It’s been eight years today since you died, today, on Remembrance Day. My memory of this day and its ceremony belongs to you: it is the minute of silence at the War Memorial in Oak Bay, where you thanked the veterans of the Second World War for fighting for you and your country. It was not lost on us how much this day meant to you because of how you, your community, and your country were threatened by that war, and how much it meant to you that so many people were brave enough to fight.
Dad, I have thought of you so much this past election season. You went into the hospital for your last stroke just before Barack Obama took office, before he defeated John McCain. You called McCain, a “doddering old fool” and cheerfully remarked that Sarah Palin “had nice legs but nothing else going for her” (OK, a tad sexist, but true). You would have appreciated watching the Obama presidency and the intellectualism he brought back to America. You would have enjoyed watching FOX News lose their minds over Obama for eight years so you could have called their talking heads “bloody lunatics”, and you would have really loved the eight years of Daily Show and Colbert Report coverage that followed. (I’m sorry to tell you Stephen Colbert is now David Letterman’s replacement and no longer the genius satirist you appreciated so much.)
I’m not sure if you would still be able to mock and chuckle at what has happened here this week. It is too frightening and too serious. I was sad you weren’t here to make fun of Trump throughout this election season, but I think you would stop laughing and be horrified at his legitimate election this week. I think you would say that all of America had finally proven itself crazy, and that it was time for me to come back home to Canada. I can almost hear you, telling me not to stay here, not with Paul (who you loved) and Ben (who you were so proud of). I think you would see parallels to Hitler’s Germany, and be afraid for me.
Dad, it isn’t time for me to come home yet. You also taught me to stand up for the little guy, even if it meant going to a fight. You believed in the English colonialism and imperialism, but you also believed in equality and English moral decency for everyone once they were colonized (Again, kind of imperialist, but better than judging on skin color). I remember how you had an equal rights hiring policy, how you judged people by their work ethic, not their heritage. I believe you would be shocked and aghast at the hate crimes that are already springing up in America after the election, but you wouldn’t want me to turn my back on people I could help.
When the Germans started their attack on the Jews, no one came to help my people then. Not the English, not the Canadians. The Americans turned Jews away. Dad, you never really accepted what that meant to me or my mother or our family. You had a lot of respect for those who fought, but you never thought it was a huge deal that no-one from the Anglo Saxon countries came to help the Jews. I realize that the Battle of Britain was going on for years and England was kind of busy, but even after you defended the homeland, no one tried to bomb or shut down the concentration camps. Six million Jews died, six million people like me, like my son – well educated, apartment dwelling Western European Jews, many my distant kin in Austria and the Ukraine.
Dad, I realize that the English suffered during the Wars, and that you spent your childhood hiding from German bombings, even in the far North of England. But that is a Boys Own Adventure Story compared to what happened to the Jews.
I am facing an America that has accelerated its usual racism and is now speeding towards something that is more akin to Nazi Germany. Swastikas are springing up, the Klan is celebrating – and all of this because the country legitimately elected a man who legitimized racism and prejudice. Dad, it’s frightening, even for me, a half-Jew living in New York City. Conservative America was disturbing but we could still make fun of it. This is too scary to even mock. You would have been upset if you were here to see Stephen Colbert breaking down on air, in shock at the election results. And Trump’s America isn’t coming for the Jews…but they are coming for someone. And just because it isn’t me or mine doesn’t mean I can hide from it.
You taught me to stand and fight for what was right and that holding on to good old fashioned English morality was important. Being Jewish teaches me that I have a responsibility to be vigilant against prejudice, and to stand up for those I see being tormented unfairly. These two things together mean that I can’t leave America yet.
I’m scared though, Dad – scared that New York will suffer an attack, a bombing, a Blitz. I’m scared for my friends – my friends who are visibly not Caucasian, my friends who are LGBTQ. I’m even more scared that Canada will follow the UK and US down this crazy path, and there will be no safe place anywhere anymore.
As scared as I am, I will have to hold the line and fight. I will not go quietly into that good night, I will rage at the dying of the light. A Dylan Thomas poem you loved, which is about death, but could also be about giving in to despair and hopelessness.
Dad, I wish, more than anything else, that I could still talk to you. I think you’d still be trying to convince me to come home, but I also think you’d understand why I felt I had to stay and fight – and you’d probably blame my mother’s side of the family (“You must get this from your mother and her Vietnam War protesting” you said, when I went to DC to protest the Iraq War). But as much as I get my strong conviction for civil liberties from my mother, I also got the need to always do what’s right from you.
You said it was up to us to stand up for the little guy. I will not only stand up, but I will stand with all who need me to. And I will teach Ben to stand up with me.
Dad, I remember and honor your memory today. I will say the yartzheit for you tonight, as I have since you died. And while I’m in services, I will also pray for the same kind of strength that it took for each and every soldier to fight in each in every war. We must remember and honor those who fought for our freedom, and fight ourselves to preserve it. You taught me that too.