The events of the last day have been far more than disturbing, they have been terrifying.
I lived in Skokie for 13 years. For those of you who only know of Skokie as part of a silly line in The Usual Suspects, it is more than just a land of barbershop quartets. It’s a beautiful suburb of Chicago that has a diversity of population, home to one of the largest outdoor malls in the United States, and was and is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the United States. I lived in four separate places in Skokie, even owning a home there for four years.
Decades ago, Jews fleeing a war-torn Europe settled in Skokie, many of them Holocaust survivors. In 1977, a group of “Illinois Nazis” decided that they wished to hold a march through downtown Skokie, as nothing more than a giant “fuck you” to the men and women who had survived Hitler. Wrongly, the Village denied them their permit, and the Nazis sued, all the way to the Supreme Court, and in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Illinois Nazis had the right to march. Ultimately, they didn’t march, but the damage to the community was done.
I tell you this because when we had the house in Skokie, we lived directly across the street from a feisty, little old lady named Linda. Linda was a widow, and her husband had been a rabbi. He had come over to the States after the war, where he had survived the camps. His first wife, hadn’t. They met, fell in love, married, and had two sons. In 2009, just before Dex was born, the Illinois Holocaust Museum opened its new facility in Skokie. A number of charming groups of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites came to protest. We stayed away from it, but over the next couple days, you could tell Linda had been rattled. Eventually, in talking to her, she revealed that her husband had been very involved in the effort to counteract the Nazis in the 70s. That Nazis were coming to his home, to march down his streets had eaten him up, had made him sick, even, if you believe Linda turned his hair gray prematurely. He could not, would not let what happened to him in his youth, happen in the youth of his children. And when the same assholes showed up twenty years later, she felt the old fear again, clawing at her.
When I first met Dexter’s great-Grammy, Helga, all I knew about her was she was very short, so short, it was said, she could fit in your pocket. Short she was, but she had a spirit that could fill a stadium. When Helga was in the room, you knew that Helga was in the room. Later, I learned her life story; that she had been born in the 1920s, a young Jewish girl, on the porous border between Germany and Poland. Eventually, as the Continent descended into murderous chaos, her parents got Helga and her two sisters onto boats; Helga came to the States, her two sisters, and her parents, were able to escape to Australia. Long decades passed before the family would be reunited. And yet you never, not once, got a sense of the torment her childhood, and long separation from her family must have grinded on her; she was so sunny, such a bright light in your life. The only time I ever saw a hint of this was while Dex’s mom and I were planning our honeymoon. We had hoped to go to Australia and New Zealand, to meet that side of her family. When we told Grammy what we had hoped to do, it lighted up her eyes like I’d never seen before; we had made her so happy, with something so simple. Unfortunately, the funds weren’t there, and we had to plan something else. We broke the news to Grammy, and I saw the only flash of anger I would ever see from her. “No. You will go. You must go. You must meet your family.” And she then she called up the travel agent and paid for the whole trip. Helga is the bravest woman I have ever met.
Finally, we have Dexter. Dexter is a Jew. To these people, he is subhuman; something to be exterminated. He’s 8. All he knows of the world is that he just learned how to bike, how to bilk even more Pokémon cards out of me, and that he’s preternaturally talented at mathematics. How can people be so twisted by hate that they would rain death down on an eight-year-old?
And so, this is a long way of saying that we must meet them. We must meet them with our words, with our votes, and I now believe as is likely, with our bodies. The time is rapidly coming when people who have first-hand experience with the horrors that these people bring with them like the peeling of some grotesque leper’s bell will be with us no more.
I have met, and loved, those who lived through the horror this world experienced the last time at this particular rodeo. I have heard their pain, seen their anguish, and how they bore witness to their desperate plea to us, “never again.”
Not this time assholes, not ever again.