Thursday, September 15, 2016

Real life story of a white trash Jew...

"Substantial progress towards better things can rarely be taken without developing new evils requiring new remedies" - William Howard Taft 

In my life, I’ve had to deal with a little anti-semitism, but it has never felt omnipresent.  There have been moments, but it hasn't been a lifelong struggle.  I knew, and could see, that culturally I was a little bit different, but not enough to impede my movement in life.   I listened to the stories of my Grandparents, two of which were immigrants from Russia and Poland.  Listened to the stories of my parents, raised in the 40’s and 50’s in Brooklyn and the Bronx. There were plenty of tales, and more than enough about anti-semitism and the battles they fought to know that I had a much different, and easier reality.  The fact that it was an afterthought, in my mind, had always highlighted the progress made prior to me. 

I lived in an area during my teenage years that was on the outskirts of where a lot of working class white people lived.  I was in some new apartment complexes out of the thick of it, but bussed, went to school and hung out with them.  It was hiding in plain sight, I was raised by educated, Jewish New Yorkers, but since I also lived in affordable housing with my Mom, wore Metallica t-shirts, had long hair and was a smart ass in school, I fit right in.  I saw, from kids and adults alike, a lot of your general working class, racist, ignorant shit.   The worst was usually overhearing a neighbor or friend’s parents say they “Jewed someone down on the price”, usually looking at me shortly after saying something like, “don’t worry Benny, you’re like, a good one”.   I know it’s weird to say, and I’d like to keep a black and white line on racial issues, but there is a difference between truly racist and kind of dumb.  It was annoying, but we’re not talking about holocaust deniers or anti-Semites here, just general dumb asses, who usually had something shitty to say about everyone, themselves included.  In fairness, dumb asses like this are still half my friends, and I’m basically one of them.  

The issues I had with proper neo-nazi, white power dudes came about via hardcore shows.  When I started going in the early/mid 90’s, the trail off of skinheads at shows was still there.  Apparently not very long before I started attending, it had been far worse, and a lot of the scene had organized or become violent against it.  By the time I got there it had mostly been removed, but we had our problems, two stories below highlight this.    

My first real face to face with it was somewhere around 1994, ironically at some kind of charity event hosted outdoors on a high school football field in Hillsborough, NJ.  A nice town that I had many good friends in, but the part of NJ that starts to be far away enough from the city that it’s getting closer, culturally, to a more conservative mindset.  A couple friends and I had gone to see XBoundX, our favorite local hardcore band at the time.  The show had an outdoor stage, an odd mix of older/younger bands and a bunch of unusual show goers in the crowd.  

During their set we started a circle, there weren’t many of us but we managed a few solid pile-ons.  Then two guys, not kids, grown ass men started thrashing around the circle.  They seemed drunk, they were shirtless, and just getting off on anything amplified.  In the spirit of a positive pit, there were smiles and these dudes were just trying to have a good, drunken time.  No harm, no foul.  Then I saw this huge tattoo on the big guys back, clear as day, a giant swastika with an SS solider pointing a gun over top, a full size back piece.   I was floored, never seeing anything like that before and my head started to spin.  My friends saw it too and it made for an uncomfortable couple songs until there set was over, we were trying to have fun and avoid these guys at the same time.  

After the set, the tattooed guys were milling around and eventually made their way over to my crew.  Drunk and loud and rambunctious, they walked over and started saying what’s up to everyone and bumping/shaking hands.  This dude got up to me, and I froze.  In my memory it feels like I was sitting there for an hour, thinking about this tattoo, this guy, this place, imminent regret for not standing up for myself and eventually thought of my family.  I can’t conceive Judaism without thinking of my Grandparents, and in some terrified but willful show of disobedience, I pulled my hand back and told him “I can’t shake your hand.”   Still happy and confused, he asked “Why?”  And I said, “Well, honestly, I don’t like that tattoo on your back”, to which he replied, “What, are you a fucking Jew lover.”  I said, shaky and small, “well actually I am a Jew”, he said, with great disdain “well you’re a fucking Kike then”, and stormed away.  

I have to re-iterate how scared I was, and how my little protest wasn’t done with a puffy chest.  I was seriously shook and thought I would get killed if I didn’t leave.  There were no more bands anyway, and I had all the people I knew there walk me out to my friend’s car.  There was no further incident.  But I didn’t take it lightly, and the further into adulthood I get, I despise the man who treated a kid like that more and more.    

A couple years passed, and that incident took a backseat in my head, it’s Central Jersey after all and you don’t have to go far to find many cultures living closely and comfortably with each other.  As a joke and half-hearted attempt at showing pride, my brother and I made a little run of shirts.  6 were printed, they said the ‘Jewish Mafia’ on the front, and had a star of David on the back with NJJC written around it, for New Jersey Jew Core.  Since we were naive to actual realities and struggles of Jews present in our community, it wasn’t more than a goof to us and most involved.   Actually two shirts were traded to an unknown fellow for Warped Tour tickets, there whereabouts are still a mystery.  
Not long after, I went to see Snapcase, Refused and Turmoil at the Trocadero in Philly.  I had taken the train in with one friend, neither of us the tough guy types.  I wore my NJJC shirt, thinking not too much of it again, assuming what happened previously was an isolated incident.  Anyway, I sort of liked the attention it brought, I was and am a bit of a ham and liked the “conversation starter” aspect of the shirt.  Turmoil opened the show,  being one of my favorite bands at the time, I naturally started dancing and singing along and piling on bodies.   As I was finger pointing at the front of the stage, having a blast,  I got cracked in the head, really hard.  I was literally seeing stars and stumbled off to the side, I got myself together and quickly assumed I had taken a foot or fist from a stage diver, accidentally, it happened pretty often.  

During that era the Philadelphia scene had a group of dudes that called themselves “Philly Straight Edge”.  If knowledge serves, it was mostly local, drug free, bike messenger guys, who always wore Philadelphia 76ers Clarence Weatherspoon basketball jerseys and started many circle pits  at shows.  I had met one of them backstage at an H20 show,  he had long dreads, can’t remember his name.  This guy walked up to me and said, “you alright man?  That dude fucked you up”.  I didn’t know what he was talking about, but points to a few dudes staring at me across the room, skinheads, and big boys too.  One of them, apparently, had run full speed behind me when I wasn’t looking and punched me in back of the head.  A fucking weak move, due to me being about 16 years old, and the guy not even having the courage to face up on me.  

Getting my bearings, rubbing a baseball sized lump on my head, I saw a group of 3-4 of them, and they were talking and pointing right at me.  I was about to get rushed and stomped.  But, luckily, before I knew it, about 6 Clarence Weatherspoon jerseys and two security shirts rushed the guys and forcibly removed them from the building. Those dudes, luckily for me, were not about racist shit, and were quick to come to my aid.  Security probably wanted to get ahead of it since it was the 1st band and they’d already started punching people, just to maintain the peace.  I recovered, and watched rest of the show.  Refused and Snapcase were great.  

They were crazy times, but they least in my perceivable reality. It’s something that hasn’t come up in so many years for me in a tangible way.  I moved to New Brunswick area at the end of high school and ran with groups of either musicians or artists or students for many years.  Then I toured, then I wound up in a newly gentrifying part of Jersey City.  All these places were safe, and somewhat secluded from the sentiments of so many I share not only the country with, but the state.  Well, thanks to some recent loud-mouth celebrities, it’s come back into my life. 

It’s a long story, but I have been actively trolled by white nationalists and anti-Semites on twitter for the last few months now.  It started one night on a Hillary Clinton thread with someone using the (((echoes))) around my name, which are a new online Star of David.  A way of branding Jews on the Internet to be attacked by other like minded jerkoffs.  I was honestly crushed, I tried to take the high road and not engage.  Later that night I was so upset I just blocked anyone involved and deleted all messages included.  I decided that it was social media’s fault, if I wasn’t active on this site, I wouldn’t know that these people and their thoughts existed.  I live in a good community where this isn’t tolerated and I don’t have to see it, so why am I subjecting myself to it?   I decided if it’s on your doorstep, engage, if not, be the better man and leave these fringe thinkers alone.  They’ve always existed, and now they have a medium to share besides for local Waffle House’s and shit…then it followed me home. 

I can’t tell the whole story here, for sake of real life fluidity, but the day after this incident it came close to my doorstep.  It involved a colleague of my wife making a rude and totally out of line comment about changing her name to Horowitz, and the problems such a name will bring about in her life.  

These two instances have had my mind spinning for weeks.  Why, how, what the fuck is going on!?!?!  All this displaced anger and rage and sadness I don’t know what to do with.  My John Wayne side furious, knowing that if these people were standing eye to eye with me they would never say these things.  Emotional at the thought of my Grandparents, my Grandpa, who went to Yeshiva and nearly became a rabbi.  Who instead, ran grocery stores in Harlem & the Bronx and had a reputation for being extremely liberal and generous to people of all kinds, a rarity in those days.   My Grandma, who escaped Poland with her family before the war and would quietly turn the lights off Friday night and light a candle and say a prayer.  My Aunt, the Rabbi, who has such great faith in God and religion that she navigates the bureaucracy of it as a lesbian woman despite the struggles she’s faced.  

And the funny thing is, I’m not a religious man.  As anyone who has ever read this blog knows, I’m spiritual and agnostic but generally live in a continuous state of existential flux.  I think most conservative brands of religion come with great and unnecessary social consequences.  But now I’m branded a Jew Zionist because of my last name.  Even though, I’m questionable about Israel, its policies and its close and often questionable ties to America’s military.  I hold all atrocities accountable to the people creating them, hence my open admission to America and Israel being fucked up places with blood on their hands, as I believe all countries in the world, in order to become sovereign nations have had to have been fucked up places with blood on their hands.  I’ve been around a lot of the world, and no place exists without internal turmoil over its past and divisions...regionally, socially, religiously or otherwise that separate them and cause some degree of strife.  

Call me a hippy, but I believe the end game has to be universal peace.  How many history books do you need to read to understand that borders and war and dogma lead to the same result, literally EVERY time.  I believe these lines in the sand and dirt that people bleed and die over are fake and artificial.  They’re not divine, they’re man made and should be as fallible as man is.  Just as the stories they bleed and die over are essentially man made at this point, the reason I believe these words and books should also now only be used as guidelines, not instructions.  

But, even with that said, these people look at me and see 8 hook nosed Hassidic men who apparently control with world via media and banking conglomeration.  They tell me Hitler was right, and just didn’t finish the job.  They tell me all I learned of the Holocaust is artificial and the forearm tattoos I saw at my Grandparents wedding anniversary as a kid were apparently fake.  That it’s a Jews inherent sketchy and evil qualities that lead to their own persecution.  That they want my wife and my son displaced or dead.   

My mental instinct is to rise above, to push out this negativity and meet it with optimism.  The emotional side wants to fight, engage, and literally beat the shit out of all who think in this way.  It’s confusing, and sad, and I suppose I naively thought the progress that developed would just continue.  It’s also the natural ebb and flow of thought and society to have setbacks, I just hope it’s not a permanent one, and will try to remain optimistic.  What other choice do I have?  


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  2. When you start to lose faith in humanity, there's this letter by E.B. White worth reading:

    That said, wow what the fuck. How is this still even happening. Being from the Philippines, my knowledge of Jewish people only comes from films like Escape from Sobibor, documentaries, and the Internet, but it doesn't take a Jewish person to know what a completely outdated view these people have. Good on you for taking the high road. It must take a lot to not want to choke them or something. I hope your family is always safe and far away from idiots.

    P.S. I never knew you were Jewish until now. I sort of associated your last name with cookies, but I'm not quite sure why. Sorry!

  3. I'm sorry all this happened. I grew up in Clinton which was--at the time--super white bread farm country. You don't have to go very far north or west of there to encounter some real frightening attitudes. I am sure Brian saw signs of this in Hackettstown.

    I totally agree with what you said about artificial boundaries and the trouble they cause.

    "Let men's petty nations tear themselves apart
    My land's only borders lie around my heart"

  4. Benny-

    I'm proud of you for writing this post. This may or may not make you feel better, but latent and blatant anti-semitism (and bigotry in general) is alive and well, even in the suburbs of a blue state like NJ. I'm pretty confident that if you ask Jews if they have experienced similar instances of anti-semitism, ranging from the ignorant to the hateful, you will get close to a 100% response. The reasons are complicated and I don't have a good answer on how to handle it -for you or for my kids.

    Unfortunately, the internet and social media have only exacerbated the problem. Perhaps the positive view is that, through social media, people can ultimately become more connected and educated. Instead of Jews commiserating with other Jews (or any group doing the same), knowledge and understanding can be spread, especially to a younger generation.

    You are part of that effort and your words and voice are powerful and they help. Keep it up.

  5. Benny-

    As an Orthodox Jew (who is a rabid TGA fan), I may not agree with all that you wrote but I am extremely grateful that you posted this. I have two teenage kids and the (not so veiled) climate of hate and anti-Semitism (often masked as anti-Israel, btw) we live in is often terrifying. I don't have any answers for the way the incidents made you feel but I hope you will at least take solace in the knowledge that you are a member of a people who, as your Grandparents embodied, pride ourselves on living lives intended to improve the world around us.

    We are certainly imperfect but we are certainly perseverant as well. To overcome the hatred and violence we have survived is a testament (no pun intended) to our strength as a people and it gives me hope for the future. I for one am certainly glad to have you as a member of this tribe.


  6. Benny, so sorry to hear this. I too have had to deal with situations like this. I find that while I'm not always sure what I believe in, I do cling to the Jewish culture and history more than anything in times like this. It makes me feel like part of this tribe and proud to be who I am.

    My great grandparents were also from Poland (my maiden name is the same as yours,spelled differently!), and left before the war. My grandma and great grandma worked to raise money to smuggle families out. How can anyone deny?! The buildings are there. The proof is there. What more facts do they need?!

    Helps to stick together.