Donald Trump is not a name I was familiar with as a child. Neither was I familiar with the names Reagan, Bush, Clinton or any politician for that matter. I barely knew what the American flag looked like. Politics and pride in one’s country were not priorities in my ultra-Orthodox Jewish household and community of Monsey, N.Y., where I grew up. Newspapers, TV, radio and books were banned. Instead, I did my best to adhere to the rules of keeping kosher, performing the 613 commandments and praying to God three times a day. There was certainly no talk of Republicans, Democrats and the race to the White House. The only race I was aware of was the one to the Promised Land.
I left the ultra-Orthodox Jewish fold when I was 16 and switched from yeshiva high school to public high school, and for the first time in my life I had the freedom to do as I pleased without rabbis telling me what I had to do, wear or eat, and without the fear of God striking me down for not obeying His rules. I enjoyed reading secular books, watching TV, listening to the radio and taking advantage of the opportunities in a secular society that were not available to me in a religious one, even though I lived in the United States. You could say that I was an immigrant in my own country. Throughout my childhood I knew there was another world out there, but I didn’t know how to become a part of it. I felt like Tantalus. But at least he got to stand in water. I was drowning.
I grew up fearing the world. My rabbis taught me that anyone who wasn’t part of the Orthodox community was bad. They called black people “vilda chaya,” wild animals. The racism and hateful language was so rote that on my first day of attending public school I thought the black kids would stab or shoot me. I was taught that another Hitler could round up me and my family at any time. “Never forget,” my rabbis constantly reminded me. And I didn’t.
Will people be saying “Never forget” about the Trump campaign 40 years from now? Never forget the black woman being harassed at his rally in Kentucky; never forget the black man who was punched at a rally in North Carolina; never forget the bigotry and racist views he has spewed about Mexicans and Muslims; never forget that he didn’t immediately disavow David Duke; never forget that his Secret Service detail choked a Time magazine photographer at a rally in Virginia; never forget that a member of the press was arrested in Chicago for allegedly resisting arrest after announcing he was a member of the press; never forget that Trump’s divisive remarks have incited hatred and violence; never forget that he hasn’t taken any responsibility for the uproar of bigotry surrounding his campaign that the country and the world over are closely watching; never forget that he appeals to the dark side of human nature and American culture.
The America I yearned to be a part of as a child is not one where we deport 11 million Mexicans; ban all Muslims from entering the United States; build “beautiful” walls; kill families of terrorists; weaken libel laws so Trump can “sue and win lots of money.” The America I yearned for is not one where a large number of people support the bigotry that Trump has been vomiting.
The fact that Trump will most likely be the Republican nominee is extremely disappointing. I had more faith in the American people. What happened to the values that makes America so great? I was raised in a community where I was not expected to go to college or become a part of regular society, but luckily I was raised in the United States, where I was able to carve out a path and pursue a secular life because in America there is opportunity. Don’t we all just want the chance to pursue a life that is better or even just different?
The rise of Trump and the blatant hatred, racism and violence of his supporters have made me become disillusioned with those American values and opportunities I craved as a child, much like I became disillusioned with my religious upbringing and the teachings of my rabbis.
Trump as president is a frightening thing to think about or even consider. But the fact that he’s a nomination away is scary enough.
Please, let us not forget that.
Moshe Schulman is a New York-based writer and recently completed a memoir about leaving the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Monsey, N.Y.
©2016 Chicago Tribune