Thoughts After a Trip to London
I didn’t plan to write what you will see below. I thought that I would use my column opportunity to write about upcoming programs like CBD @ Homes July 12th and Jewish Time Travel- a Night in the 1800’s our event this next November 14th at History San Jose and even our formation of new Havurot. After all, outreach and engagement are my responsibility here at CBD and I love this kind of thing.
But… as I write this I have just returned from visiting my daughter in London, where she is studying for a semester abroad. It has been a great experience for her and I wanted her to share her temporary home with me.
Getting ready to go, I did what I always do, I put on my Hebrew Tefillat HaDerekh necklace and my big Magen David and packed my Siddur. I hate to fly so, OK, I admit it, I see these things as protection, my secret (now not so secret) amulets for travel.
My daughter has been going to Jewish student events just about every Shabbat and all holidays while in London. I haven’t asked her if she has ever been afraid to go to those public gatherings or if she has ever had an experience with anti Semitism, because I knew that the questions would annoy her.
She did apply for, and attend a week long program in Brussels that enabled students from around Europe to learn about anti Semitism and ways to combat it and meet with EU epresentatives to discuss and address the issues.
So, I wasn’t completely surprised but was only somewhat taken aback when I arrived at our hotel and she looked at my star and indicated that it might be a better choice to remove it. When I asked about that she said that she didn’t want me to find myself in danger. She was not insistent about it, she didn’t seem too worried, but she had mentioned it, so, for the first time in my life, I removed my star because someone might decide to harass or hurt me. I left my Tefillat HaDerekh circle necklace on. It didn’t scream JEW.
I made contact with a Rabbinic colleague in London but we didn’t get to see each other. I want to ask him what things have really been like for him, his synagogue and community. He serves the most active Masorti congregation in London. That conversation is still to come. I did not personally have any bad experience, but then, I literally was not wearing my gold star. I bought challah and some kosher food items at Selfridges department store, however, and nobody bothered me. I know that these things are happening often enough and it did make me uneasy.
Fast forward to coming home. Leaving the London hotel, I put back on my star and tucked it under my coat. I flew into LA, went through customs and approached security for my connecting flight to SFO. The TSA security man watching the scanner said (I kid you not) “hello! Have you been travelling a long time today? You must be ready for Shabbes!” I said, “yes!” and asked him how he knew. He pointed to my star. I felt my first “welcome home”.
Yesterday, Barbara Biran and I ran into Rubios at Westgate to pick up a quick fish taco. We got up to the register and ordered and the lady behind the counter said “ you know, Tilapia is a cousin of catfish and I don’t think you can eat catfish”.
What??? We both thought. ‘Thank you” we said. “We didn’t know that” and Barbara changed her order. “ How did you know we couldn’t eat catfish?” We asked. The lady at Rubios pointed at my star and explained that her daughter was a nanny for an observant Jewish family who became like family to them. Even though Tilapia IS Kosher, we were so grateful for her words, her care, her understanding. I felt my second “welcome home”.
I share this knowing full well that there are significant challenges with growing anti Semitism here in our own country, particularly for our students on college campuses, who are facing a well organized, foreign government funded anti Semitic effort couched in anti Zionism.
I share these stories with you specifically so that we remind ourselves of two things. First, we must face these attacks on our youth head on with political and social advocacy, and with funding for pro Jewish efforts supporting and protecting our students wherever they are. Universities are the incubators of horrors that can soon permeate our society at large if we are not vigilant.
Second. Let us remember how wonderful our country is and can continue to be, if we all ensure a communal mutual respect. We are so very blessed to live in a nation where our Magen David is a symbol of pride for us that promotes positive engagement, learning and sharing with others.
So, I guess this turned out to be an article about community engagement and outreach, albeit a different kind than I set out to write about.
May we always be involved in both kinds,
connecting with others in our community for the sake of appreciating the whole society we share AND connecting here in our own synagogue to deepen and appreciate the beauty of the heritage and traditions we have as Jews.
May they both be a blessing.