By Henry Abramson
Dear Old Friend:
First of all, thanks for not using an adjective.
I know you understand the word “Jew” to be a slur in itself, but it’s a bit softer without the modifier. I never liked it when you spat “dirty Jew” at me on the playground. I always saw red whenever you jeered “cursed Jew,” using the Québécois term maudit juif. Exchanges like that usually resulted in scuffles and fisticuffs, and ultimately we ended up glaring at each other on the bench outside the principal’s office, bloody-nosed and sweaty. As a teenager, you shouted “F-ing Jew” as you zoomed by in your car as I walked home from shul on Saturday mornings. In recent years, your anonymous invective on social media has been especially creative.
So it’s a kindness on your part to simply label me “Jew,” an appellation I would proudly affirm. Your hateful, anonymous scribblings on the hood of my car just reinforces solidarity with my ancestors who endured far worse, as well as with my African-American neighbors who moved to our safe Jewish neighborhood because you scrawled a swastika on their front door.
Second, thanks for timing it such that I didn’t discover your message until right before Shabbat. I don’t know if you intended to sour my mood moments before walking into synagogue, but your nasty surprise was overwhelmed by two unexpected, and infinitely preferable, developments.
My 14-year-old son was the first to see the damage, and you gave me the precious opportunity to teach him some ancient truths about our longstanding relationship. His childhood was more sheltered than mine—he’s grown up in various American shtetls, and as far as I can tell, he’s never encountered you in any meaningful way. I’m hoping that your venomous message, diluted in the form of a cowardly one-word act of vandalism, will inoculate him against the live, active version of the disease you represent. You gave me the unscripted opportunity to teach him how to react with dignity and equanimity, just as my father, of blessed memory, taught me so many years ago. (A prayer: May it be Your will, my G-d and G-d of my ancestors, that this be the full extent of his contact with you.)
The other amazing surprise revealed itself when I broke the news to my wife. Given that the Sabbath is a time of rejoicing and relaxation, I was concerned that the news of your reappearance would upset her, so I told our son not to mention it at the table and I didn’t share your communication until after the Havdallah ceremony on Saturday night. You should have seen her reaction! Her normally luminous green eyes turned a hard, gunmetal grey as she pursed her lips in that dark expression that says, “Congratulations, soldier—you were looking for trouble, and you certainly found it.” I was worried that she might be frightened or at least intimidated, but, man, if I were you I would lay low for a while. You and I have had the occasional conflict, but you do not want to mess with Jewish women.
My eldest daughter decided to share photos of your art on her social media account (like I said—those Jewish women). And you know what? She got a ton of supportive messages from her online friends and colleagues. From Jews for sure, but from plenty of Christians and Muslims, maybe some Hindus as well—kind and sympathetic messages from men and women representing the kaleidoscope of human races, colors, and religions. I’m sorry, old friend, but even your dramatic torch-lit marches can’t hide a basic truth: there are more people like us, ordinary people who love their families and just want to mind their own business and get along with each other, than there are people like you. Yell all you want; we’re not affected.
See, the chip in your brain that is supposed to recognize our common humanity is busted. You don’t see me as a regular middle-aged guy just trying to take care of his family. Instead you dream up all kinds of crazy pathological fantasies about me, like I drink Christian blood on Passover, or I faked 9/11, truly messed-up stuff. You should take better care of yourself, see someone about that, because it’s not healthy, you know?
Which reminds me: thanks also for limiting your self-expression to my car. The ancient Sages, when they contemplated the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago (the anniversary is coming up, as I’m sure you know), proclaimed, “wood and rocks.” Meaning, no matter how awful the loss, the Temple was ultimately only wood and rocks, inanimate things. “Sticks and stones” in the vernacular. Yes, I know full well that you are capable of breaking bones as well. My ancestors’ bones, which lie in an unmarked mass grave in Lithuania, testify to your genocidal capacity. That’s why I’m happy you restricted yourself to the car.
But back to the broken chip in your brain. What you probably don’t realize is that I actually care for you. I worry about whatever it was you experienced that made you hate me—even though you never met me—and wish I could do something about it.
Love, wrote King Solomon, is as strong as death (Song of Songs, 8:6). As much as you wish to negate my people and me, you will never succeed, because we love life, and, believe it or not, we even love you, you pathetic little person—I mean, come on, you write on people’s cars when they are not looking! We are an exuberant, entrepreneurial, generous, creative people, and whenever you try to put us down with your threats of violence, we will be in your face with our irrepressible joie de vivre, courage, spiritual exaltation, and humor. It takes a lot more than this to knock us down.
Your old friend,
P.S. I was also pleasantly surprised that the Nassau County Police took this whole thing really seriously. I reported your crime, figuring it would just be for the statistics, but they sent out a squad car and two detectives! They will be reviewing a pile of security-camera footage, my friend, so maybe we will get a chance to catch up on things in court.