What will the community do to stop anti-Semitism right here?
Right now, I am sitting on an airplane scrolling through my Facebook feed. I am sitting here wondering how is it possible that our country is so advanced that we are able to provide in-flight WiFi (thanks, JetBlue), but we can be so primitive that people still resort to bullying and violent crime to boost their own self-confidence.
I grew up in Oviedo. When I moved here from North Carolina, I experienced more diversity and inclusion in my own neighborhood than I had ever experienced in the five years I lived in Concord. On my cul-de-sac, we have people from Jamaica, New Zealand, Colombia, Peru, the United States, Turkey, Brazil, India, England, and Lebanon, and we are one big family. There are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and others all in this little circle of 12 houses. And we have never had any conflicts. We don’t just tolerate each other because of our cultural differences. We accept each other, we embrace each other, we learn from each other, and we love each other because of our cultural differences.
So, why now, in my county, and in my little town, have people not just stopped loving each other, but even tolerating each other? Three weeks ago, a photo of our friend’s house was posted on social media. They had an Israeli flag displayed in the front of the house. Someone took a bottle of red spray-paint and fashioned a large, red “X” on the front of the flag. I can understand that not everyone supports Israel, but that does not mean it is okay to violate this family’s right to express their own political beliefs, violate and destroy this family’s property, or violate this family’s safety.
That was the first time I had ever felt unsafe in my city. Not just because of my political opinions of Israel, but because the people who displayed that flag were Jewish, just like me. And when one member of the Jewish community is a target of a hate crime, we all feel like targets.
That was the first time I had felt unsafe in Oviedo. The second time was today.
Today, I wasn’t even in Oviedo. As I write this, I am on my way back from the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly in Washington, D.C. I attended this conference with thousands of Jewish community members who have a common goal of creating a strong and vibrant Jewish community all over the world. But, as I was preparing to listen to speakers such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, The Honorable John Baird, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough discuss the strength and continuity of the Jewish people all over the world, I saw a post on my Facebook news feed that another friend in my hometown woke up this morning to see that her home was vandalized and her garage door was covered with swastikas.
I am sad. I am scared. I am frustrated. This is a place I’ve always felt safe and welcomed in, that has always been open and inclusive to everyone, and has now made hundreds of members of the community feel unwelcome. Today marks the 77th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” that started the Holocaust. Glass has not been shattered, but our community sure is broken. We say that we should never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, and that we can never let them happen again, but this is how it starts.
Maybe this would be different if it was an isolated incident in Seminole County. Maybe I would think it is anti-Israel sentiment if this was the only hate crime that had occurred. But now, two Jewish families have been targeted by these hate crimes. This is not just anti-Israel sentiment, it is blatant anti-Semitism. I am disgusted by these actions that have occurred in our community. If my little cul-de-sac can peacefully co-exist, then I know that all of Oviedo, and all of Seminole County can do the same.
It is not everyone’s fault that these targeted crimes are happening, but it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure they stop happening, so that our entire community can continue to be a safe and welcoming place.
I have always loved growing up here. I have lived here since I was 5 years old, and now at 19, I am still here attending the University of Central Florida. But, as a 19-year-old, I should not have to worry about whether or not I will be a victim of a hate crime and whether it is still safe for me as a young Jewish American to live here. So I urge you all to help put a stop to the hate now, before it gets any worse, and to make sure that everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views always feels welcome and at home in Central Florida. I am doing all I can to educate others and open the door to engaging in civil conversation about political and religious beliefs and preventing violence and hate, but what will the rest of the community do to help?