Op-Ed: Lessons From My Mother

Silence is complicity. That is a lesson that has been deeply ingrained in me as far back as I can remember.

When my mother was five years old as a little Jewish girl growing up in France during the Holocaust, her parents were forced to send her to the French countryside to hide from the Nazis in the home of a Christian family friend. She never saw either of her parents or her two older sisters again. Her story has always had a profound impact on me and the lens through which I view the world. Her story has taught me to never be silent against hate of any kind.

It is why, when there was a Muslim ban put into place, I spoke out and wrote my first op-ed to condemn it. It is why I led a group from my synagogue to deliver baskets of fruit and cards of support to our local mosque in Huntington after a mosque was attacked here on Long Island. It is why when young children were being ripped from their parents’ arms at our southern border, I organized rallies and met with legislators to demand their reunification. It is why with the rise of Anti-Asian hate incidents across the country, I helped organize events to support our Asian community who were feeling vulnerable.

When our most vulnerable LGBTQ children, and particularly our transgender children, found themselves the center of political discourse and the subject of suppressive laws across the country, I led our American Academy of Pediatrics chapter in the Long Island Pride Parade to show support for our LGBTQ patients and families. When we saw anti-Semitic flyers surface in Huntington last year, I urged the town to issue a statement of condemnation. I did all this because my mother’s story taught me that silence is complicity. I believe that it is only through education and through embracing our diversity that we can effectively counter hate.

Jewish children of my generation were taught to ‘Never Forget’ and that it could happen again. While I never quite believed that growing up, the last few years have been frighteningly eye opening. The sight of men  carrying torches shouting “Jews Will Not Replace Us” in an American city shook me to my core. At the time, I was deeply concerned about the politicization of hate, as our country’s leader saw “very fine people” on both sides. I was also struck by so much silence at the time and a general lack of concern about what had taken place. Fast forward six years, and the silence in the face of anti-Semitism is once again deafening.

Like most Jewish people, I was horrified by the barbaric attack that took place on October 7th; the stories of raped women dragged through the streets, of babies and whole families burnt alive, and women and children mutilated and decapitated. It has been difficult to process. But the worldwide uptick in anti-Semitism that has since ensued has been profoundly disturbing and overwhelming. Whether or not one was previously of the belief that to be anti-Zionist is inherently anti-Semitic, it took little time for it to become glaringly clear that for some anti-Zionists, it was always about hating Jews.

Jews like me who feel the generational trauma of the loss of relatives they never met are feeling stunned at the speed with which anti-Semitism has exploded both here and around the world. The overwhelming number of stories on our newsfeeds of swastikas in restaurants and schools, of college students intimidated and threatened, and of signs held at protests calling for the world to be cleaned of the Jews is startling.

To many of us, the speed and the momentum feels unstoppable, like a runaway train. Whether one agrees or not with Israel’s policies and leadership, it remains abundantly clear that Israel remains the only place in the entire world where one will not be targeted, threatened, and attacked by one’s own fellow countrymen for being Jewish.

Like so many Jewish people, I pray for peace and mourn the staggering loss of life in Gaza. I pray for the safe return of the hostages, and I pray for the 1,400 Israeli families who lost loved ones through unimaginable brutality.

This past summer, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Paris. I located the names of the grandparents and aunts I never met etched in stone among the tens of thousands of other names of all the French Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust that filled wall after wall at the entrance to the museum. As we now witness historic levels of anti-Semitism in our own country, and as I long for support, I only hear silence, and it takes my breath away. So, I now pray for American Jews as well. I pray that the lessons of my mother and of history do not fall upon deaf ears. I pray that those who we as Jews have stood up for will now stand up for us as well.

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