by Herschel Dov Mosheson
I am writing this on May 31st 2021, Memorial Day, the last day of both Asian-American Heritage Month and Jewish-American Heritage Month. I’ve spent much of the morning thinking back to late April 2019. It feels so long ago now. I had recently come home from a deployment to the Middle East and there had just been a synagogue shooting in my own hometown of San Diego. In solidarity with my people, I went to morning services on a Sunday morning, the day after the shooting. It was a small service fitting the size of the small Jewish community of the small beach town in the northern part of the state I was living in at the time.
The rabbi knew me. After we finished praying, he came up to me. We talked about the recent shootings. The rabbi recounted to me a story that had occurred the day before. A neighbor had approached the rabbi as news of the synagogue shooting was breaking. This neighbor told the rabbi that if anything should happen, bring his family to his house – he had a gun and a place to hide. Not knowing what else to say, I told the rabbi it was a beautiful thing to have such good neighbors. The rabbi asked me, “Do you know how to buy a gun?”
“Rabbi, do you truly need a gun? Why do you need to arm yourself?”
“Because,” the rabbi explained, “they need to know: Jewish blood doesn’t come cheap.”
I was flat footed. I don’t think I have adequately described the scene. It was a Sunday, the day after Shabbat. We were not in a synagogue. The congregation was so small we met to pray in the rabbi’s garage. There were only seven of us, less than a minyan, mostly old men, huddled in a garage, praying in the wake of this antisemitic attack.The rabbi was a young man and his two small children were playing in the corner of the room. I had just gotten home from overseas. I had just taken off my tefillin and was beginning to wrap them in their boxes. I was still wearing my tallit. He looked me dead in the eyes. No, not dead in the eyes, his eyes were so defiantly alive when he asked me how to arm himself because:
“Jewish blood doesn’t come cheap.”
Over these last two years I have not forgotten those words, the sound of his voice, the heaviness of it all. I don’t know how I felt about them when I heard them. My feelings about them today are still inarticulately mixed. But I mull the thing over constantly. Recently, it has been conjuring other memories.
I was on a college campus. There had been another mass shooting. There was a group of young students conducting a signature drive, calling for stricter gun control in California, all the more justified by the recent headlines.
A young black woman was staging a protest. A counter protest. She was opposing stricter gun control laws. She was encouraging increased gun ownership. At a calm point in the day I remember speaking with her. She recounted for me the racist history of gun control in America: The Jim Crow gun control laws; the inequitable enforcement of gun regulations.
I was speaking with a dear friend of mine, a fellow veteran and Indian-American man. He recounted for me the racist history of gun control laws in our home state of California; how the first gun regulation, the so-called Black Panther Act, was passed to disarm black communities; how these stories have been repeated state after state.
A year ago, I was marching in a protest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, another black man murdered by this country. Islamophobia is on the rise. Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Asian-American hate crimes have nearly doubled. And that conversation with that rabbi, that was back in April 2019. Antisemitic hate crimes have risen in this month alone by 75%.
I would like to end here by echoing those words that haunt me. But they’re not true. America has made all our blood cheap. Instead, in solidarity with all our peoples, I echo these words of that young black woman:
An armed minority is not an oppressed minority.