I will get back to the Writing Reseda series, but I need to say a few things about what happened yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Oddly enough, this is a story about Reseda and something that happened to me 40 years ago. It is about the first display of overt and direct anti-Semitism I ever experienced.
I won’t name the student, but he had been spouting Nazi philosophy from the moment I met him. I tried to ignore it, but when he found out I am Jewish, he started directing his hatred towards me. I told my mom about it, and she shared some stories of her own. She was a teenager during World War II. In one class, a student wrote some anti-Semitic slogans on her blouse with ink. And when they showed the newsreels of the liberated concentration camps and the atrocities committed by the Germans, there were those in the audience who cheered at what the Nazis did to the Jews.
Yes, while we were battling Nazis in Europe, my mom had to deal with them at home.
And the more I had to deal with that Nazi in Reseda, the worse things got. One day when I was sitting with my friends, he started kicking me. I don’t know what happened, but I found myself springing to my feet and throwing punches at him. Fortunately, he was as bad of a fighter as I was. I chipped his glasses, and he cracked the crystal of my watch. My friends vouched for me that I acted in self-defense. He was suspended. All that happened to me was that a vice-principal asked if I was OK and ready to go back to class. When he returned to school, he never bothered me again.
This is the lesson I learned: You can’t reason with racist bullies. You don’t try to understand them, see them as just another side, rationalize their behavior, or deflect and blame others. You stand up and defend yourself. That is what the counter-protestors did in Charlottesville. For that cause, Heather Heyer gave her life.
There have been many Republicans and Democrats who explicitly condemned those white supremacists. This is a good and necessary first step, but there must be consequences for those who support or enable this hideous and un-American behavior. They must be removed from office. As long as those in power tacitly endorse their bigotry or ignore their crimes, American people and American values are in danger. We owe it to Heather Heyer and the brave soldiers who gave their lives battling fascism and tyranny to see that those politicians are fired or impeached.
I learned this lesson in Reseda 40 years ago. It’s one we have to learn again.