Was it Winston Churchill who said if you weren't a liberal at 18, you had no heart, and if you weren't conservative at 30, you had no brain? I can't remember the exact quote, but something happened today that really shocked me and made me rethink a whole bunch of things.
I'm a library girl - I LOVE the library. I'm a book addict - I read CONSTANTLY. I'm usually in the middle of two or three books (right now I'm rereading Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood and a new book about the relationship between sisters (fascinating). Anyway - so I take out between twenty and twenty five books a week. I take the kids there a lot - I think the best way to encourage the kids to read is to constantly feed the addiction - so they've always got lots of new kids books to read. The girls (Sarah and Jess) were at Hebrew School (which is an important detail for the rest of the story) and Lilli was at dance class. Marc was going to drop me off, and then come back after picking all the kids up and meet me there.
We pulled up in front of the library, and there was a guy standing there, with a huge sign, proclaiming his firm conviction that Israel was responsible for 9/11. I was shocked. Just... shocked. Marc was FURIOUS. Got out the car and confronted him, ended up chasing him away (we saw him later on in the afternoon standing in a different part of town). I was just speechless. I've got kids. Kids who read. Kids who go to Hebrew School - and there was every chance that I would have gone down to the library, parked the car and led them right past that sign. If things had been slightly different this morning, I wouldn't have seen the sign until after I parked the car, got my (Jewish) kids out of the car and walked down to the library.
It just brought up a WHOLE bunch of issues that I'm still trying to work my way thru. I always believed in freedom of speech - I mean, who doesn't? Right? We love freedom of speech - it's like apple pie and baseball. But what if it's YOUR kids who are being attacked? Because Israel really means the Jewish people - and that's what my kids would have read it as. How do I explain that to them? How is it okay that they would have to see that - on their way into the library? What does that say about the world that I live in? The world I'm raising my children in? I feel vulnerable in a way that I've never felt before, I feel attacked in a way that's completely unfamiliar to me. I wasn't raised Jewish - I didn't grow up as part of a hated minority. Marc wasn't shocked by the protestor, unbelievably furious, but not shocked. I haven't moved past the shock yet.
The library is one of my all time favorite places in the whole world - it's where the books live. It's knowledge and rest and comfort - it's awesome - I love the library. Now I'm afraid to go back. I'm afraid in a way that feels wrong and scary and unsafe. There are really people out there like that? People who hate me and my kids that much? Really? And they walk around, looking all normal and friendly, but holding signs that terrify me.
Do I still believe in free speech? I think so, but I've never questioned it as much as I have in the past six or seven hours. Do I believe that my children should suffer because of some ignorant bigot's right to spew hatred? Do I believe that I should have to explain to them why this man hates them so much? Should I explain that? Do I want them to grow up afraid? Aware that there are people who believe that they are evil because their last name is Cohen? And if I don't - if I try to protect them from that, to shield them from that - do I run the risk of having them feel the way I do now? Unsure and afraid and violated and threatened? How do I explain this to my children when I can't explain it to myself?