The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan is often described in the most capturing, descriptive words: "Liberal and accepting. You can be any color or shape and have any personality in Ann Arbor. Everything goes." For me, a recent event shattered that fantasy island.
On a Sunday evening, I was walking up Church Street, talking on my cell phone with my mom, when, out of a speeding car, came a yell: "Jew!" Yes, I am a Jew, and I wear a kippah on my head.
In this case, I was alone and there were three people trying to start trouble with me. I carried on with my casual conversation with my mom, hoping that was the end of the incident. But about a minute later, I realized that the car had turned around and was now following me up the road. I knew this was not a good situation and immediately thought of how to get off the phone with my mother. If she had known what was going on, she would have had a nervous breakdown.
All her family's belongings were stripped and their land confiscated for being Jewish.
My mother was born and raised in the so-called moderate country of Egypt, and she can be quite overprotective and nervous about her children. The reason being that all her family's belongings were stripped from them and their land confiscated for being Jewish. Even this relatively civil government, in the middle of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, was anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. So in my mother's mind, I was always safe and out of danger in this Eden of Ann Arbor.
Wrong. This was already the third time that an ethnic slur was made to me in Ann Arbor. I had never actually been assaulted or pursued, though; it was usually just an Arab student taking his frustrations over the Mideast situation out on me.
This time, things seemed more serious. They continued yelling out curses and asking me if I wanted to fight. (I couldn't think of anything convincing enough for my mom not to question so I simply hung up and turned off my phone.)
There was no interest in my political views, no interest in my customs or beliefs, no opening for conversation.
As I continued walking, and assessing my predicament, a 20-oz. soda bottle came flying out of the car and hit me square in the back. As they drove by, they yelled out a barrage of curses that can't be printed here. There was no interest in my political views, no interest in my customs or beliefs, no opening for conversation. Simply a blatantly hateful remark directed to somebody because of their religion.
There happened to be another person walking right behind me who witnessed the bottle hit me. I figured that like every good citizen, he would stop to make sure everything was okay. No. He didn't flinch or pause or at least see if he could help with anything. I thought to myself: If no one gets involved, who will help?
While making sure to keep walking, I kept my cool and did not reply to any provocations. Their car was now sitting across the street blocking all traffic. (I noticed the line of cars waiting for this event to pass and continue on their merry way.) The gang loudly continued to remind me that I was Jewish, and two of them got out of the car with open palms ready to come after me. A third passenger sat in the back seat watching the entire thing.
This is the first and hopefully the only time I have ever feared for my life. Were they armed? Were they going to injure me? I had no idea.
Something like this should never happen and especially not on a university campus that preaches diversity and acceptance. This all happened relatively quickly, so I still had my cell phone in hand. They muttered that I was calling the cops. Hey, thanks for the great idea! So that's exactly what I did, as I committed the license plate to memory, TQA 306.
Scared out of their wits, they sped away in the car, with blaring music and hateful attitudes.
On the phone, I informed the AAPD of the assault and about 30 minutes later an officer showed up. She whipped out her pad of notes and I described the incident. Refusing to run the plate, she said she would "get back to me if she heard anything." I was frustrated and appalled that this kind of thing could happen. There will never be any lasting peace anywhere if there is no tolerance between faiths.
If silence is agreement, then the entire community, not just Jews, should be yelling their throats off.
There are similar, unacceptable events occurring daily in our own communities. To know something happens and not to do anything is nearly tantamount to agreement. If silence is agreement, then the entire community, not just Jews, should be yelling their throats off.
As a group, we must work earnestly and diligently to apprehend, prosecute, and hopefully punish the perpetrators. The way must never be made easy to threaten or attack anyone because of their religion, ethnicity, or anyone seen as an "outsider" from the disgruntled fringe group.
I am pleased to say that after loads of effort, action was taken to prosecute, and the two individuals that approached me are being charged with Ethnic Intimidation.
Thanks for listening. We must always stand up for what is just and moral, each in our own way.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Advocate of Boston.