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Pittsburgh Reflections: I know some want to take my life for being a Jew.

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by Virginia Del. Mark Levine:

I am a Jew.

I know some want to take my life
For being a Jew.

I learned about Anne Frank
When I was just five years old.
I’ve imagined living in the concentration camps.
I’ve imagined dying in the gas chambers.

I’ve confronted antisemitism worldwide.
I remember a Swiss synagogue on Yom Kippur.
Where they told us to disperse quickly after services
In case someone threw a bomb at us as we left.

I was struck by this.
I didn’t think at the time
It would happen in America.

I’m proud of being an American,
Because America took us in,
Took my family in
More than a century ago.

We came here so that antisemites wouldn’t kill us.

I know we’ve had antisemitism in America
Much worse than we have today.
I know that the first “America Firsters”
Loved the Nazis and hated Jews.
I know that Americans in the ‘40’s
Hated Jews worse than the Germans and the Japanese.

I also know that since the Holocaust,
There is no safer, freer, more wonderful place
Than the United States of America
To be a Jew.

I am a gay man.

I know some want to take my life
For being a gay man.

I remember the day Matthew Shepard was crucified.
I’ve imagined what I would have done
In that Wyoming bar.
I’ve imagined being impaled on a fence
For hour after long hour,
Dying slowly alone.

I know dozens of gay men and women
Who were kicked by their families
Out of their homes

Or tortured by so-called Christians
Trying to convert them to heterosexuality
Against their will.

I’m proud of how far we’ve come.
I’m proud of my work
Helping to bring equality to the gay community.
Cultural equality.
Marriage equality.

I’m aware of how far we have yet to go.

I’m aware of the greater hate
The transgender community faces.
I know that compared to trans folk,
It is far easier
To be a gay man.

I’m not Black.

But I know that some want to take the lives of people
Just for being Black.

For driving while Black.
For walking while Black.
For wearing a hoodie while Black.

Or confronting a police officer while Black.
Or protesting police violence while Black.

When the KKK burns a cross,
They do not terrorize one Black family.
They terrorize an entire community.

I’m proud of how far we’ve come.
I’m proud of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

But I also know,
With voter suppression laws
And drug laws that criminally punish crack users
But not opioid users.
That we have a long way to go
Before we can say we have equality in America
For Blacks.

I’m not a woman.

I don’t particularly fear
Walking alone at night.

I walk women to their cars at night
As my mother taught me to do.

We both know why I’m walking them to their cars at night.
We don’t say why,
But we know.

It’s because women face daily the real and present fear
Of sexual assault
And domestic violence.

And yet, the danger is even greater from family, friends, and acquaintances than strangers,

I know the stigma that goes along with being a survivor.
I know the pain of losing a sister to domestic violence.
I’m proud of the #MeToo movement for drawing attention,
But I also know the battle is far from over.

I can’t imagine what it is like to fear
Every social encounter may end in violence,
But I want to try to imagine.

I want to stand up as a man for women,
As well as for male victims of sexual assault.

I want to stand up for women in the workplace.
And for women who want their bodies
Free of men’s control over them.

I’m not a woman,
But I will always stand
With women.

I am an American.

I’ve always been an American.
I was born here.

I’m proud to be an American,
Not in a country-music-song facile kind of way
But because America is the land that took my family in
More than a century ago.

My great grandparents had nothing in their pockets
But the American Dream,
Which they and their descendants realized.

While I’m not an immigrant,
I imagine their travails.

Like my great grandparents,
They are escaping violence,
Seeking a safe place.

They don’t speak English that well yet,
But the smiles on their faces tell it all.

No matter how hard it is to get here,
No matter how hard it is to be here,
They know that only in America
Can their dreams be made.

It’s the one place in the world
Where you can start all over again
As an immigrant.
And become
An American.

I’m a Southern man
From Nashville, Tennessee.

I understand the pride
Of a poor white Southern man,
Self-reliant salt of the earth,
Whose family never owned slaves.

I understand the arrogance
Of a rich white Southern man,
Who’s proud that his family did own slaves
But has never really considered
The harm his family did to innocent people.

It’s not hard to find a Southern man
Who carries the Dixie Flag
As a point of pride
But also to be rebellious.

He doesn’t much like Blacks or Jews
Or gays or immigrants.
He doesn’t much like Yankees either.

He doesn’t believe in treating women
Equally with men.
That’s just not how he was taught.
It wouldn’t be chivalrous.

No, it’s not all Southern men,
But it is a substantial number.
All too many.

I understand Southern pride.
Southerners don’t like know-it-alls.
Southerners don’t like Yankee-splaining
Any more than women like man-splaining.

And they often take it out
On “politicians in Washington,”
Even the ones they themselves elect.

For some white Southerners,
A gun is the ultimate in self-reliance.

There is a Southern man
who doesn’t think anything can hurt him,
If he owns a gun.

But a gun is not a shield.

Emotions
And financial worry
And sickness
And struggling rural communities

Creep past his gun
And enter his soul.

There’s great pain
In the soul of many
A Southern man.

I strive to understand
Cultures I am from.

I strive to understand
Cultures not my own.

I’m a Southern gay Jewish man
Who strives to empathize
With a Black immigrant woman.

In other words,
I’m an American

Dedicated to the Memory of the Pittsburgh 11.