I Won’t Let Acts of Hate Ruin My Holiday Season

Last week, I was so excited to decorate my dorm door for Hanukkah. I went to Target and bought wrapping paper, silicon dreidel decals, and a felt menorah to stick on a new candle for each night. After it was complete, I turned to my roommate and expressed the thought that was circling my mind. I really hope someone doesn’t vandalize our door with anti-Semitic rhetoric. I’ve definitely made us a target.

Credit: Natalie Held 

The next day, my expressed fears became a reality. Not to me, but four hours south of Boston in New York City at Columbia’s Teachers College. It happened to clinical psychologist and Holocaust scholar Elizabeth Midlarsky. Her office had been vandalized with swastikas and an anti-Semitic slur graffitied with red spray paint. In an interview with the Washington Post, Midlarsky said, “I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not usually a fearful person, but they got me. I’m afraid.” Midlarsky went further to say that upon discovering the vandalism, she called security and waited with her students who accompanied her. She was afraid to be alone. Afraid to be in her office alone. She feared it was her Jewish identity alone that made her a target. Midlarsky stated, “I’m a Jew at this college – one of the only ones who acts like a Jew”.

Today, I’m writing this to stand in solidarity with Ms. Midlarsky, the Jews like me who are afraid of this surge in anti-Semitism, and for all the Jews who “act” like Jews. One of my favorite parts of the Jewish faith is our resilience in the face of adversity. Writing this piece is my own act of resistance against those who are cruel enough to hate me for my faith. Sometimes it’s the individual acts of resistance that can make the greatest impacts. In honor of Ms. Midlarsky and Hanukkah, I’ve decided to highlight one of my favorite moments of being Jewish.

As I approached an intersection, I realized that it was Friday night. For weeks now I had been trying to time the perfect night to attend a synagogue service at the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen but every time I had left the house, my passport never came with me. This night was no different. I decided to head over to the gates anyway in hopes of getting in any way. Maybe if I recite some Hebrew they’ll see I’m just a harmless Jewish girl looking to attend a service on vacation. As I made my way down the street I adjusted my strapless romper and loose cardigan hoping this outfit would be acceptable. I furrowed my brows and wondered if it was something my mother what let me wear. Regardless, I wasn’t going home to change and this was my only chance. When I approached the gates, I came across the same gold plaque that I was so used to routinely seeing:

 

Til minde om Dan Uzan

På dette sted blev Dan Uzan, 37 år, myrdet af en terrorist den 15 februar 2015, mens han

beskyttede gæster i Det Jødiske Hus.

 

IN MEMORIAM

 

In memory of Dan Uzan

At this place, Dan Uzan, age 37, was murdered by a terrorist on February 15th 2015, while protecting guests at the Jewish Community Centre.

 

Evil can be vanquished through human kindness alone.

Kindness takes courage.

 

Am I being naive? How am I allowing myself to go into a place with heightened security after a major terrorist attack happened exactly where I was standing? The very gravel in which my boots stood upon were once stained a deep red and there lay a man whom had been murdered by a terrorist. I don’t feel nervous or scared at all. What are the odds the same thing could happen again tonight? How am I allowing myself to justify my current actions? How safe am I really entering this place of worship? 

My thoughts flash back to the words of my mother, words that to this day I do not know how arrived into my head at this very moment.

Natalie, we cannot live in fear. We must live out our lives, aware and cautious of what could be, but we can never let these people prevent us from moving on and moving forward. When you fall off the horse you have to get back on. Fear must not consume us, that is what they want.

I snap back to reality, confident in my decision and pursue my adventure. My phone reads a quarter to six and I stand patiently outside the gates. I see a police van to my right but no apparent officer. My eyes scan the rooftop but still not uniform in sight. I turn around and see a group of men chatting in Danish by the gate and another couple in their mid-fifties looking about as confused and inquisitive as I. The woman’s eyes meet mine and I give a friendly smile in turn to not further the awkwardness of engaging with a complete stranger. The woman converses with the man before heading in my direction. Before I know it, the two walk over to me and greet me. American Jews. Through small talk, I learn the two are from D.C. and traveling throughout Scandinavia. I also learn that the group of men standing in close proximity are the guards, dressed in casual attire to not be easily identified. Smart. After a few minutes of conversation, a man from the inside steps out of the synagogue and opens up the massive gates. He greets the couple standing in front of me and asks for passports. As I begin to speak up and share that I don’t have mine with me, the older couple pull theirs out and shows them to the guard. He nods his head and proceeds to let us in. Oh my god, he thinks I’m traveling with them. He thinks they are my family. I go along with what played out and stick with the woman. We both look at each other giddy with excitement as we both were unsure how I would get in.

As we approach the back entrance, a small garden with a large dark grey stone in the middle appears to the right of us. Above the Hebrew prayer on the stone is what I make out to be a Holocaust memorial in Danish. The synagogue member opens up the immense back entrance and lets us through. Instantly, I am taken away by the exorbitant walls and ceilings that I am engulfed by. The low lit halls and darkened stone all around me transport me back in time to what I imagine would be an ancient castle. As we approach the sanctuary the mood changes and suddenly I am in the king’s chambers. Black and white tiled floors below with grand, shimmering chandeliers above. Red velvet blankets the Bimah as well as the path in the center of the luxurious room leading directly to it. The pure white pillars that extend to the ceiling are coated with a fine gold at the top. This was nothing close to what I imagined from the photos I briefly saw online. The man who led us in explained to the woman and I that this was an Orthodox synagogue, therefore, the men and women would have to be separated. He explained that we were welcomed to sit in the back downstairs or choose to join the other women on the second level. I look up and all around was an open second level with seating from an aerial view. The women and I proceeded to the stairs and without a second thought took our seats alongside the Danish women attending their weekly Friday night service.

Around half past six, the service began. I picked up a siddur under my chair and began to follow along with the rabbi commanding the service. I closed my eyes and allowed the Hebrew to echo throughout my mind and body. I thought back to my Hebrew school days. The one thing that stuck out the most was something my own rabbi once told me. No matter where you are in the world, wherever you travel, if you show up to a synagogue and want to attend a service, those Jews will almost always extend their arms. No matter how foreign that place may be, the words in which you hear inside and the people you’re with will feel like home. The congregation joined in with the cantor as he led the Ashrei. My lips began to form silent words as I mimicked the room’s sounds.

 

Suddenly this foreign city didn’t feel so foreign anymore. My soul finally found its niche in the beautiful city of Copenhagen. I truly did feel at home, despite being so far away.

 

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