My whole life, I hated public speaking so much that I would feel queasy introducing myself to a dinner party. So I went characteristically mute in 2018 when Durham, North Carolina, Mayor Steve Schewel (yes, he is Jewish) and the City Council voted to boycott a police training program in Israel based on the antisemitic “deadly exchange” libel that a bloodthirsty cabal of Israelis would secretly teach American cops to hurt Black people.
A few months later, I drove down to a renovated tobacco factory to lend silent support to a small clutch of Jewish residents asking the Durham Human Relations Commission to advise the city to reconsider its boycott. It was a packed house that cold night, with more than a dozen commission members sitting in front of maybe a hundred spectators, mostly in their 20s and early 30s. Our appeal had been strictly choreographed, the most eminent local Jews chosen to make our case. We had reminded each other to don business attire to show respect. Such good American citizens.
But officials listened stone-faced, their hearts hardened well before we’d opened our mouths. One examined her nails.
Sitting there, humiliated by the proceedings and jeered at by throngs of anti-Israel spectators, I felt the long, unbroken sweep of history spilling into that brick room. I sensed my forebears, reaching around the world and wending through time, all the love and davening, the slaughters and fear. It struck me that the commission members were merely the latest bit actors, playing their parts in an endless cataclysmic cycle of cosmic injustice against us.
Then I heard something entirely unfamiliar. I heard myself, and I was screaming.
“I am a Jewish resident of Durham!” I shouted at the top of my lungs as I jumped to my feet, “and I can’t live in a city that’s so antisemitic!”
Dead silence. My own voice sliced through the air again: “This is Jew hatred! I can’t live here anymore!”
An older man, Arab, stood up. He launched into a diatribe against Israel. “Liar!” I screamed, poking the air, “liar!” A woman with him took one look at me and sensing this one might be a wacko, yanked him back into his seat.
The chairperson gave an exasperated chuckle, mocking me.
“We shall overcome!” I shouted at her and lifted a fist before tearing myself away from the room.
I was exhilarated. Was I a hero or a fool? Whatever. That was the night I found my voice.
As my tears ran dry, I discovered a surprising, untapped reservoir deep within. It was fury. How dare they come for us, here and now. Who do they think they are?
And then a different thought came in its wake: Who the hell do they think we are?
I began speaking out in open meetings at Durham’s City Hall, haranguing officials for legislating against the Jews. I publicly presented the mayor with a trophy for “boycotting Jews since 2018,” something “Nazis would have loved.” I filed a formal petition for the city to mark the day they passed their heinous boycott as Durham’s annual “Day of Shame.” I cheerfully added my name to a federal lawsuit for discrimination by the city, filed pro bono by Pennsylvania attorney Cliff Rieders.
I went to the annual Anti-Defamation League conference last year and confronted Jonathan Greenblatt in the hallway, telling him that the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives the ADL supported were ruining our lives. I was polite, but firm: “Your website is full of DEI and critical race theory … this is what’s driving the anti-Zionism. My kid puts something in her chatroom at her school about homework, and the response is ‘Free Palestine!’ This is coming from DEI.”
Greenblatt must have given a signal to the clutch of security guys in blue jackets who had encircled us. It was clear what was coming next.
“Oh!” I said, as they pressed in. “I’m fighting Jew-hatred, and I’m the problem?”
One of the suits gripped me firmly around the bicep, as though I might be the sort of nutcase to resist. We ascended the escalator like that, his hand clamped on my arm, until we were in the soaring lobby. “You’re leaving,” he said.
Six years ago, I would have been mortified to be thrown out of the Javits Center. Now I have exactly zero regrets. You’ll have just as many the day you cross a line, too.
Trade your bourgeois respectability for the deeper satisfaction of knowing that when history called, you answered. Post-Oct. 7, passivity gives free reign to our enemies. Staying home and holding back makes it easier for the powerbrokers to let the radical Islamist-loving, Jew-hating mobs win the streets and debates.
Demand the police protection and public safety assistance every citizen is entitled to.
Pen an email to major law firms in your region, urging them to sign on to the devastating open letter issued by two dozen blue chip firms including Skadden and Cravath sent to law school deans, warning them to tamp down on campus antisemitism or their grads need not apply for jobs.
Write an indignant letter to the president of your alma mater, and copy every top administrator and dean. Follow the lead of University of Pennsylvania alumni and send in a single dollar in place of a real donation to ensure your protest registers.
Sign every righteous petition that comes your way, and pass it on.
Go back into those progressive Facebook groups where people spent the last three years gaslighting you and erasing you. Post the photo of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, meeting with Hitler, and remind them that taking the side of Hamas makes for strange bedfellows.
Print posters of our hostages and put them up all over town. When they get ripped down, film it, being sure to capture the faces of the hatemongers, some of whom have been fired from their jobs. Then put the posters up again.
For the sake of our kids, head for your school board, principal, and the teachers themselves, and rail against the Jew-hatred embedded in the curricula, school assemblies, and classrooms. Go meet with the DEI staff. Tell them what Zionism is and why it matters. Explain how we’ve been on the run for 2,000 years and thought we’d found a safe haven here, but that if DEI continues to slander us as oppressors, we will be hounded out the way we were by all brutish societies. Say that the Holocaust starts with people denying the humanity of Jews. And remind them that what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.
Demand that your rabbi wipe his name off the filthy T’ruah petition that slanders Israelis with the viciously accusatory admonition that “targeting civilians with missiles is a war crime,” and calls for an end to the blockade and a promise that Gazans “be guaranteed that they will be allowed to return to their homes after the present conflict ends.” Yet more dreck from finger-wagging American rabbis in their comfy armchairs, some 5,000 miles from Kibbutz Be’eri where they’re still scraping skin off the walls.
March yourself down to city hall and publicly upbraid officials for strenuously ignoring the bloodletting of Jews. Hold aloft devastating images of our battered, murdered people, and demand officials not look away from evil. Hound them to affirm the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and actually enforce it, because they owe it to their Jewish constituents crying out for protection after George Washington promised us that here, on this American soil, we need not fear.
Mount a photo of a child hostage on posterboard with the words, “Here’s your ‘River to the Sea’!” and hold it up on a busy sidewalk at rush hour.
When Boston University sociology professor Susan Eckstein spoke at Florida International University last December about her new book, Cuban Privilege, the Making of Immigrant Inequality in America, activist Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat came right out and scolded her, saying Cubans were only “privileged” if one chose to “ignore the massacres, the extrajudicial killings, the political prisoners, the civil war in the countryside, the concentration camps.” All hell broke loose, as the packed auditorium erupted into shouts of anti-Cuban-government slogans. “Freedom for the political prisoners!” they shouted. “Patria y Vida!” or “Homeland and Life!”
Be the Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat of the Jews.
Yes, you will be called a wingnut. A MAGA maniac. Unbalanced. Uncouth. Unrealistic. They will say, or strongly imply, that you are not the right fit for shared spaces. And you will tell them to stick their vapid, morally bereft politesse right where the sun won’t shine.
Because embracing the rage can bring you to a whole new place: liberation. Lean in. We’re all screamers now.
Kathryn Wolf is a writer and former reporter, living in Durham, North Carolina. Reach her at ThisIsZionism.org.