Swastikas, Taken in Stride
Anti-Semitic graffiti in Hasidic Brooklyn excites the media, but many residents—old and young—shrug
Kohn is able—even needs—to talk about what she endured. But not everyone is able to, said Fischman, whose parents were Holocaust survivors. “My parents didn’t mention a word about the war or what they went through,” she said. She and her siblings never asked. “We were in awe of them and accorded them great honor. We believed their lives were private and wouldn’t have dreamed of prying into their personal thoughts.” Fischman said she learned the details of what her parents went through from nephews and nieces, “because they were the ones who felt comfortable asking questions.”
As I’ve got to know two and three generations of friends’ families, I’ve noticed this. Children of Holocaust survivors are sometimes the “skipped” generation; they don’t know the details of what their parents went through until they are told by their own children or other, younger relatives. More than a handful haven’t brought up the camps, hunger, and death with their parents, because they don’t want to hurt them, because their parents don’t bring it up, and sometimes because they’re afraid of tapping into repressed pain that can’t be contained.
Fischman’s parents were made of very strong stuff: Their faith in God and their stalwart natures sustained them. Fischman remembered them as positive, always looking forward. Not everyone is able to do this, she conceded. “An elderly survivor, a lady from Hungary, often comes in to buy her groceries,” Fischman said. “This lady was deeply affected by the war and is still afraid.” Sometimes, as she checks out the groceries, they talk, and “she cries, here in the store.”
But Fischman had practical issues to deal with; after all, there was a swastika on her doorway. “My first response was to grab a Mr. Clean eraser sponge and wipe it away,” she said. The police stopped her before she was able to destroy evidence.
“I was taught by my mother—as children we walked to school on the Eggerton Road, in Stamford Hill, London, and the other children would call us ‘bloody Jews’ and throw bottles and stones at us—to ignore the hatred and look the other way,” she said. “Mummy was the war generation, and this was nothing new for her. But today, we have to, we must, stick up for ourselves.”
By Saturday afternoon, Shabbos, an hour before mincha, the afternoon prayers, there were more uniformed and undercover New York police officers on the street than I’ve seen since the High Holidays some years ago, when the national guard was stationed here, complete with automatic weapons and camouflage, because of threats to synagogues. On the corner of 43rd Street and 15th Avenue, a movie-star-handsome policeman in full uniform stood in front of Freund’s Fish Store, which was closed for the Sabbath. A gaggle of smitten boys in their best Shabbos clothing and shined shoes surrounded him. The grin on his face signaled how much he was enjoying his assignment to this Yiddish-accented answer to Mayberry.
In Borough Park, children who have never seen a movie or television show, let alone heard of The Wire or CSI, fervently admire police officers, firefighters, and construction workers (and even mail carriers in their summer pith helmets). And the cops seem to adore the kids right back. My husband and I walked on.
The swastikas were a momentary blip in an otherwise normal Erev Shabbos. The younger boys only had eyes for the after-effects: a uniform stationed on every corner. Victimhood doesn’t seem to be in this new generation’s psycho-spiritual makeup—and except for the politicians and publicity-seekers, most people just want to move on.
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