By Ethan Wellerstein, Contributing Writer
I never asked to be Jewish. My parents never consulted me, and it was never discussed- it simply happened. Although I have great pride in my religion and my people, I also now have an obligation. I am obliged to carry forth the traditions, prayers, and history of the Jewish people. It is also my responsibility to ensure that my children, my children’s children, and their children after them all have the freedom to choose, if they so wish, to carry on our culture.
The night after the election, I went with my family to our synagogue, where a Holocaust survivor was speaking. His story was incredible and very moving. This man, Henry Oster, described his experiences in vivid detail. He described the deliberate and systematic destruction of his family, his people, and their history. He told of how his father was starved to death, his friends were hanged, and his mother taken away from him before he could say goodbye. His words felt surreal; he told us of this world that seemed so alien to our own, yet the atrocities he discussed happened in this world less than a century ago. At the end of his story, there was a time for questions, and of course, there was one about our recent presidential election. Mr. Oster told the congregation about his fears for America’s future. He reminded us that in these times, it can be easy to forget what has happened in our past, and that the process of alienating someone from their rights is often gradual. We must remain vigilant and do our part, he told us, to remember the past and guard our futures.
Last week, I was walking with some friends in the Acalanes parking lot. One was Jewish, the other was more Jew-ISH. We were walking and talking when I noticed what appeared to be a rust stain on one of the pillars holding up our new and wonderful solar panels. Upon further inspection, I realized that it wasn’t just a stain, but something I am unfortunately altogether too familiar with – a Swastika.
My first reaction was to ignore it. I thought, “It’s just one image, I’m sure they don’t know what it means.” But then I looked at my Jewish friend; I saw his disturbance at the image, and I was reminded of what I had heard from Henry Oster as well as my responsibility to my people. So we informed the administration and it was covered up.
Seeing the Swastika at our school made me feel so many things. It began with disgust that one of my peers would do this, followed by the fear that this could only be the beginning of what is to come, and then the anxiety about what to do next. These feelings eventually faded, and were replaced by the ones that I truly intend to act upon. I feel motivated, more than ever before, to speak out and voice my opinion for what I believe is right and just. We all have such incredible and unprecedented access to communication – we should use that more to talk about how we feel and the injustices and problems that we notice, because maybe no one else notices them, and they need to be discussed.
I know Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. And I know that America won’t turn into Nazi Germany. But the feeling I got when I looked at that Swastika; that symbol which represents so much hatred, so much cruelty, so much death – both for my people and for millions of others – makes me now, more than ever, proud to be Jewish.
Whoever painted the Swastika on school property did it for one of two reasons, and I hope that it was ignorance; the other option is that they truly believe in everything that the symbol stands for. That is something worth being frightened over.
So now we must make a choice: we can either stand by while these things are being done and care only for ourselves, or we can stand up for what we know to be right. We can recognize that we are all people, and that we all deserve the same rights and respect that our country promises its citizens. Skin color, nationality, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs…whatever it is, no person should be treated like a second class citizen in the country that prides itself in being the greatest on Earth. We must recognize these things that compel us to speak out, whether on our behalf or for someone else, because we must help each other if we ever want to created a better and just society. There’s a quote in the National Holocaust Museum in our nation’s capital that reads, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Thank you for listening to what I have to say. I hope you gained some perspective from my personal experiences and opinions. I hope that however you choose to do it, you fight for what’s right, just, and truly American.
Ethan Wellerstein is a junior at Acalanes.