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Dividing Lines

Mishpacha Staff

The usual veil of polite PC dialogue has been lifted to reveal a splintered country, raw with emotion, and American Jews take a deep breath. Eight stories from the trenches

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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TARGET PRACTICE “Populism doesn’t tend to work out well for the Jews,” admits Bethany Mandel, a New Jersey-based writer whose work appears regularly at The Federalist. “When anger and hatred get directed toward entire groups of Americans — in Trump’s case, toward Mexicans and Muslims — that doesn’t bode well for Jews. It’s that famous quote, ‘First they came for the trade unionists…’ and it always comes back to the Jews.” (Photos: AFP/Imagebank, Esky Cook)

T wo weeks ago, a tumultuous election careened to its historic conclusion — but the story of America’s ugliest presidential campaign has yet to end.

With heated protests on the streets and unabashed hatred in the cyber arena, a wave of resentment, fear, and antipathy has washed over the country. The hostility is coming from both right and left as the usual veil of polite PC dialogue has been lifted, revealing a splintered country, raw with emotion.

As Jews, this feels familiar yet different.

Ever appreciative of our benevolent host country, we’ve still had our reminders over the years. But the fact that it’s all on such high volume now, and so bitter and blistering, makes American Jews take a deep breath.

Crazy About Bagels

Yaacov Drebin, 62, is the owner of Goldberg’s New York Bagels in the Pikesville section of Baltimore, Maryland.

I’ve been in Baltimore since 1985 and have worked in bagels for almost 20 years. I’ve always tried to make my store one of the only bagel shops in the world that is kosher and serves everybody — Jews, non-Jews, frum, unaffiliated — and I’ve been successful. Two Sundays ago, before the election, Trump people came in a truck to campaign in my store. I had no idea that they were coming, but I had no problem with it. They wore masks; I wouldn’t have done that, but they didn’t ask me. I didn’t even know who they were at the time.

When I went outside to see what was going on, I saw a non-frum lady screaming and swearing at them at the top of her lungs. I said, “You can’t do that! Get out of here!” She said, “I’m one of your customers!”

I said, “I don’t care who you are! You can’t talk like that! Get out of here!”

That was just the beginning. She must have told her friend, who told her friend, who told her friend. They started talking about me on the Internet and giving me bad reviews online. On a one-to-five scale, with five being a great review and one being a bad review, only about ten people gave me “ones” — but it was ten too many in my eyes. They did this because they heard I voted for Trump; they think I’m giving my money to Trump. I tried to talk to them, online, saying this is not a review of my store, it’s a review of my political preference. I also publicized a letter to counteract the bad reviews, requesting people write reviews of my bagels. I got about 70 people to rate me as a “five” to wipe out all those bad reviews (which I got rid of; I didn’t even want to read them). Right now, I’m up to 246 reviews that give me a “five.” My letter was effective; it woke up the sleeping giant. This is what a non-Jewish person replied to those who gave me the bad reviews after she read my letter:

“This is really sad. It’s bad enough that people discriminate against skin color, religion, etc. Now, because this man is a Trump supporter, people are boycotting bagels? If the same people knew how many people actually support him, they wouldn’t be able to live if they boycotted everything with Trump’s name on it. I wonder if these same people would feel differently if they were discriminated against with something so minute. Bottom line is: his political views have nothing to do with the service he is providing. I am sure he isn’t putting a Trump pamphlet in every bagel bag or naming a bagel after the guy. And, even if he did, so what? He is free to do as he pleases. Don’t like him? Fine, your choice, but bashing the man on Yelp or whatever is not fair to the business he worked so hard to make.”

Another person, by the name of O’Connell, commented:

“I like how the Left complains about the Right being intolerant. The pot calling the kettle black. Our country is spinning down the drain with all this hatred and intolerance.” Another non-Jewish woman said:

“Just another form of bullying! If you don’t agree with those folks, they try to destroy you and your business. Best of luck!”

I usually have between 2,000 to 3,000 customers a week. Since this whole thing happened, I have about 500 less — I lost a lot of my nonreligious customers. My sales from last November to this November have dropped 15 percent; no other month was as bad as this November.

I’m not afraid to voice my views; that’s why things came out this way. I used to get into conversations with people at the store. They would say something nasty about Trump and I would say, “How can you say that? That’s not true; you can’t tell me anything about Trump. It’s all just hearsay. Yet I can tell you that Hillary is a liar.”

I hope America will change in a good way. My health insurance went up 75 percent! Right now, as a frum Jew living in America, my biggest fear is keeping my business alive with all these crazy people who are attacking me. But Hashem rules the world and that’s why all this is happening. You can’t look at it rationally; it doesn’t work. The world is not rational. Therefore, you have to believe that Hashem must be doing something to control people. I just don’t understand free will right now. I think everyone is going a little crazy, and I think for some reason, that’s what Hashem wants.

—Margie Pensak

Beyond the Veil

WendySue Steinberg, 45, is an academic advisor at Cincinnati State Community and Technical College in Ohio.

I’ve been in Cincinnati for eight years and at this job for two months. As an academic advisor, I provide students with the academic resources to be successful in college. I’m their main point of contact to help them enroll in classes, navigate financial aid, and deal with other challenges that might come up. As a frum Jew, I was very nervous at first about advising Muslim students. I have my own insecurities about people, and my fear of serving my Muslim students had generated from what I read and what I heard on the news. I knew I had to serve the student population, but I was afraid of how they would react to me.

“I still do believe that we should be involved in the democratic process and choose a leader who reflects our most cherished values,” says Yaakov Rosenblatt, a rabbi and businessman in Dallas, Texas. “I still do feel uncomfortable with bloc voting. But I am less confident that I know G-d’s plan. Rather, I just know G-d’s values.”

One day, I had to take my youngest son, Noam, to the pediatrician. The only other family in the waiting room was a young Muslim family. Noam was wearing his yarmulke and tzitzis and was reading on his Kindle, and the father of this family helped us with a technical issue on the Kindle. Later, when we were leaving, we saw this family again and wished them a good day.

The next week, a Muslim woman walked into my office. “Tri-Health!” she exclaimed. Her name is Amal, and she was the mother from that family at the doctor’s office. My fears disappeared: Her son is named Abraham. Her daughter is Sarah. Amal told me that her husband was so impressed I was dressed modestly that he told his wife it can be done in America. This Muslim husband noted how I dressed, and next time I saw Amal, she was in a dress, too. What a kiddush Hashem!

Over the course of our meetings, I’ve learned so much more about Amal and her family. She’s from Jordan — she came here in 2013 — and she’s 26 years old. Her husband and her kids are citizens, but Amal has a green card. Amal knows know I’m religious — we talk about what we eat and how we both dress modestly. When she found out I cover my hair, she told me about Muslim salons that cut only women’s hair. We’ve discussed how similar our marriage processes are, and I recently asked her why she covers her neck. “It is part of our culture,” Amal explained. “No man should see a woman’s neck or hair except her husband.”

We also discussed how we’re both fearful. When we met the other day, after the election, we were silent for a long time. “You know what Trump’s election has done?” she said. “It now allows people who fear Muslims, Jews, the handicapped, and others to act on those fears.”

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MM217
 
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