The last fleeting moments of the school year are filled with half-days and the ever climactic, always magical, one-hour Friday. Before the kids head off to camp, these abbreviated days allow you to cross those last few items off their shopping list, and if they behave themselves, maybe lunching out might be in order.
My oldest son got to pick the restaurant this day, so we went to our favorite chicken wing and burger joint. The only thing wrong with this place, in my opinion, and especially on this day, is the fact that if there isn’t a ready table you may have to wait in the bar area. This particular Tuesday afternoon, the bar is petty full with fellows having their midday libation.
On the silenced television, the one that wasn’t showing Sports Center, our local News 12 was airing the day's headlines. The lead story was about some new “groundbreaking” legislation declaring a minimum age for users of tanning salons and tattoo parlors. This story got some of the guys at the bar talking, albeit loudly, and one of them said that he couldn’t even remember when or where he got his first tattoo, and one of his friends quickly jabbed “didn’t you get it at Auschwitz?”
Three of the guys quickly started howling loudly, excluding the one that the joke was aimed at, but my sons and I all looked at each other in disbelief. How could that be funny? How could someone even cross the line in this day and age? At that precise moment we were escorted to a table outside and out of earshot.
Part of me wanted to approach the guys at the bar, but getting my ass kicked in front of my kids wasn’t on my agenda for the day. I also realized that trying to reason with a few guys drinking heavily in the middle of the afternoon probably wouldn’t work out too well either, so I turned my efforts to a more impressionable audience–my boys.
They were a little shell shocked by all this and I got them to talk about their feelings and more importantly what we could learn from this. I then told them about when I was in college and David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was running for a house seat in the state of Louisiana. A lot of people from different walks of life got together to go out and campaign against Mr. Duke. All of us armed with our pamphlets, literature, and collegiate vocabularies hit the neighborhoods in his district.
With all of our well-intentioned efforts, at the end of the day when all the votes were counted, Mr. Duke was victorious. I guess that is when I learned that there are people in the world who have their own beliefs and wants, regardless of how different they may be from my own.
By the end of the meal,l my children and I had had a very meaningful conversation and they were definitely better educated about anti-Semitism, bigotry, hate, and how hurtful words (and actions) can be. In the back of my mind during the whole meal, I debated. Should I have confronted these guys or should we just have left the restaurant? And even worse, the thought of what would any one of my older family members who fled Europe have said to them or even done? So many questions and emotions swirled in my head, although none of them provided me the insight as to what was the right way to handle it.
As we left the restaurant we saw that our “friends” at the bar had left, but one of my sons asked a question that caught me by surprise. “What would Nana have done in our situation?” he asked. Clearly, he knew as well as I did that she would have confronted these men because after living a lifetime, she has seen firsthand what happens when you sit idly by and do nothing.