My Family Is Black and Jewish. Here’s What Charlottesville Means To Me
Today was a painful day.
A group of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, screaming hate slogans, waving swastikas and Confederate flags, and even saluting Trump with the Nazi salute. Chaos erupted. A car drove into a crowd. Our President’s response was vague and useless.
It’s painful to see the swastikas and Confederate flags raised — especially by young people. It’s painful to watch footage of violence lighting up the night, as torches light the path back into the past and call to mind burning crosses and hooded henchman. It’s painful to watch terrorism take lives.
But I also I felt a new pain today: the pain of being a mother. Today, it was personal. It was the pain of watching men march in opposition to our bi-racial Jewish-Black family. They oppose my life as Jew and the lives of my family members as Black Jews. They find the family life that brings me such joy to be an abomination.
Who is more American than my family? What is more American than our joys — picnics in the park and trips to the beach and walks in the farmers market? But they see only hate.
This is a new pain. It’s a mother’s pain, and a mother’s terror. How can my child be safe in a country where white men are so filled with hatred? How can my child – both Black and Jewish – thrive in a country where men shout “White Lives Matter!” and “Jews Will Never Replace Us”?
Today I felt the pain of an American who loves America but also knows all too well how deeply violent and full of hatred it is. It is the country my ancestors fled to and where they found freedom and prosperity beyond their wildest dreams. But it is also where we face hatred, otherness and anger at the success we came and fought for.
I have felt the pain of knowing that I benefit from the legacy of slavery, and the legacy of Jim Crow. I feel the pain of knowing that we must fight back against racism or lose our souls — even if some members of the movement don’t want Jews there, and claim we should just go home. I soldier on, for my child but also for myself, because this is what I believe in.
But being Jewish has prepared me to love America while also criticizing its failures. Jews are often asked within our faith to hold two truths in one hand. We believe that man has free will but also that Hashem has a plan for us all. We believe that Moses was a great leader and also failed and didn’t enter the Promised Land. We are uniquely capable theologically and culturally of holding two truths.
It’s how I know that America is both our sanctuary and where our neighbors were brought in chains. It is both our home and a place we can never fully trust. We have more freedom than ever before but the swastika still haunts the doorstep of our synagogue. We love America but wonder if our kids are really safe at our local JCC.
With pain comes strength and determination. With pain comes a fire in the belly and the soul. Like the last weeks of pregnancy, like birth, pain is transformational. I am filled with more fire and strength to fight hatred than ever before.
Carly Pildis is a political organizer and advocacy professional based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter, @carlypildis.