Whenever I feel afraid

Mia Mercado, in The New Yorker in 2018, said that the scariest part about being a human in the world today is unfortunately every part. And that was before COVID.

She did offer some suggestions for dealing with the scariest things. For dealing with ghosts, render them defenseless by taking them to a Trader Joe’s where they will be distracted by the affordable items. For thunderstorms she said use them as an opportunity to conduct your own “Freaky Friday” experiment and switch places with Jamie Lee Curtis. For fear of heights, carry around a parachute. Not a fan of public speaking? She noted that no one is going to ask you to speak in public when you’re the guy wearing a parachute! The list of things I am afraid of that the author did not cover includes rollercoasters, horror movies, snakes, and sharks. But I am not afraid of spiders, needles, or dogs.

She also brought up, that being a member of any historically oppressed group today is obviously a nightmare. So, she asked if we had considered simply not being one? That hadn’t worked for her, she acknowledged. It hasn’t worked for me or most of you either, I would guess. Only days ago, we all read that a young man in Michigan was arrested after he expressed explicit neo-Nazi and antisemitic ideologies online. He apparently stockpiled weapons, and possessed military sniper survival manuals, gas masks, and a Nazi flag. He was planning a mass shooting, and had, according to a message in the Notes app, identified a synagogue in East Lansing, a date, and a list of equipment. Then on the next day, the defendant in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting was convicted on multiple counts of murder. We await his sentencing.

Growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s, I did not fear being identified as Jewish. But then again, I went to P.S. 94, J.H.S. 80, and the Bronx High School of Science, all of which were predominantly Jewish. My Aunt Rose, with whom I went to see Fiddler on the Roof during its opening run on Broadway, cried during the pogrom scene. She remembered hiding under her bed. “But not in America,” she said. “Here we don’t have to worry.”

Is that as true now as it was in 1964?

How many of us have discussed our safety after the “Jews will not replace us” chants at the Charlottesville rally, or after the hostage taking at the synagogue in Texas. How many of us have children or grandchildren who have had to listen to campus antisemitic harangues. Would we feel safe wearing a kippah in public? A report by the Anti-Defamation League reveals antisemitic incidents in 2022, reached the highest level since 1979. Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL National Director says that antisemitism is a clear and present danger right here, right now in America.

I don’t think antisemitism would scare me as much if it were not for gun violence. During this past July 4th weekend, twenty people were killed and 126 were injured in 22 mass shootings across the country, in 13 states and Washington D.C. Before July 1st, there had already been 340 mass shootings killing 416 people and wounding 1355. Last May, there was a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers. Nineteen children killed in their school! Every time a shooting like this is reported, we feel anxious, terrified and helpless. We can’t, and don’t want to imagine sending our kids to school and not having them come home.

With the combination of the rise in antisemitism and the massive amount of gun violence, we are left terrified. We wonder how to deal with this fear.

The answer is to act, to push back on both fronts. For gun violence, this means reminding people that owning a gun gives great power. And, with great power, comes great responsibility.

We don’t have to start with talk about taking away guns, but we must talk about managing and controlling the ownership and use and types of guns. We must hold gun owners and gun manufacturers responsible for their own actions and the actions taken by others with their guns. The 2nd amendment does not guarantee the unfettered right to all people to own all guns, irresponsibly.

How do we fight the fear from antisemitism? We condemn it. We announce it and denounce it. We make sure our workplace, school and community fight it. We make sure people around us are trained to spot antisemitism. We urge and battle for adoption of anti-harassment policies and laws. We hold people accountable for antisemitic words and actions. We find comfort and hope in our community. And we celebrate our Jewish identity and history.

Fear is a bully. I have read that it tells you what to do, and when you obey it, it gains more and more power over you. However, when you acknowledge what fear tells you, but do the opposite, you build courage. If you don’t get into action, the fear wins. Scientists tell us fear is good (even so, I don’t like it). They say it improves our survival instinct.

Taking actions and pushing back at the things that scare us helps us to become stronger and braver. Some of us think we are too old to go out into the streets.

I won’t argue that point now. But there are things we can do safely. We can do more than hold our heads erect and whistle a happy tune.

We can donate to, and support organizations and candidates that align with our positions. We can write articles, make phone calls and send letters.

Oh, sorry, I was showing my age.

We can post comments, send texts and send emails. We can attend peaceful protests and governmental meetings. All politics is local, so start with your local officials. You will feel more in control and less helpless if you are in any action. So take any action.

Be strong. Be brave. Persevere.

Lennon and McCartney told us in 1968 that it was a “Long and Winding Road.”

MLK, that same year said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  Maybe so, but only if we pull on it and maintain the pressure.

When the War (in Viet Nam) ended, we celebrated, and thought our jobs were done.

We were so wrong.

There is lots left to do. We cannot rest.

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