From Slavery To Freedom
A friend of mine from Nigeria posted on Facebook that he was standing at a Chicago bus stop late one night when suddenly a patrol car stopped near him and stayed there watching him until the bus arrived. When the bus driver saw the patrol car, he asked the officer if it was OK to have him board the bus.
My friend was shocked that people today were judging him just because he is a person of color. Although slavery may have been abolished, there are still incidences and hate crimes based upon racial, religious and even sexual intolerance.
Growing up in South Africa, I was acutely aware of the difference and class structure that was the apartheid system. Because of this, being prejudiced seemed natural to many. However, I was lucky to grow up in a family that did not believe in apartheid, and I attended a forward-thinking Jewish day school where we were taught prejudice is not the Jewish way. Today, this school has people of all races and, in fact, some of the top awards for Hebrew go to African or Indian students.
Someone I really admired, Nelson Mandela, once said: “No one is born hating another person because of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate and, if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
If you noticed, the Beatles sang mainly about love. They said the reason was they wanted to spread the message to the world so people would love one another and, hopefully, that would help bring about peace in the world.
I heard about a Jewish-Arab-American woman arrested and escorted from a plane because her last name sounded “suspicious.” She was returning home on Sept. 11. That date, now associated with heightened security, may have been the reason she was racially profiled; however, it is all too common these days.
She was held captive, told to strip naked and was kept in custody for four hours before being released without explanation. She was not allowed to notify her family.
Hate Crimes Continue
I honestly don’t know what the answer is because, like you, I think laws are put in place to keep us safe, but at whose expense? With all the hate crimes perpetrated against Jewish cemeteries, and the Muslim community and Sikhs being attacked, it is evident deep-rooted racial profiling, anti-Semitism and xenophobia have always existed in America, and they are rising to the surface again.
As Jews, we know about being racially profiled. We lived through this extreme profiling during WWII with catastrophic consequences resulting in the Holocaust and the murder of 6 million of our people. Of course, the Romani people or gypsies, people with disabilities and homosexuals were also murdered by the Nazis in their attempt to cleanse/purify the German race and all of Europe of what they termed “undesirable peoples.” It was known as “biological racism.”
It is hard when within Israel you have a sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not believe in the State of Israel because the Messiah has not come yet. They have painted on a wall within Mea Shearim (an ultra-Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem), a swastika and the phrase:
Zionism = Nazism.
Across Africa, wars have been fought for years based on tribal differences or religion. It happened in Lebanon between the Shi’ites and the Sunnis. I can name several countries where this has or is happening today.
So, what is the solution? How do we achieve world peace? How do we get people to get along no matter what their religion or race is?
Another person I admire is Mohandas or as he was popularly known “Mahatma” (Great Soul) Gandhi. He spent 20 years in South Africa fighting discrimination and creating the concept of non-violent protest against injustices. When he returned to India, he fought to remove British rule and gain independence. He also fought to better the lives of the poorest people in India.
He sought a simple life and preached peace and non-violence, but the differences between the Muslims and Hindus proved too much even for Gandhi. He was assassinated by a Hindu who blamed him for allowing the British to partition India into a Hindu India and the newly formed Muslim country of Pakistan. India still has many struggles with keeping the peace among so many different cultures and religions.
Now we are celebrating our release from bondage in Egypt. We remind ourselves that Jews were once slaves. Our history always makes us remember what we went through, so we never forget and never allow it to happen again.
Over the years, the Jews have been freed from Ethiopia, Yemen and Russia and brought to freedom in Israel or the goldene medina (golden land) — America. However, we should remember people still struggle with forms of slavery.
What I enjoy most is dancing, especially salsa. What I love about the salsa dance community is that we are our own microcosm of the world. We are all colors, races and religions. We might not even speak the same language and yet, when the music starts to play, our universal language is salsa dancing. All it requires is a smile, trust in your partner and dancing to the wonderful Latino rhythms.
Maybe the world would be a better place if they played salsa music. I know this is a simplistic or idealistic view of the world, but to quote Shakespeare — “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players …” We are on this Earth for a short time. Make it count. We need to make a difference.
Tessa Goldberg of Farmington is administrative manager of the Detroit Jewish News Foundation