A journey in New York bolded below. It brought back my own experiences of antisemitism—and I wasn’t even Jewish! I just happened to be the only goy on an almost totally Jewish ball team. “Jewboy and kike rang in my ears as I raced down Shaw Street in west Toronto chased by ignorant bigots the same age as myself—12.
Such random hatred changes people. At first you cannot articulate it because you are young and confused. As you advance in experience and wisdom and remain open, you are able to name the virus.Then you begin to counteract it as best you can wherever you find yourself. Your DNA now includes an important building block called antiracism. It is a gift and possibly a burden. It is a summons within history to a divine call from beyond. And there are no exceptions to this. Even though you might be middle class, your commitment is not upward mobility but downward solidarity. This was the great gift of the Palestinian Jewish rabbi Yeshua ben Miriam, Jesus of Nazareth. Your love transcends both your tribe and your biology.
This is the tragedy of the Nazi holocaust. Narrow minded Jews tried to hoard it instead of universalizing it. The lesson always is: never again to anybody—Afro-Canadian, immigrant, homosexual, Palestinian.
It brought me to tears several times, evoking memories of anti Semitic attacks when I was a boy on the Upper West Side in Manhattan during and toward the end of World War II. The two blocks coming home from P.S. 93 on 93rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue to 94th Street at Columbus Avenue was a daily adventure and challenge. Most days I would get home safely from school, but many times I’d get home bloodied, bruised and my clothing torn with the epithets, “Jewboy, Kike, Christ killer” ringing in my ears.
My father wrote a letter to the newspaper “P.M.” or its successor paper, “ The New York Star” about these repeated attacks against Jewish children, his own in particular. The letter, a single column wide, perhaps eight inches long, spoke about the irony of such anti-Semitic attacks while our servicemen were fighting and dying in the war against fascism that was brewed and nurtured in anti-Semitism. The letter was placed, all by itself on a black background, taking up a whole page of the newspaper. I haven’t seen that letter or the newspaper for about 70 years. I’ve unsuccessfully tried to find my father’s letter through the internet. I’m not skilled at such research.
One incident during those days took place at the 8th Avenue Subway station at 96th Street and Central Park West. I must have been twelve years old. I was taking classes at a Synagogue on West 97th Street to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah. With that, the Hebrew School had recruited me to solicit coins for the United Jewish Appeal. UJA was helping European refugees to settle in Palestine and was probably working toward the establishment of the State of Israel. They equipped me with a “pushka,”(a collection can), a quick rap for rush hour subway travelers, and assigned me to the 96th Street Independent Line station.
During a lull in the ingress and egress of passengers two boys approached me. One stood in front and one in the back. They invited me to go with them across Central Park West to the park. Their attitude and the point of something sharp in my back told me I’d better do as they said. Once behind the wall in the park they took the puskka, cut it open and took the money. They answered my objections by doing the expected. The two boys beat the crap out of me, threw the empty coin can at me and left, running.
I identified the two boys. They went to P.S. 93. My brother, a crossing monitor, got their names. The two were arrested. My mother and I went to the police station with the rabbi to identify them. During the interview with the police the vengeance of the rabbi had no limits. He wanted to “throw the book” at them. It seemed he’d not be satisfied with anything less than capital punishment for my two anti Semite, thieving schoolmates. It became an argument. I joined in against the rabbi’s rage of vengeance. As the words got angrier, I picked up the pushka and threw it at the rabbi. I made it clear that the boys were not going to jail, and not going to reform school. the boys told us they would never do anything like they did to me to anyone else again.
The upshot was that I had two formerly anti Semite friends and defenders at P.S. 93. I don’t think I was ever attacked again in that neighborhood for being a Jew – and I did not get to do the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for which I was preparing.
A few years later, in 1949, I heard those same epithets, “Jewboy, Kike” etc. hurled at me by schoolmates from Peekskill High School. Our family had moved from Manhattan. I was on the line with a thousand others, it was a defense line around a crowd of 25,000 people attending a Paul Robeson concert. The event came to be called the “Peekskill Riot.”
Since then, though the years I’ve been an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Movement, community organizations for justice against police abuse, and the labor movement. Right now I’m Vice President and Chair of the Executive Board in my Union, Plumbers and Fitters Local 393, a Delegate to the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and activist in US Labor Against the War. If I had more time and energy I’d do more than sign petitions and give a little money to the movement for justice for Palestinians and currently for signing the peace accord with Iran.