Facing South

On Passover week, a secret message to The Other

Facing South
Facing South
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This week, writers Scott Huler and June Spence discovered an anti-Semitic message scrawled inside a closet under construction in the home they share with their two sons in Raleigh, N.C. They responded with the two essays we share here, which offer much to think about on this holiday weekend.

Looking for an Other to blame

By Scott Huler

Passover starts Friday night, and we remind ourselves, as we do every year, that there's always somebody looking to get rid of the Jews -- and then instantly remind ourselves, as we do every year, that of course it's not just the Jews at all: somebody is always looking for some Other to cite, to blame for their own problems, to place at the root of their own fears. Whether it's the family of Trayvon Martin or anyone affected by North Carolina's hellish Amendment One or for that matter anyone who ever wore a hoodie or looked or felt or believed in a way that someone else tried to crush by hatred or force, so many of us are all, always, fighting to prove that we count just as much as you, that you can't just get rid of us by fiat, by weapon, by amendment. No matter how much you try.

So I look at this ugly slur, scrawled in Sharpie and then apparently painted over on the inside of a closet, as in a way a small blessing. How fortunate we are -- with healthy children, a loving family and friends, a warm house, enough money to pay some people to build us a closet -- that we have nothing more terrifying to face this Passover than this small, mean, cowardly expression of ugliness and hatred. We have, at the moment, laws to protect us, as much as laws can, from physical violence. We have safe and comfortable lives, in which a slur like this means only, "Heave a sigh and talk to the contractor," not "Grab what you can carry and run."

But the distance from here to there is short. And the journey starts with things like North Carolina's Amendment One or Florida's Stand Your Ground laws, all of which propagate the lie that those others -- the people who look different from you, the ones who believe or feel different from you, the ones who make you afraid or uncomfortable -- they're not the same. They are different, they are less, they can be the victims.

No they can't. No we can't. Or anyhow, we won't, any of us. Again -- a small blessing, this ugly scrawl on our closet. Well timed to remind us: We've got to look out for each other, because alone there's always someone looking to do something stupid. The contractor, when I showed him the word, of course apologized. Too many subcontractors have been in and out for anybody to quickly assign blame. But he said: "We'll take care of that. We'll paint over that."

Oh no, I said. No you won't.

We'll save that to remember.

To read more of Scott's writing, visit his website at ScottHuler.com.

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A secret message

By June Spence

My original entry was shaping up to be a silly rebuke of gourmet cupcakes, decrying that enormous whorl of icing eclipsing the nub of mealy cake, and then my husband showed me the ghostly word he’d discovered on the backside of the drywall panel separating the doors of our not-quite finished closet: kike.

Scrawled in Sharpie, it appears to have bled through the paint daubed over it, suggesting that it was not meant to be discovered, and yet the slur would not be concealed. Too many people have been in our house recently, contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, etc., for us to have any certainty about the culprit. And the work is not complete, which means he's likely to return.

This is my first real brush with anti-Semitism. I'm not Jewish, but my husband is, and that's how we're raising our sons. I grew up Southern Baptist, but now I am nothing, and the void in my identity suggested by that phrase is not unintentional. I'd like them to be something, though probably not Christian. It's nothing against Jesus the man; my beef is with Jesus the policy, Jesus the line drawn between saved and damned.

When I was nine I walked to the front of the chapel of my own accord and asked to be baptized in his name. Though my fervor faded, I still love that he radically allied himself with the downtrodden, walking among drunkards and prostitutes. I love that my great-grandmother freely invoked his aid when searching for a parking space. I just can't think that much else matters beyond acting with kindness, whether per Jesus' example or someone else's.

I'm sad and a little queasy thinking that someone in our home, witness to our good little boys at play, noted a telltale symbol here and there or sized up my husband according to some vicious criteria and concluded "kike," a sentiment so powerful it had to be inscribed.

This close to Passover, I am reminded that the Israelites marked their own houses -- in blood, not Sharpie -- so that the final, deadly plague would leave them be.

To read more of June's writing, visit her blog Unshelved.

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