In the early morning hours of August 12, vandals struck an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas, breaking windows and spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti, swastikas, and hateful epithets on over 30 cars and homes. In its wake, the hate crime left the residents of the insular, north-side enclave reeling, asking themselves and one another who could have done such a terrible thing.
Having grown up in San Antonio—where I have no memory at all of ever hearing about, much less experiencing, anti-Semitism—I found this attack not just alarming and disturbing, but also baffling. The city of my youth, as far as I remembered it, was sleepy and dull, set off from the rest of the world and its woes. In college, when I used to tell people that I came from San Antonio, they would inevitably ask: “Texas has Jews?”
Yes, Texas has Jews. I am a fourth-generation Texan. My great-grandfather, Zayde Sam, came from Kishinev (now the capital of Moldova) through Galveston to settle in San Antonio, becoming one of the founding members of Rodfei Sholom in 1916. I was raised Orthodox, until my family broke away to join the Conservative synagogue, Agudas Achim—which was also recently struck with anti-Semitic graffiti, just a few days after the attack on Rodfei Sholom.
What Texas does not have—has never had, as far as I know—is the brand of anti-Semitic bigotry that befell these two congregations. Here in Texas? It just didn’t seem possible. That such an attack has now happened here gives me pause, for it speaks to the sharp, insidious rise in global anti-Semitism.
Two years ago, I landed a fellowship in fiction at Emory University. When the job ended in June, my stay in Atlanta did as well, but not before I finished the novel I’d been writing, which, ironically enough, is about a Jewish family struggling with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in America. Though the novel is set in April 2022, it seems now that I could have set it in August 2015. When I moved back to San Antonio, I had no way of knowing that within weeks, my fiction would play out in such an eerie way, right before my eyes, and not 10 minutes from where my parents live and have lived for nearly 20 years.
As I stood on the corner of NW Military Highway and Sholom Drive in the days after the attacks, with a sign that read Stand Against Hate, my perception of San Antonio changed irrevocably—though not in the way the vandals hoped or anticipated. Rather, I see it now as a place of lost innocence, far readier and far stronger to deal with whatever else might happen. It’s my hometown, and it’s full of good, decent folk. I had to leave it to understand this. I also had to leave it to come back again, though this time as a proud son of Texas and still a prouder Jewish man.