Letter: Standing Together

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I must write, as I try to understand what is happening around me. The world truly seems to be turning upside down, as values and mores change, truths evolve and face alternative truths in the mirror, asking themselves who is the true truth until the point where there is no truth but for a giant mud pit.

The national debacle has reached Middle Neck Road and an election for library board trustee for heaven’s sake! The vitriol, however, and I do not want to sound like Mr. Trump after Charlottesville but I must, comes from both sides.

Derision of tightly held religious beliefs, blatant racism against Chinese people, hate speech directed at Persians, not just from Persians—none can be accepted, let alone tolerated. Tolerating any level of hate speech, starting with laughing at a racist joke let alone supporting a candidate espousing hate, gives that racist the room to grow, to build.

One way to run a campaign, let alone find a way to live one’s life, is to divide the world into “us” and “them,” “mine” and “yours.” What happened to “we” and “ours”?

I started wearing a kippah [yarmulka] because I was tired of “passing.” I could get by—or at least I thought I could get by, until 1981 when I got busted as being a “Jerusalem boy” while selling TVs in Albany—as being a White American Man, with all the privilege that goes along with that title. I was just this close—if it wasn’t for the big J on my passport.

This wasn’t the first time I was beaten up or mocked for being Jewish, but it was the first time I got busted when I thought I was passing—it was different.

I remember when I met my first Sephardic Jew—a Syrian Jew in sixth grade—and he was the first Jew I ever met who didn’t emanate from Europe and the Holocaust.

In my day school in Brooklyn, Sephardic Jews were a small minority and, so, being Ashkenazi in Brooklyn I thought this whole Sephardic thing was just a small minority of Jews coming north up Ocean Parkway.

Of course, the truth is just the opposite. The reality is Kulanu Yisrael—we are all Jews: Iraqi Jews, Iranian Jews, Syrian Jews, Polish Jews, Russian Jews, Latvian Jews and Jews from South Africa, England, Morocco and Yemen.

Guess what? Hitler only saw Jews—he didn’t differentiate.

He also didn’t ask if you were Orthodox, Modern Orthodox Conservative, Reform, Mashadi or Tehrani. Heck, after I write this letter I have to practice the mandolin for playing at Shabbat services at my temple—I’m a Reconstructionist.

So, if you start pitting one group against another, using stereotypes and hate, as a Jew, after all that is going on both on a national stage and a local election stage, along with a bomb-mailing stage, you’ve surrendered your ideals, only to have become the beast.

—Sam Yellis

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