On the Same Wall

Men look at a swastika sprayed at a asylum seeker accommodation in Waltrop, western Germany, on October 13, 2015. Four homes for asylum seekers in Waltrop were sprayed with swastikas during the night from October 12 to 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DPA / MAJA HITIJ GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read MAJA HITIJ/AFP/Getty Images)

July 21, 2020

By Molly Gun 

They were on the same wall.

I wondered if that had occurred to them; the criminals, the ones who had carved swastikas into the white limestone barrier.

I thought back to middle school English class and heard my teacher say that the color white in literature always means innocence and purity. Funny how I had never noticed how inoffensive the wall once was, nor thought I had to appreciate its innocence, now defaced by a symbol of hate;
a mar on progression.

That wasn’t even what got me. Just barely ten feet from the scene of the crime hung- and still hangs- a sign that read, “Everyone is Welcome Here.”

It’s a message absurdly perpetuated next to a different message,
the opposite message.

The marks of abhorrence rendered the sign phony;
a message of welcome to a symbol of ugly hate.

They were on the same wall.

The custodial staff removed the carved swastikas. The administration took to the loudspeaker to discuss what had happened, literally saving face so that we couldn’t see theirs,
focusing so much less on condemning the actions of the criminals, and so much more on reminding everyone how welcoming a school they run.
Who were they trying to appease?

They talked for two minutes, saying nothing. Then, nothing else. If they were going to keep the signs up for appearance,
they would need to at least get their stories straight.

The message they were so ardently preaching was wrong. I didn’t feel welcome, and I wasn’t alone. But if the adults in charge didn’t even feel strongly enough to properly condemn the criminals, what could be done?

I was incensed. I stung from hurt and begged those feelings not to fade
and be forgotten like the whole episode had been.

I started to have hard conversations, the hardest ones that I’ve ever started.

I was met with varying levels of empathy, got everything from verbal condemnation to empathetic looks to laughs.

I started to feel an unexpected relief in
and solidarity around other Jews at school.

There aren’t a staggering number of us, but it was something.

I don’t believe every situation has a silver lining. I do believe that you can learn a valuable lesson from every situation. That’s what’s important,
so here’s what I’ve got:

What we can do is start those tough conversations, find solace in a sense of community, work to condemn what must be condemned.

But here’s what I found most important; it was what I really needed to learn:

Our movement to counter anti-Semitism is made up of individuals like me who reached a breaking point. I couldn’t keep my head down anymore, and neither could the rest of us. At some point, we all decided enough was enough.

When speaking of movements of any sort, we tend to say that there is strength in numbers. But I now know that there is just as much strength
in exasperated individuals.

Here’s the truth: the criminals who defaced my school are all attending accredited colleges and universities now.
Their crime didn’t seem to hinder what their futures had in store.

What they did was terrible and a catalyst for the further inspection
of the intolerance that had gone un-condemned for far too long.

With this knowledge, let us be powerful.

Let us be louder than the football team who harassed a girl from school for simply existing as a Jew.

Let us burn brighter and longer than the inflamed cross that was left on my middle school English teacher’s lawn, a prominent scarlet letter
simply for being Jewish.

Let our actions have longer-lasting effects than the actions
on the criminals who carved the swastikas did.

Let our anti-hate activism have more definitive consequences on others
than their crime did on themselves.

Let us continue the good fight until we can ensure
that symbols of welcome and symbols of hate
are never on the same wall again.

Molly Gun’s poem was a winner of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement Emma Lazarus Art Contest.