Jewish Bumper Sticker a Concern on Trip to Rural America

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Dear Miriam,

We are considering adding a school bumper sticker to our car that would make it obvious we’re Jewish. We have no concerns about driving our car in the Greater Philadelphia area tagged as Jews and want to show our support for our kids’ school.

But once or twice a year, we spend time in a non-Jewish rural part of a red state full of Confederate flags. On one hand, we’re concerned about putting a target on our car for vandalism. Of course, the likelihood of violence toward us is small, but, with the rise of anti-Semitism, we can’t deny that it is there. On the other hand, we don’t want to take the bumper sticker off just for these trips, thereby sending the message to the kids that we need to hide our Judaism.

Not going on these trips or taking a different form of transportation is not an option. What do we do?

Signed,

Rural Car Target

Dear Target,

The last case I heard of anti-Semitic vandalism on a car was actually in the Philly suburbs. Many people, including me, were upset, but I don’t know of anyone who changed their bumper sticker habits because of the incident. Honestly, I don’t even know if the car had any identifying Jewish features.

There is a clear trend of rising anti-Semitism in our country and the world, and the intersection of randomness and targeted hate make it difficult to go about normal life without some suspicion.

At the same time, as you said yourself, the chances of anything happening to you because of your Jewishness, even in completely non-Jewish areas, are small. Cars are, unfortunately, vandalized in my city neighborhood with some frequency, not because of hatred, but because of theft. I’m obviously not justifying vandalism of any kind, but owning a car usually means that strangers have access to your property and could do any number of things to it, whether you’re Jewish or not, urban or rural, red state or blue.

If you want to put on the bumper sticker, you should do it. There are other ways to show support for your kids’ school, like a sign in the window of your home, T-shirts you can wear only when it feels like the right setting, or just straight up giving them a donation.

Having the sticker on your car is a small act and, since it sounds like it’s causing you big stress, it may just not be worth it. Also, even though you say the bumper sticker is obviously Jewish, it’s worth considering whether a person in rural America who has potentially never met a Jewish person will pick up on what is so obvious to you.

Taking on and off the sticker before the trips isn’t a terrible option either, and you can tell your kids nothing, and they probably wouldn’t notice, or you can say that since people where you’re going have never heard of the school, you only need it on in Philly to show your support. You could also invest in one of those bumper guards to cover up your bumper while you’re out of town, though that is likely to brand you instantly as a city dweller, which may raise just as many issues (which is to say, again, probably none).

I don’t in any way want to minimize the scariness of anti-Semitism, but I also don’t want to give into stereotypes of rural Americans or perpetuate the false sense of security of living in a more Jewish area. Bad things can happen anywhere, anti-Semitism can and does exist anywhere and good people also exist everywhere.

By bringing your children to a place with different demographics, you’re already teaching them valuable life lessons, and you are in a position to start teaching them the bigger issues of diversity and difference. Encouraging your children to be thoughtful, critical thinkers, regardless of the bumper sticker, is likely the best way to support and honor their school.

Be well,

Miriam

2 COMMENTS

  1. The concern here is overblown and borderline ridiculous — it is the now common refrain of “fear” based on nothing more than a dislike for the current president and the atmosphere it is claimed that he engenders. Well, I am a native Philadelphian (graduate of Central High) who has spent the last 46 years living in the South (Virginia) in an area where Jews are few and far between.

    My daughter was one of about four Jewish kids in a high school class of about 800 and we are one of now three Jewish families in a subdivision of 48 homes. Never once have I felt threatened or fearful because of my faith — or the mezzuzah on my door post. My daughter was proudly Jewish — a Bat Mitzvah, with all the trimmings, was her big moment — and only a handful of her friends that we invited were Jews.

    I have no doubt that some of her schoolmates, and likely some of the adults I see each day, harbor some negative stereotypes about Jews, but I suggest that they are no worse and certainly a lot less threatening that the blatant anti-Semitism I experienced in Philadelphia on the S Bus I used to ride to Central each day and the kids who lived on the next block in Mt. Airy where I grew up.

    The point is that anti-Jewish feelings are not limited to so called “red states.” You are more likely to find curiosity than hostility in those areas and likely less outright dislike than you will find in most of Pennsylvania outside of Philly and Pittsburgh.

    I am just so tired of cosseted Jewish blue state residents painting the rest of the country with the anti-Semitic brush based on nothing more than a few publicized incidents or vivid imaginations. May I remind the writer here that the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was in Pennsylvania, not Wyoming or Mississippi.

  2. Couldn’t agree with with you more Gary. Didn’t the writer realize that the assassin at the Pittsburgh synagogue carried out his carnage in a “blue” city run for decades by Democrats. Sounds like the writer of this letter wants to hate on anyone who is non-Jewish and living in a place she feels is threatening.

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