It's hard for me to put pen to paper when it comes to terrorism. It's hard for me to write about my feelings when it's all beyond understanding. When humans act worse than animals, when the world looses individuals of impact, when the media reports unfairly, when the vast population doesn't register the dangerous trends.... I just sigh in painful hope that some else has a better answer to it all.
When I was younger, I was terrified of Disney villains. I often had nightmares of them haunting me after they moved on from the hero of the movie. This was a fact of life and I expected their visits. I was afraid of the dark... But even more afraid of the shadows that arrived when a nightlight was added. Sometimes the solution forgets to supply comfort.
When I was in high school, I feared tests and projects. I worried about fitting in, but furthermore being true to myself. I was scared of rejection and insecurities.... but never scared of being a Jew.
Transitioning from an 8th grade class of 10 Jewish students to a 9th grade class of more ethnicities and religious identities than I could count, I reviled in the dance of diversity. I pranced around from traditional Indian dance performances, Pilipino hip hop, and Christmas lyrical. And in return, I represented my faith and my nation with thoughtful answers, samples of traditional food and the hereditary sense of humor. Proud to be Jewish in the mixture of my public high school, I had to catch my breath when I look up from my Freshman biology project and a blurred swastika appeared.
It's masking tape on a tshirt. It's a boy’s joke of a symbol is an attack against me. It's a wake up call that sometimes it's not cool to be Jewish. It's fear. And I tell him immediately to take it off. He asks me if I am a Jew and I reply, “Yes, I am, but that is besides the point, because the Holocaust is no joking matter.”
But, my bold reaction didn't dispel my disgust of this foreign behavior. My sister, returning from a teen trip to Poland, volunteered to help me with a counterattack. I remember that next day suiting up for school wearing my Israeli Defense Force shirt and Star of David necklace; fortified by my secret weapon grasped in my shaking arms- my sister’s photographs of concentration camps. I walked up to him and offered this evidence, holding my breath as my legs shuddered. There was something in his expression when looking at the photos. Something so honest and apologetic. And then he respectfully showed the photos to his friends who were joking with him about the swastika the day before. I released my lungs as he returned the pictures to me simply saying, “Thank you.” Relief. Triumph. Hero wins. Villain learns a lesson. I'm a strong Jew. I am a proud Jew.
But then it keeps happening. At the UC schools. In Europe. In New York. In Israel. I just keep watching the nightmares come back. It's all encompassing. It's not cool anymore to be a Jew. It happens when we stand up to our villains and especially when we don't. It happens when we are distracted and even happens when we are focused. So what's the point? When does the happy ending block out my nightmares?
Strolling around Disney World, hand in hand with my family, I am back to my childhood. I am back to believing in heroes overcoming the odds. Skipping around nostalgic landscapes, I learn how to continue being a Jew. It works just like the magic in Mickey's wand. It's the power that feels so obvious in our imagination. So I close my eyes and imagine my future children skipping and jumping around with kippahs and Hebrew wishing around them. Just for a second, the future is so real... I can allow myself to get through the present in order to bring about the magic. I can allow myself to continue believing in our creator even when my people buying kosher food are murdered. I can find determination to amplify my freedom of speech even when others were murdered for theirs. I can continue living even though others weren't given that choice.
I can and I do this because there is pride in survival. Even when my left arm is tied behind me and my right eye is punched out, I can continue fighting back. And when I fight, I'm fighting for everyone else who can't anymore. I am fighting for the magic of the future to unravel. I believe that Jews will continue despite terrorism. I even believe that we might continue because of terrorism. I know for certain that I am a stronger Jew from my 9th grade encounter with a swastika. I testify to the desperate need for Israel because I stood in gas chambers in Poland. I feel the pain brought on by our villains, prepared for their threats to continue unfolding. I have yet to discover solutions to the nightmares. We as a nation are stumbling with a bloody nose, still going at it with our fierce determination, fighting for a magical victory.