Where Fear Meets Comfort

Adam: The election is today and let’s just say Tabitha and I are kind of scared for our family. There are two major identifiers in our family: We’re interracial and we’re Jewish. This election has brought out both racism and anti-Semitism in fellow Americans. Tabitha and I have discussed both of these “isms” at length. “Did you see the latest video?” became a question between us, one that we used too frequently to refer to a video of another Black person shot by police or intensely mistreated because of the color of their skin. I grew up believing (and still believe) that the Holocaust could happen again.

It could happen to Jews or it can happen to another group of people. That is a heavily internalized fear of mine. Fear is a cycle. It drives these police shootings.  It drives politics. It drives mishandled conflicts. And fear is a driving force in this election season. Both sides are playing into that emotion but for our family, it’s a real factor. We speak casually of moving to Canada but what will we really do if Trump wins? Is it really a possibility to pack up our lives, over a decade of which has been spent in NYC and leave everything we know? If we stay, will it be too late when we realize we have to leave? NYC has provided us with a blanket of safety and comfort. Fear during this election season is eroding that and we’re not sure how to cope.

Tabitha and I have been having conversations unpacking Jewish fear since our first date. We took a walk through Central Park the first time we agreed to go out together and she didn’t hesitate to confront the elephant in the room, which was our different belief systems. We have always been able to talk about it without fear between us. She did not grow up with Jewish fear and generally sees Jews with comfort, financially and socially. I grew up one of very few Jews in my school, learning annually about the Holocaust with the important phrase “Never again”. I have lived that fear daily. We just finished celebrating the major Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). We celebrated Rosh Hashanah the same way I have for most of my life—by going to my uncle’s synagogue in Connecticut. We then returned to our synagogue in Brooklyn for Yom Kippur. In Brooklyn, we can choose where we want to worship. Our Jewish life is one of comfort. We chose Kolot because it’s the best fit for our beliefs but we feel as welcome at my uncle’s synagogue as we do in Brooklyn. People in both synagogues know our multi-racial baby and are excited to see him. In these communities, there is no obvious racism and fear of the other. Still, Jews live in fear of a repeat of the Holocaust and Tabitha lives in fear as a naturalized citizen of color. Even though she is a citizen, she still feels like an outsider in this country. The possibility of being sent back to her country is always at the back of her mind, especially with the changing attitudes towards immigration. To her, she is an immigrant first and an American citizen last. She is also a woman of color and with that comes the assumption that she is African American, a label she does not shy away from. She deals with internalized societal racism towards African Americans. We discuss these topics with others and at times, there is a reaction that we are being paranoid by having these individual fears. This election season has made us realize that this is not paranoia. It is a very real possibility that our country can become one where differences are not embraced, where immigration is a liability and where the comforts of inclusion that our ancestors have worked so hard for will be eroded.

We had an interesting experience this summer in Portugal. For me, a requisite stop on trips outside of the US is to visit synagogues. I do this for worship if possible, but at the very least to connect with Judaism throughout history and in other countries. When we went to the synagogue in Portugal, Tabitha was surprised at how hidden the place was and how standoffish the people were. The man who opened the door blocked the doorway with his body as he told us that we could come back for services later with our passports but couldn’t come to visit right then. He engaged in a lengthy discussion in Portuguese with Tabitha’s cousin, some of which was him telling her that he shouldn’t even be talking to her. We are so used to being able to worship openly and freely that living in fear as Jews was something new for Tabitha.

The election takes place today, and regardless of the outcome, we are nervous. We live in fear that black people are being targeted because of the color of their skin, fear that the relative comfort of Jews is fleeting, fear that our marriage will somehow be disallowed because of intolerance, fear of possible changes in attitude towards our son. It seems that fear and scapegoating are driving people to the polls. The climate right now is ripe with blame. People have lost jobs and opportunities and some are blaming immigrants. Black people are being killed during interactions with police and the victims are being blamed. We live our lives in complete comfort as an interracial, inter-religion Jewish family in Brooklyn. We live in a community with lots of people just like us and lots more who are not and it doesn’t make a difference. We are sheltered and we are afraid of losing that safety. America is great because it represents a safe haven and a better life for so many people around the world. Immigrants come to this country and work hard for their freedoms. Hopefully, today, everyone will exercise one of these freedoms and vote for inclusion, diversity, tolerance and acceptance. It is what has made America the amazing country it is and it is what will propel us to greater things. Most of us are too young to remember a time when women and people of color could not vote so please remember to vote. Let’s reject fear and respond with the power of our collective positivity. Let’s prove that this America, the one that has given birth to our little interracial family by the beach in Brooklyn, is the America that will prevail.

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