When I was in 5th grade, my school took an overnight trip down to Key Largo where we stayed in bunks at a state park and learned about marine life. One day, our class was divided into small groups and each one hopped on a small boat that took us on a tour of the mangroves.
There was something serene, peaceful, and isolated about this environment that was located close to the southernmost edge of the contiguous United States. I whispered to myself at 11 years old, “If the Nazis ever come looking for the Jews in America, this is where I’ll take my family.”
Our reading curriculum that year consisted of a few novels that took place during World War II, so the history of the Holocaust was on my mind a lot. Between that moment to a few years ago, I rarely felt unsafe about existing in the United States as a Jewish person. I was a proud part of the Jewish communities in most of the cities I had lived in.
But recently, things have changed.
In the past six months, there have been two murderous attacks on Jews praying at synagogue, each one taking place on opposite ends of the country. This terrifies me. It has made me second guess whether or not I should bring my family to the synagogue to pray. Now, I think of the logistics. Will the police be there? Can I find an escape route to the safest place to bring my family should there be an attack?
Writing this article scares me a bit. Part of me worries about the backlash I might face from simply expressing my concerns in a public forum. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but that is where my head is at right now. Many Jewish writers and bloggers expressing themselves are bombarded with anti-Semitic comments and e-mails. Cincinnati is not immune to intolerance, and I’ve heard stories from friends and acquaintances that have come face to face with it.
These decisions would be easier for me if I wasn’t a parent. I want our religion and culture to be a part of my family’s life. I don’t want to raise a child that hides their identity and misses out on important holidays or relinquishes the right to pray in a communal setting, but I need to keep my family safe.
While the idea of “escaping to the mangroves” still sounds like a fantasy, the idea of escaping to somewhere else doesn’t anymore. I’m scared of the future for my family. I owe it to them to make sure we are all protected. I desperately hope things get better.
If you currently have the privilege to practice your religion, gather publicly, or simply exist in our country with little to no fear, I ask one thing of you. Think of those who don’t feel safe anymore. I’m not only talking about Jews. I’m also talking about Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, LGBT, and other people who may feel persecuted and unsafe in America. Think of their children. It is everyone’s duty to take action and educate future generations on the atrocities of the past and do our best to make sure it never happens again.