Monday, June 24, 2024 -
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Scrubbing the streets

It’s Sunday and Purim is approaching. I am rolling out the vanilla scented and glistening citrus flecked dough for hamantaschen, my rose and gold Moroccan tea glass at my side, ready to score perfect circles that I will fill up and fold.

I’m struggling, thinking to myself, how do you go about celebrating Purim this year about a miracle from long ago when it feels like we are re-living profoundly painful decrees yet again? How do we express joy during war time? When the hostages . . . are still hostages. When I wince at the thought of particular hells they might be enduring. When precious, heroic soldiers are falling to protect each of us.

And here in our own matrix in America, the sense is that we are being attacked from all directions.

It just keeps piling on.

And I too, start piling onto the centers of the perfectly rounded cookie dough circles, little bits of crimson raspberry jam or apricot jam, prune lekvar in honor of my Hungarian grandmother, and the bluish-black poppy seed filling, or as she called it, “mohn” in Yiddish or “makosh” in Hungarian.

It’s not just on toxic social media, where anyone, unhinged or not, can assert whatever they want as anonymously as they like.

But from real people, and from people of consequence.

Including from within the United States Senate.

I start folding the corners of the hamantaschen pastry, its name evocative of the villain in the Purim story, when he decreed genocide against the Jewish people.

Although it originated at the beginning of the month, the disturbing story highlighted in the IJN about the Utah shop that hung a “No Zionists Allowed’” sign in the window caused me to shake my head in disbelief-yet-belief and sadness. I began pinching the corners of the hamantaschen, when my own phone pinged.

At first all I saw was a splash of scarlet red. I took a closer look. It was of Effy’s, a kosher café in my neighborhood. Not in Utah. In my own neighborhood. It’s around the corner from shul. Next door to the cleaners. The place is part of the scenery in the community. Chances are I have passed it by hundreds of times.

I see. Now I understand, the vandalism of the splattered scarlet paint, is meant to be symbolic of dripping blood, as a sick kind of complement to the hate graffiti spray painted in capital letters on the sidewalk in front: “FORM LINE HERE TO SUPPORT GENOCIDE.”

Genocide.

The fact that that word – genocide — has not only been commandeered and become acceptable to use wholly inaccurately. It is an ironic inversion of the reality of who is openly declaring genocide against the Jewish people again, and who has tried to implement it, and declared it will implement it again and again.

Hamas has made it the norm, yielding such a painfully fraught situation of innocent children, who never hurt a fly, being used and sacrificed by human monsters as pawns and shields of war and terror.

I glaze the hamantaschen with just barely sweetened egg yolks, and preheat the oven, for the first batch of these special Purim pastries I am preparing to bake, telling myself I better hold back the salty tears from becoming an ingredient.

So now it’s hit my own home. New York City. The Upper West Side. A neighborhood so Jewish, we jokingly and affectionately call it our shtetl.

Another text message comes through. Two visibly Jewish men were attacked in the neighborhood.

It’s chilling to see the hate so close to home. With a friend, I decide to go see the hate graffiti for myself.

A couple of people are there, not more. One is a City Council woman. And two police officers.

Someone had tried to mute the text on the sidewalk. The front of the cafe still looks like it is hemorrhaging.

I sure hope this is somehow cleaned up tonight under the cover of darkness and never sees the light of day tomorrow, I think to myself.

Hate begets hate. Hate doesn’t beget sympathy. What an absolute humiliation it would be if the city wakes up to seeing this.

I quickly tried to suppress the horror of a vision of fellow Jewish Upper West Siders on their hands and knees, scrubbing the sidewalk — scrubbing 96th Street! cleaning up a hate message directed to us.

It’s not that far off in the recesses of our Jewish memory, those infamous black and white photos of Jews in Vienna doing just that, bending down, buckets by their side, being humiliated by the Nazis, scrubbing the streets with toothbrushes.

It’s not easy engaging in something so quotidian right now, but the warm piles of hamantaschen pastries begin piling up.

As shockingly, the next day, that is exactly what I see. Jews scrubbing the sidewalks cleaning off the genocide graffiti.

Wonderful Jews, who — not because they were being forced to do it by Nazis, but people who came out to show communal support, friendship and Jewish fellowship, scrubbing off the tangible expression of the hate that has now reached us, too.

Nevertheless.

How sobering a sight.

To feel our matrix of American Jewish life suddenly crash into that other matrix, the one of pre-WW II European Jewry, which we thought was history.

I mentally prod myself to continue and start drizzling some of the hamantaschen with chocolate, some with a lemon glaze, thinking of the break-fast of Esther, which I am preparing them for . . . and oh, how much we as a people have to pray for this year . . .

Oh, how much we had prayed. For hostage Daniel Perez to return home safe and sound when just this very morning brought the heartbreaking news that this young heroic warrior of Israel, in face of the onslaught of the sadists on Oct. 7 fought so valiantly, saving countless lives. And of another heroic warrior, Daniel’s partner, Itay Chen, whom we learned the day before too was not the living hostage whom we had been so deeply praying for, but now also a heroic fallen IDF soldier.

This year, the prayers and tears of the heart and platters of hamantaschen are all mixed up together.

My phone pings yet again. I’m scared to look. 
 It’s a snippet from one of the eulogies for Daniel Perez, by Rav Rimon:

“From within mourning we must always remember.

“Throughout our history they have tried to kill us, to murder us.

“But never since the era of the destruction of the Temple were we able to defend ourselves.

“Never before was there a pogrom from which the nation of Israel rose to defend itself.

“And now it has defended itself with might.

“We are not weak. We are not helpless.

“We are strong . . .

“Daniel did not fall in Auschwitz;

“Nor did he fall in Bergen-Belsen.

“Daniel fell as a hero of the Israel Defense Force.

“Daniel fell wearing the Priestly Garments,

“the Royal Garb,

“the uniform of the IDF . . . “

I suppose within so much of the pain and tragedy there are the silver linings. Yet, if fallen IDF soldiers are what makes for silver linings these days, I sure hope this troubled time of Jewish history passes by, or reverses and pivots, as sharply as the Purim story did.

The hamantaschen platters are ready.

Copyright © 2024 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


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