Category Archives: activism
I sat in our counselor’s office, bouncing my 16-year-old sneakered toes on the floor of Westlake High School. My ratty red Jansport was on the floor, stuffed with textbooks, folders and my favorite notebook, where my poetry was written in my trademark black scribble with strange-looking “e’s.”
Why was I here? I looked around this tiny broom closet they called an office. My eyes darted to the bookshelves, stacked with various generic titles on how to help problem children. And if I was here, that meant I was one.
I hadn’t cheated on a test; I was too lazy for their boring classwork. I had never gotten involved in a fight at school; my numerous bullies were more likely to make me cry than have me attack them. Sure, I stood up to my teachers, but it wasn’t like my classmates were by being disruptive. It was challenging the so-called knowledge they were trying to throw at me, where I became known for writing five-paragraph essays about how ridiculous my essay topic was. If you really needed me, you’d find me in the back of the class, writing.
The counselor walked into the office, a swarthy-looking red haired woman whose name I lost to time. While she wore thin, wire-framed glasses, I opted for funky, thick-framed black eyewear, which in 1999 was ten years before its time, and a pixie cut.
I was odd for a suburban town like Thousand Oaks; I was a brown haired, tall and curvy latchkey kid hanging out at the Barnes & Noble after school, while most of the girls were blonde, petite and yelling at their mothers to get them coffees from a place called Beanscene. They all went to the same church on Sundays, whereas I went into Los Angeles for Hebrew school. We had nothing in common; I couldn’t bond with these girls.
Their mothers were always around volunteering with extracurriculars while their fathers worked; my parents both worked in the city. The only time my mother didn’t was when it was time to take me to the psychiatrist, where he would give me his latest cocktail of pharmaceuticals, musing how he was just like me while shoving them down my throat. The drugs would cause me everything from feeling so angry I could barely contain myself to developing huge breasts and stretch marks all over my body. When I complained, he shrugged and said, “Look on the bright side: You’re not lactating.”
As she sat across from me, all I could think was maybe they were right. Maybe I was a problem child.
“How are you today, Reina?” the counselor asked me.
“Good, but I’m kind of wondering what I’m doing here,” I responded.
“I just wanted to check if you were okay.”
The counselor then went on about my poetry notebook. Less than a month after Columbine, I had written a poem, and it was sympathetic to the shooters. They were bullied as badly as I was, pushed so hard to the point where they grabbed guns and shot.
She thought I would shoot, too.
I was puzzled by this. I had never seen this counselor before, and because of one poem, she thought I was going to be murderous. She did nothing when I stood in the middle of the classroom and the boys picked on me so hard I burst into tears while my teachers did nothing. She wasn’t there when the girls would pester me, or my choir teacher would yell at me or push kids into doors.
Yet now, because of one poem, one girl, because of Columbine, she thought I would shoot.
My innocent hands had only picked up water guns. The only weapon I knew was my pen. The only harm I ever thought of was self-harm, and even so, I never acted on it, partially because my mother told me that if I ever killed myself it would kill my grandparents. She didn’t know about my psychiatrist, my home life or my life in the halls of high school. But yet this one poem meant dead bodies.
She didn’t remember that there were dozens upon dozens of mass shootings before this point. My parents would let me read their Newsweeks, and I followed the timelines since 1996, seeing pictures of white boys in orange jumpsuits facing trials. I couldn’t understand why Columbine had everyone spooked, like they had never seen anything like that. Yet I was smart enough to know why they did it; guys bringing guns to school, trying to look cool or make up for some missing part of themselves. And there was a hunt afoot for the next one.
I knew what the counselor was looking for. I knew the boys in my classes who hunted in the hills already, who killed bunnies and maimed them for their own personal pleasures. She never asked about them; it was about me, the girl with the thick-framed glasses, pixie cut and ratty Jansport. Because I wrote a poem. Because she thought I would shoot.
I explained to her what it was like to be bullied, to be treated the way I was by the others. That there was no desire in me to pick up a gun; rather there was a desire to understand, to process, to feel. In them, I saw elements of myself, of the pain and hurt that was inflicted upon me as a growing person, and in them I also saw the path I would never take.
Later, when my mother found out about me being called into the counselor’s office, she called her. The counselor told my mother she had never met a student with as much empathy or courage as I had. It was a lovely thought, but all I can think now was that she probably never found the kids in my high school who loved to play with guns and showed signs of being problems. She would have rather gone after those who spoke their truth, who were trying to find a way to cope before moving forward and speaking out.
It takes adult eyes to see the adult mistakes, and hers was the same one as today; where you want to find that one person who would cause the chaos when in truth the problem is larger than that. A sweep under the rug was all she wanted, in the form of a girl who people thought was strange anyway. But the problem with that was that she was smart, not to be packaged in a box.
Since that day, countless children have died at the hands of hundreds of young boys with guns. They have ranged from elementary school children to high school students in Parkland. And calling me into the office that day in 1999, thinking that I would shoot because of a poem, did nothing to stop them.
Now my generation is the adults. And instead of pointing fingers at the children who are speaking their truth, maybe we should use double-sided mirrors instead.
Julia always came on Wednesdays.
My mother would buy all her cleaning supplies and make sure the rags were washed so Julia could do her job. She would come in a teal pickup truck around 9 a.m. and begin to clean, as my mother would sit in her office and work.
Julia was a tiny Latina woman who barely spoke any English. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore low-slouching jeans and sneakers. She would be there about three hours, and my mother would pay her $80 in cash. During that time, my mother would talk to her in Spanish, as she was fluent. They talked about Julia’s husband, who was our gardener, and her young daughter.
I never asked if Julia was legal. My mother never told me if she was or not. It didn’t matter to her; Julia always did a good job, so she paid her.
One day, Julia came to the house tired. My mother noticed, and asked about her daughter. She began to cry; her daughter was very sick, they had been at the hospital with her all night. My mother paid Julia and sent her home to sleep; she would see her next week.
My mother believed in America, and believed that people should be able to work. She wasn’t giving free rides, but at the same time never treated those around her as less than; she even sponsored our childhood nanny for her green card. When we were younger they were invited to family get-togethers and birthday parties as guests. There was nothing dividing us.
My mother would remember her grandparents, immigrants pursuing a dream in America, seeking a better life and working hard all the way there. Taking odd jobs, from delivering flowers to running errands, in the hopes that their children would have a better life. She was on the other side now.
Julia came rain or shine, but as the years passed the circumstances changed. Cancer was on the bill for my mother. Julia kept cleaning and they kept talking, even at the weakest points of her recovery. Eventually she came back up from her bout with breast cancer, but not before sliding down once again into complications.
As time went on, my mother got sicker and her hospital visits more frequent. I had moved back home to help her, and would be there with Julia on Wednesdays when no one else could be. One week, my father and I had to be at the hospital with her. I pulled $80 from my savings account, gave it to Julia, and sent her home. We would see her next week.
Eventually, another Wednesday came. My mother was in the hospital again, my dad was with her and I was at home.
This was the morning she died.
Hanging up the phone, I started to scream and cry in her office. Julia rushed in, and I told her mom was dead. She shook her head and broke down, tears running down her face. We held each other for several minutes. She continued to clean afterwards, but I could hear Julia sobbing down the hallways.
When I left for the hospital, my cousin came to stay at the house. After Julia was done cleaning, my cousin and her simply held each other on the couch for a good half an hour before Julia went home.
My father continued having Julia clean the house after my mother died. It was almost in keeping Julia was keeping a part of her alive. He would get cash for her and leave it on the dining room table every Wednesday until the day he moved out.
And afterwards, like a dream, Julia seemed to disappear just as quickly. And it breaks my heart, wondering what has happened to her, her husband and her daughter.
I think of her child when she was in the hospital. How is this child different from me? I lived with a mother who I love, who cared for me when I was ill. I had a father who worked hard. We were past our immigrant stage, settled in America after generations of distance from my great-grandparents. They were once the dreamers of America, working hard and making new lives for themselves and their children here. My mother never forgot that. And she saw it in the ladies who worked for us.
I left my mother’s house to settle into a guesthouse in Beverly Hills. I saw the Latin women walking tiny dogs up and down the street, or trekking up the part of Coldwater Canyon without sidewalks wearing traditional maid uniforms. The Mercedes and Audis of this road combine with rumbling large trucks filled with lawnmowers, shears and Latin men, the ones constructing the fancy houses and maintaining the yards for the people so demanding and determined to live in the most famous zip code in the country.
And yet… do these people who they work for see them as people? That they have families that they love and still work no matter the circumstances, because otherwise they don’t get paid? That no matter how many 60-hour weeks their employers have, those people will still have enough money at the end to afford their homes and pay for vacations, fancy cars and private schools, while their workers are lucky to barely make rent?
Do those people remember dreams, and the dreamers who have them?
This country, our worlds are nothing without people like Julia — human beings who love and see more to the world than the status quo. Who reducing to “legal” versus “illegal” makes us forget that they are actually flesh and blood people with hopes and desires. Who work hard for their families and keep moving forward in the hopes that their children will have better lives here. Not everyone remembers.
My mother did. She would call to me, “Remember who you are.” She would remind me regularly that we are a country made from immigrants. She remembered until the day she died that America was for everyone.
Now it’s my turn. It should be yours too.
Hey Sean Spicer. I am here to tell you something important about the Holocaust: You don’t know shit about it.
It’s not like me to be vulgar in my writing. I’m usually one who likes to remain poetic and intelligent whenever I create these types of things. But the truth is that you don’t know anything about the Shoah. You don’t know shit.
The truth is not many people do. I don’t care how many times you have heard Holocaust stories, been to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., or even Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. You don’t know shit about it, and that’s the truth.
You might know the fact that six million Jews were sent to their deaths (although apparently your boss doesn’t). They weren’t the only ones. There were communists, gypsies, homosexuals and political rivals, people with disabilities and people of color. This is the short list. In total, the Nazis sentenced 11 million to death for being themselves.
You probably know about the concentration camps, although apparently you forgot about the gas chambers and their Zyklon B. You don’t know about the people forced to lie on the ground and have Nazi officers ride horses across them, and whoever lived were the lucky ones. You don’t know about the people who would be forced to dig their own graves and then be shot into them. How people would sometimes come to watch, as if they were going to the movies.
You don’t know shit.
You don’t know the people who would do anything to escape. They hid diamonds underneath their skin so the Nazis couldn’t confiscate them, using them to buy passage through Europe to safer places. They were the people who would do anything for freedom, who escaped on boats to places where their lives wouldn’t be taken. And sometimes, when on those vessels, were turned away from different governments and sent back to the slaughter.
You don’t know the people who risked their lives to save people. Priests who took in hundreds of children and let them grow up safe in their care. There were the men who forged documents in order to give people the safe passage to other countries. There were the women who hid families under floorboards, in attics, far away from the prying eyes of the Nazis. They risked their lives. You don’t know them.
You do know many of the neighbors of the ones who were taken. They turned their heads, hoping to save their own skins, not realizing that there were certain things in this world worth dying for. You know them because they are you, Mr. Spicer. They are your boss, his friends and those who kowtow to his whims. You are them now, in this moment.
They were you when you argued for banning people because of their faith. They were you when you dismissed the press simply because they disagreed with you and dissented. They were you when you have defended the actions of your boss, and affirmed his beliefs no matter how misguided they were.
Don’t believe me? If I asked you, at this moment, to take in a Muslim man, woman or child under pain of death at the hands, you’d probably shake your head and say absolutely not. You couldn’t risk that. Just proves my point: You don’t know shit.
You are not the one who understands the dangers of history repeating itself. Rather, you are the one trying to use it to your advantage, clean up the parts you don’t like and then play it for your puppeteering and spin doctoring.
You don’t know shit about it. You don’t know shit about the Holocaust.
I believe in the kindness of people, in the goodness of the world despite its evils. I’d like to believe we are better than another Holocaust. But with one hand you would take the evils of the past and with the other create the same exact circumstances that led to the past’s events.
And for me, and my future children and friends’ children, I will say the words that echo in my heart like a rhythmic song: Never again. And when I say those words, I say them for all mankind, no matter color, creed or anything in between; not just for those who I deem worthy at any given moment.
The question is whether or not the Holocaust happened; fortunate for those of us who need to constantly prove the history to Holocaust deniers (and possibly you too), the Nazis were stellar record keepers who kept meticulous entries of all their atrocities. The question is how do we conduct our lives based on this information. In a world where anger and finger-pointing run rampant, were hatred is easier than love and openness, how do we face the future?
Mr. Spicer, it’s time to educate yourself. You need to know more than just the basic facts of the Holocaust. You need to know more than the six million dead Jews.
You need to know the thousands scarred, the subtle history leading to the atrocities of war that we are mirroring on a day-to-day basis. You need to know about the boats turned away and the people who were sent back to the slaughter because people were too busy being scared rather than loving.
You need to know that that six million isn’t just a number; it’s human lives, people who had families and who loved and were loved. Six million souls, six million lights extinguished from the world and countless generations of humans who could change the world for the better, but perished at the hands of ignorance and fear.
Only then can you say, “Never again.”
Until then, you don’t know shit. You don’t know, you can’t know. And add your name to the list of the guilty, who sacrificed millions of lives for the easy way out.
Hello there, wherever you hail from. I am your resident weirdo and giant nerd Reina, and I want to be your friend.
There is no joke here, no punchline proclaiming various stereotypes that comedians might use to appear edgy. I am serious in my offer, from one person of G-d to another. Any laughter from this piece is accidental, although the goal here is to make you smile a bit.
Let me tell you a little bit about me first. I’m a freelance writer/editor and live in Los Angeles. I love all things nerdy, from Harry Potter to Star Wars and Star Trek, Buffy and Game of Thrones, as well as watching John Oliver and other funny political shows with my dad. We lost my mom in April and my sister lives far away, and so any time I can spend with him is great. And not only does he love nerdy things, but he’s very, very funny. I often post our conversations on Facebook, and it makes so many people laugh.
My cooking skills are on point, from vegan and gluten-free dishes to pure carnivore delights. That being said, I don’t cook with bacon or shellfish — I was kosher for seven years, and although I eat them when I go out now it still doesn’t feel right to cook with them. Yes, I am Jewish. No, this doesn’t stop me from wanting to be your friend.
I’m single, although ironically as a Jew in dating I have sometimes gotten along more with Muslim guys than even my own people. Yet despite a lack in relationship, I have a great group of friends who love watching movies, eating, Halloween, playing trivia, singing at the moon, going to spas and laughing together on a regular basis. We are like a little family, and I am sure they would love to include you.
The truth is that I was always a strange duck, even in my own Jewish community. I’m Jewish, but my mother’s family was from Turkey. For hundreds of years, since the Jews were accepted as refugees from the Spanish inquisition in 1492, the Muslims and the Jews lived together in harmony there while the Ottomans ruled over them. It wasn’t always good (in fact, my great-grandparents fled Istanbul to America because it was rumored that great-grandpa Solomon tried to overthrow the sultan as a part of the Young Turks), but we had each other.
In college, my disgust for how the people in my Hillel treated Muslims on my campus was strong. How could they proclaim discrimination against themselves and yet discriminate against others? Wasn’t our battle theirs?
Around this same time, I met Rudy. She was petite, but her warmth matched my height. Her brown eyes were just as kind as her demeanor, and we would often walk around campus together talking about anything and everything, from the bigotry faced by the 909-area code to the constant demands of our mothers. Our friendship was surrounded by jokes, because she was an Egyptian Muslim and I’m Jewish. The joke was always, “Don’t mind them, they’re going to go solve the Peace Process together.”
It was through Rudy that I met her friends, who were from all different regions of the Middle East. We never talked politics, but drank tea together and talked about our grandmothers, how they bugged us about getting married and all the delicious foods they cooked; they were similar because my family was also from the region.
This was seen as a betrayal from my Jewish community on campus. I wrote an article for the campus paper about the radicalization of both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on campus, and how moderates would be the only ones to solve the problems. My roommates called a house meeting to say how disappointed they were in me. A friend confronted my now-ex and said, “I hear your girlfriend is a Jew hater.” I could barely show my face in my own community. My Muslim friends rallied and hugged me tightly instead.
There are a million stories I could tell like this. I could talk about living in D.C. and meeting a girl in a hijab from Tennessee, who embraced me and told me growing up all her friends were Jewish too. Or about one of those friends from college that Rudy introduced me to, and running into him years later at an interfaith event when he told me I had changed his mind about Jews. But those are stories. What matters is right now.
Hate is coming for both your people and mine; no matter how many excuses my community makes, it is clear there is an anti-Semitic thread that weaves itself through the new administration as much as Islamophobia. While we were busy fighting with each other over the years about various issues, the hatred was coming at us from the outside. And now that it’s banging on our door, with threats of registries, removed hijabs and internment camps, we have decisions to make.
We can try to fight this battle alone, but the hatred is too strong and our individual communities too small against the growing tides. Members of our respective groups may try to site a conflict 7,000 miles away to divide us, but the truth is that it doesn’t stop the cancer growing here. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., who my father met and eventually took up his call: Hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that. He understood that it was his duty as a man of G-d. And it is now mine.
As a Jew, this is as much my battle as it is yours. The portion of the Torah where Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael come together once again to bury him. This is despite Ishmael’s exile, and eventual future as the father of Islam. I have always believed that we would come together again; for the sake of our humanity, it is essential now.
So if they register you, I register too. If they send you to the camps, I will go alongside you. We share the same father to our faiths; it is my religious obligation to stand up for you. Together we build a barrier against the hatred that doesn’t divide people, but embraces. Jews have seen this before; one-third of Europe’s Jews were destroyed over 70 years ago in similar circumstances. We say, “Never again,” quite often. Now it’s time to put our words into action and let our marching feet stand in for our prayers.
This is why I want to be your friend; because I know the days are going to get darker. If I have learned anything since the election, I know that now is the time to take up our arms in love and build the bridges we need to fight the battles ahead. I’m not asking for undivided loyalty right when you meet me; just conversations over coffee and dinners are a great place to start.
So let’s go to the movies, sing songs together, play trivia or even just share a hug. We need to begin our bonds now, because as they get stronger we need to stand taller. And the only way to do that is to banish the darkness together as friends.
So as your resident weirdo and giant nerd girl, may I suggest starting this by dining on an impossible burger at Crossroads on Melrose together? Because if this world is so incredible that it can make a vegan burger taste like meat, then our friendships should be nothing compared to that.
There is a dress that is sprawled out over the stool in the corner of my bedroom. It is a beautiful, gauzy white dress with an intricate sky blue detailing in the middle. It is one of my favorite dresses. And on Tuesday I will wear it.
I bought it from the Fox Hills Mall just before I left to go to Israel three years ago. I wanted to wear white on my Shabbat in Jerusalem, as the Kabbalists believe that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come, right down to the white of our garments. This was the closest to white that I could find, but it didn’t matter that it wasn’t all white; to me, there was perfection in the blue.
It reminded me on the little blue flowers on the Corelle dishware in my mother’s cabinet, or the Ottoman style fabrics that would make me think of my great grandmother’s life in Turkey. Yet it was long and dramatic, a statement of sorts. Just like the girl who would be wearing it.
I remembered how proud I felt wandering around the Old City in it wearing a white cardigan over my shoulders. I will never forget walking through the courtyards just above the Kotel and how it flowed around my body; the magic in the fabric was unmistakable. I would wear it many times after that, including on Tu B’Av, where Jewish women would go into the fields in white dresses and dance, and from there the men would pick a wife.
I am an American citizen, the third generation of proud Jewish women living here. When my family came here in the early 1900s, the world did not know of Auschwitz. It could barely conceive of the birth of a Jewish state. We were Jews seeking a better life, where the boys wouldn’t be sent to war and my family could be safe.
I remember sitting in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen with its warm wood paneling, cooking the delightful delicacies passed on to her from the centuries of life in the diaspora, and how thrilled she would be when she got an envelope that said jury duty.
“I love it,” she would say in that honey husky tone that was uniquely hers, yearning for another letter to call her for service. She hoped to learn and to understand the American justice system, to be a part of something bigger than herself, as my grandfather blared C-SPAN in the other room. How she told me in secret how she missed working and going to school. She was born in 1918; two years before the women got the vote.
Her daughter and I got into many battles together. My mom was born in 1945, almost 25 years after women got the vote. Being a woman in this country for her meant not necessarily pursuing her dreams the way her brother was able to, because women had certain expectations put on them. But she believed, even as the medical bills piled up in and the hair fell out of her head due to chemo, that this was the best place in the world to live as Jews.
“How can you not love this country?” she would yell at me when I would write one of my questioning American blog pieces. And there, watching her die and my opportunities fade as I tried to take care of her, I wondered how she could.
Neither of these women lived to cast their ballots in this presidential election. Six months ago, my mother was wrapped in a white shawl and buried in the ground in a pine box, per our custom. And on Tuesday, I will be wearing white too.
It’s because when I was 18 I discovered a copy of The Vagina Monologues in my mother’s bathroom. She didn’t understand those words of Eve Ensler’s, but I did. It was my voice as a woman who grew up in a town where girls were supposed to be quiet and accept their treatment at the hands of men. I was already 5’11 and had a voice that boomed, and a brain that was just as smart as anyone else’s. Why should I be silent?
My words spoke better on paper than they did in my vocal tones, scary as they may be. Yet they were meant to capture the distaste of what the world told me to be as a woman, let alone as a person. How I was told my aptitude for the written word was no match for the power of math and science. Yet even though I understood and respected logic and reason, I understood the heart is just as powerful. Why should I be silent?
Standing alongside me were the women who I came to know throughout my life, beautiful and strong, yet somehow felt silenced in telling their stories. They couldn’t speak their truths, ranging from sexual assault to health issues and discrimination in the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I understood the fears, yet I knew that their stories were also mine and should never be shamed or scrutinized. Why should I stay silent?
When the suffragettes of the early 1900s donned their colors, of purple, gold and white, they saw that we could be so much more. We didn’t need to stay silent. We were voices in this place just as much as others. We were battered and bruised, with women who pursued the presidency such as Victoria Woodhull (actually the first female candidate for president, even before the suffragettes were successful in their quest for voting) described as Satan incarnate. And we got that right, and for 96 years we have exercised it accordingly.
Now, after 96 years there is a woman running for president on a national-level ticket. She believes in what I believe in, as does the Democratic Party platform, so I am casting my vote for her. There is far too much to lose in this race as women if we don’t; I sometimes wish the men in our lives would see that.
For over 24 years, she has faced opposition to who she is as a woman: One who doesn’t stay silent. Who is ambitious and determined, and has every word thrown at her in the book. So have we all who have decided to take a different path than our mothers, who decide not to hide behind what we should be and instead strive for what we could be. We are loud and strong. She wears white. And we must too.
So Tuesday, I will wear white when I go to cast my ballot. The blue pattern in my dress, I realized, is to represent my matriarchs who gave my faith to me. Our Jewish faith instructs us to wear our prayer shawls with a thread of blue, and I believe truly that we pray with our hearts as much as our words. And my vote is a holy act.
My mother and grandmother believed in and loved this country, probably a lot more than my questioning mind does. They would have loved to vote for a woman for president. I am but one, but as one I am the culmination of generations and years of love and proud heritage, and will vote in their spirit. That is what I will be on Tuesday, standing with the rippling fabric that once flowed with divinity in my homeland, and will flow around me again.
My mother would always say to me, “Remember who you are.” I am an American Jewish woman, one of many. And on Tuesday we will wear white.
We were in the underground parking lot below the synagogue several years back. A group of us had just gotten out of Torah study. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits, with my knee high boots and a long denim tunic. I wore my leather jacket over it; it made me feel strong and tough.
I always sensed he liked me. He was overly flirty, and I brushed off his advances. He was pushy, bragging about his family’s money, how much they donated to the temple. He was a board member for the young professionals chapter there, and now a group of us were standing in the parking lot, him being one of them.
He knew I was looking for work. He said to me that he could walk me to my car, telling me he might have a job for me. I couldn’t say no. I needed the work.
We walked up the ramp to where my silver Saturn was. “What are your skills?” he asked me.
“Well, I write and edit blog content, work with HTML and SEO…”
“Are you a good kisser?”
What? What was he talking about?
“Um, I don’t know how that applies to my job skills,” I replied awkwardly. “But I’d like to think I’m a good kisser.”
“Because I’d really like to kiss you right now.”
Alarmed, my feet moved faster. My mouth became dry, because I realized how he manipulated the situation. I eventually was stuck by the front door of my car, but he had cornered me next to it. I couldn’t run; where would I go?
I told him that I didn’t want to kiss him, tried to steer the conversation back to work, but it was to no avail.
“I know you want me,” he said.
“No, not really,” I replied.
“Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not attracted to me!”
Looking him square in the eye, I said loudly, enunciating every word, “I am not attracted to you.”
There was a pause as if to register what I just said. Then, as if he hadn’t heard it, “C’mon, just one kiss.”
I kept saying no, and he kept trying to negotiate. Eventually, he asked for a kiss on the cheek. I agreed tepidly, hoping it would satiate him. But then he tried to move into my denim tunic — the v-neck on it was a little low, and I am rather busty. I pulled away as best as I could, but he kept kissing my cheeks, trying to get me to change my mind. It didn’t work.
Eventually he walked away, and I sped from the parking lot. A part of me was so angry that I wanted to run him over, but instead I just sped back to my then-apartment in Culver City.
When I got home, I realized several things about that interaction, like how it wasn’t my first inappropriate encounter, not even at this temple (that came from a middle-aged drunken gentleman one Shabbat dinner asking me to sit on his lap). It wouldn’t be my last. Also this guy was so powerful at this temple that I immediately knew there was no way in hell the men in charge would believe me. I stopped going to this organization’s events for the most part, unless I had friends who would be there to protect me.
My story isn’t rare; in fact, it’s more common than you think. When you have a community structure full of organizations that are dependent on the money of wealthy individuals to function, those individuals are dealt a hand of power. There are many who use it lovingly, but then there are those who use that power to use others and then make their transgressions disappear.
When I read in the Jewish Journal about Danielle Barrin’s story, I was happy about her courage, but slightly angry. She was explaining a story that happened in Los Angeles, but her assailant wasn’t from here; he was from Israel. The guy from my story above lives in the greater Los Angeles area, probably not far from the guesthouse in Beverly Hills that I call my home now. That temple isn’t far away either.
In many ways, it’s easy to dismiss it. Jews are usually upper middle class, owning homes and nice cars, donating money to charities and temples. There are many issues that we see as “over there” problems, particularly with social issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault. They’re so heinous we think that they can’t happen here, or we’re too scared to report it when it’s in our backyards.
Yet the first place that I can argue I was groped was at a Jewish day camp. I had just turned 12. The boys wouldn’t leave me alone, grabbing at me in the swimming pool and jumping so they could try to kiss my cheeks due to my height. I told my counselors. The result? “Well, they’re just doing that because they like you.” It was normal for boys to treat girls like a jungle gym; they weren’t reprimanded and I had to learn it was a “thing” and live with my isolation.
I never talked about that summer until very recently. I blocked it out of my memory almost completely, until therapy brought it back to life again. It colored my life and relationships even from a young age — that I was a plaything, not worthy of my voice, opinions or objections.
Up until recently, I felt alone. But in the age of social media we have become more open, particularly about our experiences with abuse and sexual assault. Sure, the social media age has given us some not-so-great things, but when it came to sharing our truths, it was an amazing place to be. It let us know that this wasn’t just an isolated problem, but an epidemic.
When the Trump assaults came up, I saw the echoes of my womanhood past, where we were forced to pretend it didn’t exist or, “that’s what men do.” There were many people who stood up against it. I saw people who were confused, and that’s okay too. But then there were those who excused it away, as if it didn’t happen. Not here. Not right in front of our eyes where we could see it and then pretend it wasn’t real.
Now these stories have a national voice, and hopefully it trickles down and gives hope to others going through those situations. I feel more confident coming forward with my story because of the one in the Jewish Journal, and maybe another woman will become comfortable coming forward from mine. There’s a reason why when a public figure is accused of sexual assault they come forward in groups; because when one person comes forward, it gives strength to others. I want to share my voice.
As for my story above, it came with somewhat of a happy ending. A friend of mine was on that same young professionals board of that temple, and he asked me why I didn’t attend events. As a close friend I confided in him, and as a decent human being he was absolutely livid.
“You know, I always sensed something off about him,” he told me. “I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I think I know what it is now.”
I swore him to secrecy; I was afraid of the backlash. I loved my Jewish community and wanted to still be involved; there was no way to do it if I was saying I was sexually assaulted in any way, especially by someone who had more power than me.
The months passed, and at one point I was in the elevator with that male friend and a girl friend. Apparently the same guy did that to her, and several other girls. That male friend then reported him, to which my parking lot assailant was reprimanded immediately. I attended one of the organization’s events recently, and he was nowhere to be found.
That ending was only somewhat happy. I felt shamed into not reporting due to the power that person in their organization had, and that is a place no one should be. Then I wondered if the only reason why it might have been taken seriously was because a man with power reported it. And when I spoke to a friend of mine the other day, I realized he continued to be friends with him only until recently, knowing two of his female friends had been groped by this guy. The reason why the friendship ended? Ironically, it was because the guy supported Donald Trump.
It was in this moment that I realized the power of patriarchy: not only does it not trust women or dismiss their claims, but it also silences women from the men who care about us, who want to be our allies. I tell the stories above, stories I told to my mother and female friends. Then I look at my father, and realized he doesn’t know them.
My father is as decent of a man that ever was, lovable, sweet and fair. He is truly the definition of a feminist ally, but I never told him about what the boys did to us. We shared it with our mothers and sisters, but not our fathers and brothers.
So one day, I took my dad to brunch. And it’s wasn’t about what I told him; it was what he taught me.
I have to ask about privilege. I have to ask.
My mind has been restless, turning over and over. Images from the news circle through my head: Convicted rapist Brock Turner in a button-down shirt exiting prison; opinion columns about Nate Parker’s rape accusations and the idea of consent; having an accused rapist in the NFL say that the most horrible thing that could happen is one of their players not standing for the national anthem.
You see why I have to ask. I can’t leave this question unasked anymore. There is too much at stake.
It’s because the question lingers in the back of my mind as I am sitting with her — at a dinner table, on her couch, over the phone, in a Laundromat. My dear friends, amongst so many, who tells me a story that might only be her story, that I wish could say was unique. I have heard her story before. One in five women have it.
I think about the night where I stood in a synagogue parking lot, or the one where I was lying in his bed in Marina Del Rey. One tricked me into letting him walk me to my car because he said he had a job for me, and I was looking for work; the other told me that he loved me before I forced myself to gather all my strength to throw him off of me while he was forcing me. In both cases, how I desperately tried to escape, and felt scared.
Then I watched how it disappeared so fast. The money was too powerful in both those cases. A flash of cash, and it all goes away.
Yet is it that alone? Nate Parker was the recipient of the largest distribution deal to come out of Sundance — $17 million. Yet in the wake of his rape allegations members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences swear they won’t see his movie. Yet they don’t blink for Woody Allen and his numerous cases. They gave an Oscar to Roman Polanski, who can’t even come back into the country. So maybe it’s not money after all.
The question lingers in the air. I have to ask about privilege. I have to because it’s been there my whole life.
Even as a young girl, as my body matured into womanhood and my libido starting racing faster than I could, we were told to BE for men. Wear this makeup to impress boys. Wear this perfume to entice. Lose that weight, no man will find you attractive if you don’t. Men were the ones who told us what beauty was, and we had to follow.
But not too much, though — you don’t want to rile them up. As Britney Spears proclaimed her virginity, we were expected to be chaste too. The purity culture was overwhelming. It tore us apart, and it made us question, but in secret.
We couldn’t wear midriff shirts in school because they would tempt men, yet they could change their shirts in the parking lot. I asked this as a freshman in my newspaper class in a corner. One of the editors decided to publish it into my high school paper; as a result I almost got beat up by the football team. You weren’t supposed to say anything; why couldn’t I be quiet like the other girls?
It was the same school where the wrestling team got suspended my sophomore year for raping several boys with a broomstick lovingly known as Pedro. It took months for the school officials to find out, but the girls all knew; we were threatened with Pedro by some of the boys with a twinkle in their eyes. We were the victims, and in many ways the perpetrators; our silence, unknowingly, betrayed others.
I think of those boys, of the ones who took advantage. They felt like they could, it was their right. The need to feel powerful in weak-kneed adolescence was overwhelming, so they took an option those in charge allowed them to take. In many ways, whether it was through words or the actions and inactions of others, they were told that it was okay. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.
It’s the privilege that creates the world we live in, with rape culture, racism and income inequality taking their tolls. However, the privilege also lives in the silence, because we don’t feel pressured enough to speak out. We talk in corners, but not openly with each other and not as often as we should. We live in a world where rape victims feel the need to hide because they are told that it’s all in their heads and not to accuse falsely while very few rapists get punished for their crimes. And in some parts of the world, there is rape that is legal.
So I have to ask about privilege. I have to ask because I refuse to stay silent anymore.
Privilege gives others the right to tell you what to wear on my body, whether it’s a bikini or a burkini, when in truth it doesn’t belong to you. It gives others the permission to say what you should do with your uterus when they don’t have one. And there is no room for questions or consent; it’s “my way.” Privilege means taking freedom that doesn’t belong to you. It means enforcing silence.
Yet I am standing here. I am asking because I have a voice that refuses to listen to regulations on my body that have no foundation in reason. Who sees the suffering of my friends, from warped body images, racism and rape, and told to “get over it.” Who are told that we have to be what the world tells us to. We don’t. And we won’t.
So as long as my voice is clear, I’m going to keep asking about privilege. And you won’t shut me up.
When I was 10 years old, on a chilly day in January, my mother sat us down at the kitchen table and made us write letters to our elected officials. Although I was too young to really understand what I was doing, one of those letters was to your husband, then president Bill Clinton. I haven’t written another one since then, but feel that now is the time.
You have to understand something about my mother: She loved this country. She was a Democrat, but proudly displayed the American flag on national holidays and put up a green light outside for veterans. When I challenged this country in my writings, she would write comments and say this country meant more to her and should mean more to me, to us and the future generation.
I was the rebellious one, taller than almost all the boys; the headstrong granddaughter of Turkish Jews blessed with my grandmother’s name, her bubbliness, savvy and sneaky sense of humor. The matriarch of our family who could have easily been a CEO if the times permitted, she could never have imagined America as it is today.
All my life, I heard things from outside my family structure; things that I can never shake out of my head, no matter how I try.
“Don’t be so bossy.”
“Sit still and be quiet!”
“Boys will never like a girl with so many opinions.”
“You don’t have to be so loud!”
As I got older, they morphed into other words, like “weird” and “strange.” And then there were my ex’s favorites: “You’re out of touch with reality” and “You f**ing b*tch.”
(As I am addressing what will hopefully be my future commander-in-chief, I hope you’ll forgive the language above.)
I’m sure you’ve heard all of these and worse. I’m sure my mother heard them too. We get them as strong women trying to break the mold. My mother, who was told “nice girls don’t go to college” in the early ’60s, worked part-time in packing at an ant farm factory to pay tuition at UCLA while her mother worried about her finding a husband. Fortunately for her, she found my father, a uniquely compassionate and feminist man.
My mom wanted to be a doctor, but “girls don’t become doctors.” Her brother did, and my mom worked in his office. She was wife to a theater artist and eventual entertainment tech executive, helping him type his MBA papers while enormously pregnant with my older sister. He encouraged her to finish her bachelor’s degree and her master’s, but at the end of the day my mother was the support for her ailing parents, two daughters and one niece, who had lost both her parents before she turned 30. She was the backbone of our family.
Growing up, while the world told me to stop being stubborn, she loved my resilience in disappointment. When I never gave up while others told me to quit, she was inspired. I made her laugh so much she nicknamed me, “the human Xanax.” Sure, as mothers and daughters go, we fought quite a bit. Although she was an active second wave feminist before I was born, we often disagreed about the ideas of men versus women. But at the end of the day, she was my strong, dutiful mother, with a dash of silly whenever she put on her light-up Mickey Mouse ears while working in her home office.
Meanwhile, I got my degree and married a man who was strongly and abusively conservative. I was too scared to speak up with my liberal leanings in fear of his rage. When the day came where I realized that he was too mentally unstable for the future, I fought my way out. My mother was there that terrifying night I left, calling me practically every five seconds to advise me, with my aunt giving me resources I needed to get out safely and legally protected and my friend offering me a safe house. In your own words, it took a village to get me out. I was broken, but determined to put myself back together.
Free of the constraints of marital censorship, the fight of feminism was mine to take on as a part of the younger generation, to shape how I wanted my future: Living independently and on my own terms, eventually working freelance in communications and obtaining national-level clients. Hoping for a full-time job to help pay off my student loans, but even when I didn’t get there, to keep applying. Keep moving. Be strong. Not necessarily with a man, but seeking one who longs to be my partner in family and the fight for equality. We as women can be the backbones, but we can be also the hands that hold tight to our dreams and work for them every day. The fight morphs and changes from generation to generation. And for many of those days, there was my mother, not always understanding but respecting.
I’m writing this letter to you because in April I cried at her hospital bedside because her face was so jaundiced and she was struggling to breathe. Her fingernails were the lightest shade of pink and she was running them through my hair. She told me she was proud of me and glad she got to know me as an adult. Less than two days later, I was wailing at the bedside, sitting on the hard floor holding that same hand, cold as ice while whimpering like a child, “I want my mommy.”
For two years, we fought the battle of breast cancer with her, sacrificing almost everything for her care. She died of a lung complication that took numerous doctors, plenty of “I don’t knows,” and eventually her life. It has been three months since then and there are still bills coming in that scare my father, her partner of almost 50 years, wondering how he’ll survive without his love. I think of your fight for health care and how my mother wanted to see it come full circle. How she cared about women’s health, teaching us at a young age that our bodies were not a place of shame but of pride. That being a woman was, in so many ways, an incredible thing.
And tonight, how I long for her to see you at this moment of your life, when “girls don’t become doctors” becomes “girls can become President of the United States.” It’s because she loved this country with her whole heart. And tonight, for the first time in a long time, I can say the same.
There are people out there who don’t trust you; many of them are women. It’s easy to throw labels around, toss words like they’re playthings: Corrupt. Criminal. Crooked. For almost 24 years, since you have come into the national spotlight as First Lady, you have heard them all yet remain stronger than Wonder Woman. You aren’t perfect, but as my mother used to say, you remembered who you are and kept moving. That is an incredible feat.
But the bigger task is at hand. The future of this country needs you: Allowing us to obtain quality educations without spending years in debt. Helping Planned Parenthood stay open and strong alongside access to birth control across the board. Making sure there are not only jobs for us, but equal pay for equal work. Letting us live without the fear of someone grabbing a gun and killing us. Allowing our parents to be comfortable in retirement, not scared of insane prescription and medical costs. Making sure that America is safe for all of us, no matter the color of skins we wear, those who we love and the places we pray. Yet still being someone who will be able to reach across the aisle, avoiding the dogged partisan politics of the past.
We, as the younger generation, need you to do this for us. We know what’s at stake in this election as you do. You have served as both Secretary of State and in Congress. You are beyond being a woman in this race; you are utterly qualified, and I put my faith in you.
One of my favorite stories is that, when you were a girl, you wanted to be an astronaut and you were told, “NASA doesn’t hire girls.” Well, guess what? I want to hire a woman for my president, and I have to believe that the rest of this country will too, for the sake of democracy. I hope you take that torch all the way to the White House for the memory of my mother, Jacqueline Amira Slutske, whose smile I saw reflected in yours Wednesday night after President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. So let’s get out there and show them what we’ve got.
Reina V. Slutske
Once upon a time, we were girls.
We clomped in our mother’s high-heeled shoes around the house and tried on her makeup, wondering what it was like to get older. We watched television shows with adventurous, curious and confident female characters, whether we wanted to slay with Buffy, fight evil with Sailor Moon or even be smart like Penny from Inspector Gadget.
We drew hearts around boy’s initials with ours on our middle school binders and dreamed about our various superstar crushes. We dreamed of falling in love, not knowing of the consequences.
We developed our own styles. Some of us put on red lipstick and vintage prints, wanting to be Gwen Stefani. There were the girls who dreamed of being Courtney Love, wearing baby doll dresses and grunge flannel shirts. Others wore cute little plaid skirts and danced, hoping to transform into Britney Spears. But we loved being girls.
We then got older, and our bodies started growing. And that’s when the talking began.
“Girls don’t say that! Girls shouldn’t do that! Girls can’t wear that!” they growled.
“Why not?” we asked.
“Boys will get distracted!”
We wanted to argue it wasn’t true, and our education was just as valuable as boys. Yet there we were, being groped in the hallways and pressured into things we didn’t want to do. When we tried to tell, the administration told us it was our imaginations. That doesn’t happen here. Yet tell that to the boy at my high school who was assaulted with the end of a broom. It made girls scared; if boys could do that to each other, what could they do to us?
There were also the lecherous teachers who purposefully sat the girls in miniskirts in the first row or paid particular attention to certain girls in their classes. We knew who they were. They were adults and we were “children.” They would fight for their own, not for us. We were sexualized long before we were ready to have sex, and the code was silence. If you were smart, loud and stood up for what you believed in, like I did, you were punished.
We were girls. We deserved better.
And these were the girls who were sent off to colleges across the United States. A lot of them rebelled from the mentality of “sit still, look pretty,” or at least I hope they did. They probably learned more about themselves during these days than they did during puberty’s grip. But unfortunately, as these girls turned into women, some of them turned into victims of rape, which according to most statistics are one in five women (there are very few statistics on men, but there are estimates of one in 71).
A lot of these victims have no name. In the Stanford rape case against Brock Turner, she is only identified as “Emily Doe.” On my college campus, she was known as a Jane Doe assaulted in the hallway of the business building my senior year. In fact, in journalism one of the first lessons I was taught in reporting was that you name everyone in relation to any crime — except for rape and sexual assault victims.
To this day many of them still have no names. It’s sometimes because they are one of the over 80 percent of rapes that are never reported to police, or they are victims who refuse to tell anyone, even their own families. Perhaps it’s because of the idea that they might be told it was all in their heads and targeted as false accusers. Maybe it’s worse than that.
I wish I could say rape stopped in college and as soon as we left we were safe. But we weren’t. We still aren’t. I hear the story about my cousin finding out she had been drugged at a party, and telling her friends so they could get her out before it’s too late. The sobs from my friend when she woke up the at a friend’s house blacked out with her pants off still ring in my ears. Another woman is on her couch passionately talking about her own rape on a fourth date as I talk about the boy that told me he loved me, and about an hour later I threw off of me when he tried to force me to have sex with him. When I told my mother a year ago, she told me a similar story from when she was dating.
We became a part of a never-ending rape culture, so we began to follow a survival creed, whether we were single or with someone. Instead of adventurous and curious, we had to be cautious. Watch your drink. Be careful how you dress when you go out, don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t go out by yourself, particularly at night. Feel free to drink, but don’t drink too much. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be easy, because who would believe you if something happened?
We had to stop being girls, because being girls meant being naïve and possibly becoming prey. We had to become women to take responsibility for our own safety. But then we’d hear the calls throughout out lives: “Well, boys will be boys!” Boys never had to stop being boys. They can be boys for as long as they feel like, even into adulthood because it was “cute” or “fixable.”
On the playground, boys could hurt girls until they cried and then have the girls be told, “Well, that just means he likes you.” It meant boys trying to act more aggressive, screaming obscenities at those whom they thought to be less manly. And yes, that sometimes included showing their junk off, whether flashing or sending that sexually harassing text with an inappropriate picture in it.
There were fewer limitations. They were expected to be rowdy and act like wild ruffians. They were allowed to be dominant. There was no one judging what they wore to class or whether they spoke up too much. They were boys.
Even though they didn’t have to stop being boys, most of them wanted to be men, too. The pressure for obtaining masculinity was high. They had to be physically strong and fit a mold. Don’t cry, be tough, don’t show that you feel anything other than anger. The goal was to be so powerful that they dominated others, including other boys who were “different” — gay, brown, black, Asian or even differently abled. This was called patriarchy.
They were also told about being men was that, in order to be good enough, you needed to get two things: money and girls. In that mentality, we were not people. We were things to be possessed, purchased, conquered. And if you had enough money and privilege, you could.
A lot of boys hated it. They were the boys who never made the football team, never got the girls, couldn’t get the fancy jobs that were supposed to bring them everything they could ever want. Quite a few got smart, seeing that there was another way to be men, and they found that there was often a great power in respect for others.
But others began blaming, finding anyone to target, often hurting women because they felt slighted by them or there was no other way to obtain them. On both sides of the spectrum, whether rebelling against traditional masculinity or embracing it, it was all about dominating women and girls, being stronger than us. We were surrounded, harassed with open threats of rape online and subtle hints of it in real life. Women couldn’t stop looking over our shoulders, sometimes wondering if we could trust our male friends, as often the perpetrators of rape are people we know.
We were girls. So is every woman who is a victim of rape or has to thwart an attempt. We rally together to take back the night and help protect each other in bars. Yet there is something lacking in those conversations: The men aren’t there. They don’t hear the stories we tell one another about rapes and sexual assault. But if we talked as openly with the men in our lives about it as we do the women, they would.
It’s time to change the conversation. We are better than this, both men and women, and the power of sisterhood and brotherhood means we should act as one human family. We are partners in making this world not only better but also safer. And it’s time that we act like it.
We need to talk about what rape means, what male to female relationships boil down to. There have to be discussions about the over-sexualization of our society. We need for them to understand that our friendships with one another don’t mean the other owes us anything. We need to teach boys that it is not having girls, money or privilege that makes them powerful, but their own individual contributions to this world that do. That it’s okay to feel. That women count just as much as men, and in order to dismantle the roles that society has given us and let go of rape culture we have to do it together. It’s because rape culture began when we were children and grew into a weed wrapping us up with it, and we need to kill it now.
There is a new generation of boys and girls, watching new shows that tell them all the amazing things they can be, with fashion icons and crushes to draw hearts around. But what are we telling them about each other when we can’t figure out as adults how we relate to one another? They deserve to have a safe world, to know that the way of adulthood is not where men and women become enemies on a battlefield. It’s where we become partners in figuring it out, because somewhere inside of us we are still the children on the playground before the world told us what we should and shouldn’t be.
We are women and men. But we are also boys. We are also girls. And at the end of it all, we are people, so it’s time to start acting like it.
Spending a summer in D.C. as an intern is like living in a political sausage factory for about two months. It’s hot, sweaty and not always pretty, but you bond with your fellow workers while drinking beer and riding through the muck that is politics.
Several things can happen after: You love it and embrace the political lifestyle completely; you fight against it by heading into different places for a career; or feel utterly indifferent to both sides of it and look for your success elsewhere, but keep seeing your history there pop up every four years.
I’m the third option, and it’s this election where I’m seeing my past come out in full force. In that summer back in 2005, I met Senator Bernie Sanders on an early June morning in the State of the Union room in the Capitol Building. I’ll never forget my friend Robert whispering in my ear, “How the hell did he get elected? He’s a freakin’ socialist!” Yet he was one that never changed his position: I saw him speak in Hollywood, and he was saying the exact same things as he was then.
That same summer, I had an incredibly libertarian economics professor named Thomas Rustici at Georgetown University. He was a 6’4 Sicilian with a thick Virginia accent that used to say regularly, after certain examples, “So you die. And that… would be a tragedy.” I used to amuse my classmates by impersonating him in the courtyard. But you never found a more passionate man about his subject, and a more loving person in protecting his students — myself included. This election cycle, this man became the senior economics advisor for Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign.
When it comes to my political beliefs, except for a few issues, I keep my views rather private (I honestly don’t even know who I’m voting for in the primary yet). Half of this is credited to a background in old-school unbiased journalism and the other half to a tyrant of an ex who, when I tried to defend my beliefs, would call me names and tell me how I lived in a little fantasy land. However, I’m okay with not being a big mouth in this way: It keeps me a mystery in the realm of political activity, and that’s just the way I like it. Anyone can come talk to me and not feel judged, and if there’s anything in my life that I hold onto as a creed, it’s that everyone feels safe and welcome with me.
Living the D.C. political sausage factory taught me a lot about the current state of government. Yes, there are politicians who love and care about this country. But they aren’t really revolutionaries; they are men and women, imperfect people who sometimes we lift up to be deities in the form of campaigns and dress up in our own desperations. I see the facades: The people who are poised at the backs of the politicians to play them up as the voice of the people, the snippy little soundbites for the cameras to use, the clickbait-style headlines and the talking heads who echo them on different media channels to hype them up. I don’t worship at that altar. Rather, I’ll cast my vote and try to do right by the people around me on a person-to-person level.
Yet I can’t pretend I’m not scared. I can’t fake the fact that I’m starting to look at options for other countries to move to if a certain candidate is elected (gee, I wonder who that could be…). When I suggest taking advantage of moving to Spain under the Sephardic heritage clause for citizenship or even heading north to Vancouver or Toronto, my mother looks at me with watery eyes and her oxygen tank pumping, saying, “How could I abandon my country in its hour of need?” Yet I look at her and wonder really, what this country has done for her, as a regular law-abiding citizen. When I look at my parents’ generation, who has been scrambling through economic hardship alongside their friends while the CEOs of companies who they pay their bills to live as fat cats, I get puzzled by the blind love.
It used to be that I would sit in school and be told to love America, say the pledge of allegiance and hear that this was the greatest country in the world, the land of opportunity. To not ask what my country could do for me, but what could I do for my country. Yet after all the years of being kicked around economically and seeing my government and talking heads pointing fingers rather than actually solving problems, I feel something worse than love and hatred for my country: utter apathy.
How can I even begin to care about America when I’m still trying to figure out how the hell am I going to survive on a day to day basis? How can I wave a flag when my mother’s healthcare is basically a game of how much money can be taken out of her retirement by drug companies, as she can’t live without for her treatments? And when it comes time for regulations to be put on those companies by the government as how much they can gouge us, there is simply a shrug from them. So I shrug back at the sausage factory, and all the electoral year games people play.
When Ben Carson abandoned his campaign and joined with the evil one, I hadn’t seen Professor Rustici that angry since I had been his student the night he caught some girls giggling at mention of the Holocaust in class. I will never forget his roars of anger, like a lion, and how they tore through the room. It was the same way he tore his former candidate down on Facebook, several times. How dare Ben Carson side with racism, sexism and intolerance in the hopes of a deal? How could he support someone who is against everything the constitution stands for?
No matter how many times I disagreed with this man on economics, I remember the night after that roar in class how he cried in pain with us, his students. How he turned to me and told me how he couldn’t imagine those girls giggling and the way it would hurt me, a Jewish girl. How, no matter what happened politically, I knew that he would support tolerance and freedom and protect his students. He would be a human being first, which gave me a level of respect I have for very few people. And he was still the same today as he was then.
Somewhere in me I see through the political fantasies, the excitable memes and the barb throwing. I do want what’s best for this country, but at the same time have learned that the catalysts for change come from many different places, not just from politics. Often, politics are the last to catch up to the changes that we experience together as human beings; in an election year, when there seems to be so much at stake, people forget that fact.
These changes build up from tiny places, starting in the micro level in our communities. They come from the people around us who we invite into our lives and get to know personally. It stems from discussions and communications with questions and answers, not insults and terror. It derives from our pop culture, showing acceptance and diverse stories on our television sets and in our music (film… well, we need to work on that). And it comes from mutual respect.
It’s that easy, and at the same time, that hard. And when I cast my vote in the primary, I’ll be remembering that.