Growing up in a blue collar working class shoe town in New England, Lynn, Massachusetts, I was the recipient of unwelcome name calling such as “Dirty Jew,” “Kike,” “Yid.”
I was just seven years old, living in what they called the better part of town.
Most of the kids I played with came from all different cultural backgrounds and all different religions. I didn’t know that being a Jewish girl playing with kids who were Christian, Armenian, Scotts, Black and Irish was a bad thing. And I was in the minority in this town.
But before the name calling began I never gave it a second thought that any of us kids were different from one another. I played with everyone and everyone played with me.
Then, one day, after a few weeks of school, a kid in the schoolyard, during recess called me “a Dirty Jew,” and a “Kike.” I had no idea I was a Dirty Jew or a Kike.
This kid would taunt me daily, chasing me after school throwing empty food cans at me on my way home. I told my mother what had happened and she was horrified. Then I asked her to meet me after school each day because I was scared, but she said no.
The little kid in me did not understand why she didn’t protect me, until I grew up and I realized this woman, my mother, was terrified of everyone and everything.
So one day when the school bell rang at the end of the school day, I ran across the street to Mr. Brown’s candy store as a safe haven. I could get lost buying chocolate cigarettes, button candy, licorice and just look in all of the glass cases in this tiny little store and delight at all of the delicious candy before me.
I must have stayed there for at least an hour before I told Mr. Brown that I was scared to go home because this boy kept chasing me home after school calling me bad names. Mr. Brown, this kind elderly man, always let me stay in his candy store as long as I wanted to until I felt the coast was clear to go home.
When I would leave the store I always would take different routes home. Mainly walking along Lewis Street,
the main street in our part of town, where there were always lots of traffic, people walking and lots of other stores.
But every once in awhile, this boy would catch me, and begin chasing me down the street yelling these horrible names at me while throwing empty dirty food cans at me.
I never felt inside that me or my friends, although we might have looked different, were different, until that incident began when I was seven years old. I began to feel deep shame for being Jewish. I truly believed I was a Dirty Jew.
It took me years to undo and let go of the shame of being Jewish, and it happened at, of all places, a Buddhist retreat center—Karme Choling, in Barnet, Vermont where I lived for two years.
I had come there after raising a family of four boys, who also, I may say, almost became the victims of anti-semitism in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn.
When my boys came home from their elementary school one day and told me some of the kids called them a “Dirty Jew,” I took care of it. An elderly Italian man, who happened to live in the same building as me, took care of anything bad that happened on our street. I went to him and told him what the kids had called my boys and he said to me, “I will take care of it and it will never happen again.” And it never did.
This video was created in the hopes of inspiring people who have been the victim of racism, anti-semitism, any kind of name calling or hatred, not to give up and not to believe in any kind of hatred that is passed along.
Also, it is to ask all of you to speak mindfully and to please be kind to one another. None of us knows the battles that each of us is fighting.
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Editor: Travis May