Sunday, July 27, 2014

Freedom of speech?

I did not grow up religious. I also grew up without any Jewish pride or Jewish symbolism. Maybe that's the reason that publicly, overtly displaying Jewish symbols always felt over-the-top to me. Those Chabad people with their menorahs, the Chassidim screaming in their clothing that they are from some other era: all of those seemed just a bit too pretentious and ostentatious. It probably sounds funny coming out of a mouth of a woman who dresses in long sleeves and long skirts in hot weather, and always covers her hair in ethnic fashion and whose kids always sport kipas and tzitzis, but in my head, the way that WE look walking down the street fits into the average American diversity, while what THEY are doing is too much.

A friend's family recently moved to Germany. Right before her move, we discussed how she is not planning on hiding her family's Jewishness away: her kids will wear tzitzis out, and kipas without baseball caps. I sort of counseled her on being careful, asking around, finding out what the local Orthodox Jews do. "We are what we are", she said, "and we will not hide it."

This was all just a few short months ago.

How the world had changed!

My oldest on Daddy's shoulders
Last week we went to a pro-Israel rally. It was organized through Jewish federation, and, from attending a previous rally two years ago, I knew they will have high security. Therefore I was not hesitating to bring the boys. I wanted them to see how we Jews come together to support our brothers and sisters in Israel. I wanted them to be aware of what's going on, and I wanted them to understand that it is important to show up and listen up. I wanted them to see what a peaceful demonstration looks like. Still, I prepped them that there might be anti-Israel protesters screaming mean things. I told them to make sure to stick close to me and if they would get separated, they should look for a policeman.
Over 2000 people gathered to support Israel
I need not worry: the rally was very calm, very sedate, and there were no counter protesters that I saw. I printed out signs for the boys to hold:

8 yo
They held them, waved them and then, when the rally was done, I was left with a few of them. A thought occurred: maybe I should place one in my car, on the dashboard, make a statement like a bumper sticker? Immediately another thought occurred: but is it safe? Is it too much? Is it "asking for it"?

Before you think that I overreact, I will cite the instances in Paris and Berlin from the past month where just being Jewish was enough incitement for violent anti-Semitic acts. Too far from home? I will cite Chicago and New York this past week. So I believe that there is a reason to worry.

Yet, just as these thoughts were occurring, another thought was running through my mind: don't I have freedom of speech and freedom of expression? Am I not entitled to my views? Am I not entitled to make a point on my car, just as millions of Americans do with their bumper stickers? I am not infringing on anyone else, I am not doing anything illegal by displaying this very pro-Israel sign. Will I not be protected by the law? Why am I finding myself in a position of fear? Are we not living in a democracy?

So what's the worst that will happen? Somebody will put a rock through my windshield and I will have to call the cops. Somebody might stand by my car, itching for an altercation. Somebody might start up with me. I will handle it. And then it might be time to start packing bags for the only place where people drive around waving Israeli flags without worrying what others think of them.

I hate myself for the fact that I even have to worry what displaying Israeli flag might mean to me.
My flag is on my dashboard.
I stand with Israel!

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