As some of you may know, I grew up in a small town in New Jersey in the middle of farmland. There were scattered pockets of “colored people” (African-Americans) throughout my hometown with a concentration in several blocks in one area (a ghetto) where the school for “colored” kids was located.  Because of the “colored school” and the housing tracts, most kids in my hometown did not interact with kids of other races until high school, the only high school in town.

I happened to live on a block that housed African-Americans, Caucasians, Protestants and Catholics and played with all the kids on my block.  There were no Jews.  My mom was probably allowed to live on this block because she worked as a domestic for the owner of the house she rented and because her landlord’s other properties (also rented to African-Americans) were sandwiched between several African-American owned properties (ghettoization). 

When the colored school was closed and the African-American kids integrated into the “white” schools, I met, played and studied with Jewish kids for the first time.  However, I was certainly aware of Jewish people before integration because my mom and her African-American friends frequently discussed discrimination against and persecution of Jews and African-Americans, bemoaning the suffering of both groups.  I learned that Jews and Christians were different religiously but wasn’t taught that “Jewish people” (my mom never referred to Jewish people as “the Jews”) were the enemy.

My hometown had a significant population of Jewish lawyers, doctors and businessmen, but I wasn’t aware of the existence of Jewish farmers until I attended our regional (expanded to include rural areas) high school.  Many Jewish students were bused in from farms, and the majority of students in my small high school classes were Jewish.  I had several Jewish teachers.  Schools were closed or classes made into study halls on Jewish holidays, and I sometimes secretly helped a Jewish girlfriend prepare food for the holidays.  I say all this to give some background to my history with and affinity for Jews. 

I can’t express how distressed and thoroughly disgusted I was to read about the anti-Semitic demonstrations by the Westboro Baptist Church (“Hatred Comes to Rosh Hashanah,” RoundTable, September 15, p.30).  I applaud the RoundTable for bringing the hate-filled acts of this church to the attention of the community.  One church demonstrator’s sign said, “God hates Jews.”  Did God tell them that?  Was Jesus not a Jew?  

The article states:  “The [Westboro Baptist Church] group is known for its outspoken venom against homosexuals, Jews and other minority groups” and has been banned from graveside services of soldiers.  It’s been pointed out that the Westboro Baptist Church is not affiliated with other Baptist churches.  Amen to that!

If you haven’t read the RoundTable article, please do.  It exposes the hatred and ignorance that can consume our country if not countered.  Thank goodness for the people who spoke out against the Westboro group’s demonstrations, and let’s not forget that speaking out against the plans of a so-called Christian group to burn Korans (the Islamic holy books) discouraged that group from doing so.  Being silent about acts of hatred perpetrated against groups of people because of their religion, race, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual preference allows hatred to spread.  Don’t be silenced by the mistaken notion that acts of hatred don’t affect you.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stated: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”  Shalom!

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...