By Mimi Hecht
I boarded the subway with my husband, child and a deepening well of anger. It had been four long days since Israel’s raid on the flotilla of so-called “peace-activists” heading to break the Gaza blockade. Four days of international criticism. Four days of media falsehood. Four days of serious wake-up calls as to the nature of our enemies. Having just heard about a spontaneous pro-Israel rally in Times Square, my husband and I saw it as a responsibility hidden in the helplessness. We headed out, baby in tow.
I sat on the cold subway seats with my heart boiling. Headed towards a chance of uniting with my brethren and representing my Homeland, all I could think about was Israel. Past. Present. A bleak future. The Palestinians had won again, completely succeeding in humiliating Israel and turning the world against us. Everyone was showing their true colors. No one was our friend. My mind pondered every single hate-speech, every suicide attack, the voices of Muslims calling for Holocaust. Generations of anti-Semitism - from Hitler to mere university students - echoed in my mind like a hypnotizing slide-show.
And there was my son, happily cooing in his stroller, so comfortable in his simple and safe world. On his blank slate of babyhood, everything and everyone is good. He cries only to be fed, then eats and returns to euphoria. He loves the world and the world love him back. He knows not of his mothers worry for his future as a Jew. He cannot smell my fear.
We are twenty minutes from Times Square when a dark, muscular and heavy-haired young man enters our subway car and sits across from my loaded thoughts. He looks Jewish. But then the Arabic script tattooed on his sculpted arms tells me otherwise. He is Muslim. I look at my husband, pointing out the young man’s presence with my eyes. I look back at our new rider. Just his comfortable posture across from me makes me feel like a victim. Suddenly, I am filled with hate.
With my modest attire and headscarf and my husbands beard and Tzitizis, we are so obviously Jewish. With his Semitic looks and Arabic tattoo, he isn’t either incognito. The world knows us as enemies and yet, here we are, sharing subway space and averting each others eyes. Current headlines are practically scripted on our foreheads for everyone to see. We could both be on our way to Times Square, and I imagined how even more poignant the moment would be when we both exited the subway to find our ways on opposite sides of the rally. I sat with a feeling contrary to that which I would normally feel; afraid to share a personal moment with a passerby. For he wasn’t exactly a stranger, rather an enemy I felt I knew all too well. While I had never met him personally, I projected unto him the voices of Arafat, Ahmadinejad and every other extremist voice trying to wipe my People from the earth.
While he intensely reads his magazine - no doubt some pro-Palestinian propaganda - I enter a mental conversation with my unknowing fellow New Yorker. I mentally spit on him. I blame him. I quietly, but vehemently, despise him. His force. His ignorance. His nation.
My bitter thoughts are interrupted by my child’s playful noises. He is flirting with the Muslim. Of all the interesting people on the train, he had to choose him! I pretend to ignore it, afraid to interact. But then I see the young man returning my son’s playful initiations. His serious face has revealed a warm and sincere smile and his voice softly and happily repeats a baby-toned “hello” to my son. Admittedly, I melt. Just like I do when anyone shares a happy moment with my child. My fellow rider all of a sudden transformed from a vengeful Arab into a peaceful, child-loving, upright citizen. Through my child, we are unavoidably connected, even for just this moment. My disgust disappears. I am surprised and relieved.
With my son’s smile opening a channel of warmth and humanity, I was awakened to the ugliness of my naked instincts. As a Jewess fearful for my sons future in an anti-Semitic world, how can I myself be so ignorant as to project hatred onto every Muslim passerby? Much of the world is educated with anti-Israel propaganda. They are fed lies intended on creating anti-Semitic warriors. But if I too senselessly hate, how am I different? I can’t walk around – and certainly not in the melting pot that is New York – holding hatred in my heart ready to unleash at every seemingly guilty Muslim. While my emotions may sprout indiscriminate hatred, I must educate myself – go beyond the stereotypes. Who exactly is my enemy? Where is the enemy?
The world hates us. We won’t win by simply hating them back. And yet, had it not been for my lighthearted and innocent child, the rage that I was directing at this Muslim would have known no end. When he got off a few stops before us, I caught a glimpse of the “propaganda” reading material he had been so intently focused on – a New York Times crossword puzzle.