January 8, 2021
Dear EDCJCC Community,
I spent this morning in our parking lot, watching joyful children leap back into their preschool worlds, ready for Friday morning Shabbat & Share, greeting their teachers and friends, leaning in with their forehead to have their temperatures taken, eager for the day ahead.
And as I looked into their eyes and the eyes of their parents, I could not help wonder what they knew about these past few days. Were they asking the same questions as my nine-year-old daughter about how some people can be so angry and so mean?
And then I came inside, poured myself a cup of coffee, and encountered a powerful piece on Kveller, which I later realized was written by an EDCJCC preschool parent about her daughter, Esther-Rose. She began to answer my question and captured much of what was making me mad and sad this week.
I just lied to my 4-year-old little girl, right to her pretty little curly-haired face, about why her school is closed today. I told her it was because of a traffic problem…. She accepted this — she was happy that it wasn’t because of Covid-19, and that school would open again on Thursday.
The truth, however, is much uglier.
The real reason her school was shuttered is because it wasn’t safe to go to school today.
This is the second time this school year her Jewish preschool has had to close because of… extremist [groups] marching in support of President Trump.
While violent white supremacy has always existed, for most of my life public displays of it were not a regular occurrence. My daughter’s school [was] closed on Wednesday because fascists are marching against democracy. They are marching to take away your vote — our votes — the vote I fought to mobilize and win while I served as director of grassroots organizing for the Jewish Democratic Council of America. The vote Americans died for, both in the American Revolution and during the civil rights movement. The vote we are still fighting for today. At 4, my daughter is just beginning to learn about voting, and about how wonderful democracy is. She hasn’t learned yet that it is also fragile.
While downtown DC [was] dangerous for everyone [during these riots], it [was] particularly dangerous for my family: We represent everything these people hate. We are Jewish, we are interracial, and my daughter and husband are Black. We are everything they want to burn down and destroy. Just how can I tell my daughter this awful fact? And when, exactly, is the appropriate moment to tell her how much some people hate our family because of who we are proud to be? They hate our Blackness, our Jewishness, and our proudly multicultural family… When should I tell her that people died to be able to vote, and that we still need to fight to protect the ballot, especially for Black people?
As for why school is closed today, my husband and I struggled with what to tell her. In general, we prefer age-appropriate truths to flat out lies. But this year has been a very scary time for us all, and we didn’t want to scare her further. What could we say that was truthful, but not terrifying when we ourselves are frightened? And so, we made the decision that childhood is precious — especially Black girlhood, which tends to end far too soon.
So we decided that we won’t let these marchers take that from her. As a Black Jewish woman, there will unfortunately be plenty of opportunities for her to experience hatred. So I want her to learn to love herself first: her Jewishness, her Blackness, herself… At home, we dance to Beyonce and Debbie Friedman. We talk about love, and loving ourselves, and how proud we are of who we are. This is a part of how we resist: We celebrate who we are and live lives full of joy. The day we must talk to her about hatred is coming, probably sooner than we’d like. But we are instilling love, confidence, and pride first. When it is time, we hope to tell her a story of a world where hate still lives, but that good people are fighting for equity and justice every day.
I want to be able to hold this mom and close and say we’ve got you. Together, we will create a world where your beautiful Esther-Rose will always be safe, seen, and loved. A world where she can trust the integrity of our leaders and the sanctity of the Democracy we hold dear. A world where her school will not be closed because of violence in the streets. And a world where the color of her skin will not stoke hate and fear in others.
Right now that hope feels both totally naïve and absolutely necessary.
How do I create the space for her, for me, and for all of us to hold two competing truths? A truth that what happened this week was not a fluke, but rather an almost inevitable consequence of years of stoked hatred. It was disturbing, disgraceful, and unsettling. That change will not come easily and that hope is a privilege not all of us have as much access to as others.
But also the truth that she and we are part of the EDCJCC community, which deeply holds a belief that the world can and should be better than this. You are part of a community that does not sit passively by and wait for change to come, but rather actively engages in the hard work required to create the kind of world we want to live in. You are part of a community that has long held Jewish values that all people are created in the image of God and that together you and I can change the world. I need to be able to hold all of these competing truths and I invite you to make space for them too. This is not simple, and there is no quick happy ending to the story that we have witnessed this week. We can feel broken and scared and do not need to tell ourselves that because the streets are now quiet that everything will be okay. And we can also commit to building towards something better.
Esther-Rose, everything is not okay and yet, we’ve got you.
Holding each of you close and wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Chief Executive Officer, Edlavitch DCJCC