by Alina Wickham P’21
While we were there, Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS) set up a school for the immigrant kids to learn English. But it was a crazy time. The PLO was (trying to) blow up planes, trains and transit centers housing Soviet Jews, so the Jewish Defense League (JDL) offered the students a motorcycle escort… with guns mounted on the handlebars. To be honest, I had just seen tons of Soviet officers with guns all along our journey out of the USSR, so the sight barely registered.
In college, I was Hillel president at one of the most anti-Semitic universities in America, so armed guards were periodically called out to on-campus events like once, when the General Union of Palestinian Students counter-protested a Yom HaShoah commemoration.
As a result, when I saw armed guards posted at the synagogues my family attended or at Rodeph Sholom School, I barely pay it any mind. And that, I eventually realized, was a problem.
For me, the issue took on an extra dimension because while my children are African-American, in both the situations at our day school and synagogues, it’s majority white families being protected by people of color. I am bothered by how that plays out, even as I understand the deeper cultural and socioeconomic factors involved.
I don’t claim to be innocent—Modern life sometimes involves making other folks invisible. Many a time I’ve continued a conversation in front of a waiter or a supermarket clerk or a taxi driver as if they were not there or, if there, not capable of hearing or understanding. But that isn’t OK. And it was the security guards who have been there as my daughter has been attending RSS, who drove home the error of my ways.
Please be mindful of the fact that the people you are entrusting your children’s lives to are people. Say hello when you drop off in the morning. Though, most certainly, don’t distract them or bother them. Wish them a nice day, a good weekend, smile, learn their names, do whatever feels comfortable to you.
Conversely, don’t ask them for special favors. They are not doormen or your personal support staff. They can’t hold your child’s diorama for a minute while you duck in out of the rain, or leave their post to go looking for your straggler in the gym. They are professionals doing a job. Their job is to keep us safe. Your job is to make doing their job as easy for them as possible.
Because, that way, everybody benefits.
Modified and republished with author’s permission. Originally published in Kveller March 2017.