No one wants to hear about your terrible Monday. It’s almost always dreadful for almost everyone because it marks the beginning of a new week of school or work or even both. But in between your prose and Harlem Renaissance classes on the Monday of March twelfth, you’ll sit inside the Hillel office—the way you and so many other Jewish students at the City College of New York normally do. And you’ll be met with something far more troubling than a dull, heaping workload. You’ll leave your hot cup of coffee to cool on the desk across from you as you attempt to complete a written assignment while chatting with one of the Hillel board members. At one point, he’ll stare at the outer office door and inquire about something that’s gone missing. “What happened to our sign?” he’ll ask.
You’ll have no answer because you hadn’t noticed the missing sign at all. In fact, you never took note of its existence before. Minutes later, three school officials will approach the Hillel office and you’ll straighten your back and look up at the incoming crowd. You’ll recognize only one of them because she’s the same woman who had popped in a week before, asking all fourth floor offices in the NAC building to install door sweeps and mouse traps. From the somber expression on all of their faces, you’ll assume the worst. Of course, they’re here to inform us of the dead mouse they found in the file cabinet.
“We found swastikas on your door,” a man in a tan coat will announce. They were drawn over a paper sign—now in the school’s possession because the case is under investigation. You won’t remember their exact words after that, but you’ll remember the abrupt, downward slump in your spirit. You’ll feel like a deflated pool float. The kind that’s lost all its air and vitality because of one pointed needle.
One of the investigators will stay in the office to answer your questions about how and when and if they’ll even be able to catch the person who did it. He’ll assure you that he can find the perpetrator because he’s found one before. He’ll even pull out a pen and a pad, drawing three nickel-sized circles to give you a visual sense of the swastikas. He’ll add that the words “white power” had been written just below them. He’ll tell you that the case may not be filed as a hate crime since the writing was done on paper, and not etched into the actual door.
You won’t understand how little lines can crush you so deeply. You’ll tell yourself to cast the symbols off as innocuous and unthreatening. But you’ll also begin to question your place as a Jew on an American campus. You’ll wonder if the same hatred that fueled the murder of six million of your people could ever be shaken off.
You’ll picture those swastikas plastered on the sign of the Hillel door—the one that you open and walk through almost every day. And it’ll trigger panic within you. You’ll have flashbacks of experiences that you yourself have never had, but can somehow remember. You’ll become irrationally frightened at the prospect of someone barking German commands at you. You’ll tell yourself to stop acting like a paranoid Jew. Stop acting like a frightened, paranoid Jew. But you’ll also remember that SS commanders, who boar that infamous symbol on their uniforms, had sent your own grandfather to toil in a forced labor camp in the deserts of Tunisia. You’ll hear their good German humor telling him to “build a bridge.” You’ll envision his dingy shovel resting in hot sand. And that image of their laughter and your grandfather’s temporary enslavement will burn your eyes and make you squeeze your boiled tears back inside your lids.
You’ll assure yourself that the swastika will never cause the same destruction again. You’ll say “never again.” Never again.
You’ll imagine that the person who put their pen to that sign probably meant no harm. Maybe he or she didn’t actually hate Jews. Maybe that person loves Jews so much that they wanted to show you in the most unconventional way. Maybe he or she thought they were being “edgy.” And you’ll wonder if it was done ironically. After all, you’re the kind of person who appreciates dark humor so you want to believe that perhaps, anything and everything can be turned into a joke.
You’ll also believe that this is the first time a swastika had made an appearance on campus. But then you’ll think harder and longer. You’ll remember that you had seen a swastika at City College before.
Of course you did. Because you attended SJP’s (Students for Justice in Palestine) general body meeting last fall, curious about their description as an “anti-Zionist” club intending to “campaign for boycotts and divestments against corporations that support Zionism and fund the state of Israel.” You’ll remember sitting in an auditorium, as a young freshman clicked through projector-run slides. For a while, the screen remained paused on a video thumbnail, featuring a bright blue swastika on what was meant to replicate the Israeli flag. You’ll remember that the swastika wasn’t shown in the context of history or for the purpose of education. SJP was comparing Israel—your people—to your own murderers. You’ll remember how silly and twisted it was. You’ll remember your grandfather—how he died in old age, with dignity, in the Jewish state that they hate so much.
You’ll return to the Hillel office later that same Monday, and the same investigator who drew circles on his pad will stop by again. He’ll tell you that the incident will in fact, be investigated as a hate crime. This news will make you feel as though the school is taking it seriously. Good, you’ll say your yourself. You’ll head back home and check your email, expecting to read a note from the president of your school, condemning the recent hate crime. But the only mail in your inbox are assignment notifications for your prose class earlier that day. You’ll keep checking your email each day, waiting to receive assurance that overt hatred against your people is regarded as a serious matter. But then you’ll remember that this happened on a Monday.
Contributed by CCNY CAMERA Fellow Oshra Bitton.
This article was originally published in CCNY campus paper The Campus.