When I was ten years old, I was at a bowling alley with my friends for a birthday party. I remember that a boy I didn't know walked up to me, and made an antisemitic remark right to my face. Do I recall the exact words? No. The words didn't matter, because the feeling that struck me the moment he said what he did have been branded in my memory and my heart forever.
Where does a boy of around ten years old learn such hate? What kind of home did he grow up in, I still to wonder to myself. In light of the recent mass shooting in Pittsburgh, I am struggling to put together the words to explain what happened to my 6 and 7 year old boys. They understand the concept of a "bad guy", but a "bad guy killing Jews because they are Jewish" I simply cannot fathom how their little brains will absorb such information.
Part of me is stalling, ignoring the fact that I know I need to tell them, cause it's best they hear it from their parents before anyone else. But what on earth do I say?
As I grapple with trying to find the words, I can't help but think about my grandfather who was from Dusseldorf, Germany. He fled to South Africa just before World War Two to escape the inevitable fate of the gas chambers. Alone, with not one word of English in his vocabulary, he began his life from scratch, And, oh what a life he had. One filled of success, love, wealth, and family to the ripe old age of 86, when he died of an aneurysm doing what he loved most - playing golf.
We all have a grandparent or distant loved one with a similar story of how resilience, strength and grit drove our ancestors to live lives of meaning, depth and substance, even in the harsh spotlight of anti-antisemitism or hate.
It is these important qualities I want my kids to embody and to project to the world without having to face any of the same hatred, opposition or challenges as our forefathers.
It's my 20 year high-school reunion this month, back in my home town of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Small and remarkable was my school - and the thing I remember and cherish the most about it is that it was a Jewish day school, rich in traditions, prayer and Zionism, but it welcomed any and all races, religions, and families. Out of 27 in my graduating class, only 11 of us were Jewish, but all 27 of us were a family. It absolutely didn't matter what holidays we celebrated, what dietary requirements we had, or what prayer schedule we followed. What mattered, plain and simple was that we treated each other with love, respect and equality.
What happened in Pittsburgh's last weekend, and all the senseless antisemitic tragedies that we have lived through in our lifetime, drives that burning need to say and do something to end this extremist madness. As helpless as I feel, I think the small part we can play as parents to young children is to keep reiterating the message of love and tolerance between adults, and to our children, who mirror our actions every day. Being kind, inclusive and polite to the crossing guard, the Starbucks barista, the person who cuts in front of you in the school kiss and ride lane... everyone.
We need to love deeper, listen intently, talk louder, include widely and embrace our different heritages with great pride.