It was a rocky beginning to 5770, all right, starting with the first night of Selichot. Finding myself at loose ends after Shabbos while awaiting the first penitential prayer service of the season, I dozed off in front of the TV and startled myself awake too late to waltz into shul with some lame, humiliating excuse. Instead, I begot myself to bed, bitterly wondering, in mixed metaphor: “Just how many balls, Jaffee, do you expect to drop before you’re drummed out of the Army of Hashem?”
Sunday morning, having pushed myself out of bed before sunrise to expiate my lapse with extra-diligent study of Mishnah and Talmud, I walked out my front door to encounter... a swastika inscribed in red paint on my sidewalk!
A fine how-do-you-do! Was this quick justice from heaven? Miss one Selichot service in 20 years and pay for it with a dose of sleazy anti-Semitism on an empty stomach?
Only later, when I got to shul, did I learn that I was not the sole target of anti-Semitic ire. As you’ve no doubt read, both Seward Park synagogues on South Morgan were liberally daubed with the red symbol of International Jew Hatred. If you read, in the Seattle Times, of “one other private home” so afflicted with this 20th-century plague sign, that would be the home of the Jaffees!
In a way, I was relieved the painter, whoever he was, didn’t have only my family in mind! The truth is, I kinda hoped as well that the inclusion of the shuls on the “hit list” meant the swastika on our sidewalk was not God’s delicate way of reminding me that He missed me at the first Selichot of the season!
At first, I admit, I wasn’t even sure that the scrawl on my walk was even a swastika. It was hastily and sloppily painted and, I thought, looked more like gang graffiti or the rune-like markings left by workers from the City of Seattle mapping out some future route for a sewage system.
But, the second application of the symbol (which I noticed momentarily in my driveway) was more careful and precluded all doubts as to its meaning. Yet it raised other puzzles.
My swastika, you see, was backward. The Nazi symbol has its crooked legs moving clockwise; mine, by contrast, was moving counter-clockwise! Technically, this new adornment to my home was really the pre-historic, universal symbol of eternity, found in such diverse settings as the cave walls of stone-age funeral cults, in the art of the ancient Aryan conquerors of the Indus Valley, on the tepees of the Plains Indians of North America, Roman-era pottery, and — believe it or not — on the mosaic floor of a Byzantine synagogue in the Galilee!
No doubt (I comforted myself) my swastika was not of the “Juden Raus” variety; rather, it was the pagan version of shalom aleichem! Its inscriber was clearly wishing upon me and mine the blessings of sweet and healthy New Year!
But the comfort of that interpretation didn’t last long. Because then I discovered that the artist had scribbled next to one of his shul graffiti the phrase “4th Riech.” Despite, as a neighbor pointed out, the misspelling of “reich,” this left no doubt that our artist fancied himself an enemy of the Jews. His intention, I finally intuited, was to intimidate Jews and dissuade them from — just what exactly?
Good question. I, personally, solemnly promise (bli neder!) that I will not soon again settle in to a movie on the Saturday night of Selichot! But somehow I doubt the designer of my personal swastika was intending to intimidate me — or any other Jews — into more diligent preparations for the Days of Awe.
There is, however, some clue to the source of his rage.
You see, our house sits high on a corner of the Seward Park neighborhood. From our patio, where we hang out virtually all day nearly every summertime Shabbos, we are nearly invisible from the street. Thus we overhear countless conversations as people pass by on their Shabbos walks to and from shul, back and forth from lunch to home, and in every other possible purpose. (And let me tell you — from what we overhear, Selichot should be more crowded than it already is!)
Well, on this very Shabbos afternoon around mincha time, my wife Charla was recumbent upon her favorite Davenport, reading on the patio. Suddenly she overheard a loud and provocative conversation. An irate young bicyclist, shirtless in the unseasonable heat of that September afternoon, was sputtering profanely into his cell phone about “Jews” who were impeding his bicycling — presumably by walking in areas he had designated as his personal race track.
Had Charla inadvertently overheard an anti-Semitic act in its earliest formulation? Had this callow youth, perhaps with a couple of likkered-up cronies, returned in the dark of night to wreak vengeance on the Jewish pedestrians that slowed his progress on one of his swings around the block?
If so, how relieved we were to report to the three investigating police officers — one African-American, one Hawaiian, and one Hispanic — that our suspected perp was neither black (as was the case the two times we’ve been robbed) nor recognizably Muslim, but conventionally “white!”
Happily, our suspected victimizer was the kind of anti-Semite whom we can despise with a totally clear conscience. How much easier to have contempt for the familiar Jew-hatred of illiterate rednecks than to endure the far more disturbing insults of the “oppressed” with whom we liberal Jews spend so much energy expressing “solidarity” and whose rejection of us and, particularly, of Israel, we constantly seek to minimize or explain away!
So, Charla’s description of the “shirtless, white bicycle rider in his early 20s” has entered the official incident report. So far, it’s led to no arrests. We’ll probably never know for sure if Mr. Trash Mouth did what we think he did.
But, just in case it was him, I do plan to take out a swastika-insurance policy. For protective camouflage, I’m putting a ’72 Olds Cutlass up on blocks in my driveway!