December 28, 2012

"You shall tell your son"

The other night, I was driving my son past our local "correctional facility", and he peppered me with various matter-of-fact questions, ending with whether I'd ever been inside a jail.

The easy part was telling him I had once been inside a jail in Washington, DC, a long time ago. The harder part was explaining to a seven-year-old who takes globalization and his own Jewish identity for granted, that just 25 years ago the world was a very different place. My son has seen me off to Moscow on routine business travel, and here I was telling him that Jewish children in Russia were once forbidden from keeping the Sabbath and studying Torah or learning Hebrew -- not in some ancient Greco-Syrian occupation thousands of years ag
o a la Hanukkah, or in Pharaoh's Egypt, but in his own father's lifetime.

I told my son how I stood with others opposite the Soviet ("Russian") Embassy while the Russian leader was visiting Washington, and spoke out on behalf of our fellow Jews who were denied even the right to emigrate. I felt we had to do whatever we could. "Aba, what's an Embassy?" Insert primer on normative diplomacy...

It was illegal to demonstrate so close to a foreign embassy, so we knew we would be arrested. They took us away in a school bus, though it wasn't painted yellow. "How long did you stay in jail?" We were held for the whole afternoon until we were brought into court and the judge released us, but the police treated us very well.

"Did you stay with the other people in the jail?" We had our own cell, with bars, and we could see and hear the other prisoners. We had the opportunity to do something so people would know -- and the Russian "President" would see -- that we cared about the Jews in Russia. Unlike most of those other prisoners, and unlike the Jews in Russia, I was free to go home that same night.

After some moments of silence from the back seat, I asked my son how this makes him feel: "Amazed."

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