my head, I realized what happened in my community. People threatened the safety of my family and friends in the Jewish community because of their hateful beliefs about Judaism and Jews. I don’t know all the details of the event, and even with the investigation ongoing, I have a feeling of uneasiness surrounding the safety of my hometown, my community, and my family. The thought that any person can go into a place that you call home and harm others because of their antisemitic beliefs is a scary reality.
Living a life of Torah and Mitzvot [Biblical commandments] is the most fundamental part of my life. Being able to express your beliefs freely is something that I hold true to myself. My parents came from the former Soviet Union. They were oppressed and forced to repress the religious part of their identity in communist Russia. They couldn’t practice Judaism until they immigrated to America, where they made a life for themselves. They decided to embrace the religion that was hidden from them their entire lives and create a new story for themselves. They became religious and raised a beautiful family in a religiously observant home. They taught me what it means to be oppressed and how to come out stronger because of it. My parents taught me to look at the positive things in life and to thank Hashem every day for all the brachot [blessings] in my life.
Not one day goes by where I don’t think about the gratitude that I have for my parents for raising me and my siblings the way they did. They went through so many hardships, but that didn’t stop them from having such faith in Hashem [G-d] to become religious at the ages of 26 and 27 when they were starting a family. The strong foundation my parents created for me is the reason why when I heard about the antisemitic event that happened, and I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe that such a thing could happen in a country like the United States that promotes freedom. My parents ran away from the former Soviet Union because of the oppression that permeated their every day. They came to America because of the possibility of having the freedom to practice their religion without fear of repercussions.
Someone could look at the event that happened and take two approaches going forward. They can let it scare them and push them away into a corner to be ashamed of their roots and beliefs. Or they can be like my parents: they can take the sour situation that they were placed in and start a new beginning. There is always the possibility of hope and positivity. I learned from this event that acknowledging the upsetting events is important, but it’s even more crucial not to let it sidetrack you from your goal in life. My goal in life is to serve Hashem to my greatest potential. It is important for me to understand the reason why my siblings didn’t have school yesterday. However, the most critical piece to take away from this situation is that no matter who or what tries to stand in the way of your religious path in life, it’s your responsibility to stay true to yourself. No one, not even criminals who try to vandalize your high school, should sidetrack you from your religious identity and observance.