July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Lone Liberal on the Block?

Since the campaign leading up to the 2016 election, my neighbors and friends from school discovered something they found horrifying about me.

“You’re a lib?! You write for Huffington Post?! That’s disgusting! I’m unfriending you!” one acquaintance wrote on my Facebook page shortly after Trump was elected.

“Thanks for announcing your departure!” I shot back cheerily.

I never did hear from her again. At the time, I was contributing to the Huffington Post as something I did “on the side,” mainly at night because my day job required juggling tasks. I began to amass a client base and was fortunate enough to be a pioneer in “working from home,” never imagining how many people would be doing the same in 2020. Ironically, in January of 2020, I announced to my family: “That’s it! I’m getting an office desk job so I can be around colleagues face to face.” As I was sending my resume out daily with alacrity, I got a new at-home, consuming work project. Shortly thereafter, the global pandemic hit.

“The lone liberal on the block,” as I thought of myself then, started her morning off by procrastinating and looking at what “the others” were saying on social media. I had this morbid curiosity about what people with opposing views were pontificating to their followers. I hate to admit it because my husband is right: I like to torture myself. However, I ended up getting quite the education during quarantine and learning new facts about my Teaneck neighbors. Also, spoiler alert: I definitively discovered that alas, I’m not the lone liberal on the block! Outnumbered? For sure. Alone? Inaccurate.

“Ooh, ooh, ooh, your wife will love this,” my husband told me a man had said to him. “Tell her I named my dog Melania!” I had a funny retort when my husband returned to the house, but it’s not fit for publication. This neighbor likes to repeatedly chide me and see what outrageous things he can say to provoke me, and in fact, he was the reason I thought I was the only Jew with my views within a two-block vicinity in the first place. So, in the limited socially distanced instances I came across this fellow, I handled him with good humor, and one day, I shared a secret with him. “You know…I don’t like ____.” I’ll leave the blank, but insert the name of a polarizing Democratic politician. “And you know that I have a brother in Israel, so certain things become complicated, and Senator ____’s anti-Zionistic comments end up crossing into anti-Semitism.”

I’ve often discussed how it’s a tightrope walk when it comes to anti-Zionistic sentiments. If you fall off that tightrope you can land into a mucky pool of straight up anti-Semitism. I feel that I myself am at a crossroads as a Jew who wants peace in the Middle East, who understands there are non-violent Palestinians who feel persecuted and are poor, and desire the same peace as I do. It is so complicated for me that I usually do not get into this conversation at all. My neighbor was shocked that “the outspoken lib” was having a rational conversation with him. “Oh, you’re not as liberal as our other neighbor,” he responded. The other neighbor is actually quite conservative, but I wasn’t going to correct him. I was just in disbelief that the man who had made me feel I must be considered case-study-level isolated when it comes to my priorities, values, ideologies and thoughts, was acknowledging there might be local Jews who echoed my sentiments.

A real challenge presented itself to me when things began to calm for a duration with Corona regionally. A group of old friends made public statements politicizing the pandemic. We have all heard the term “Plandemic” or the “great hoax of 2020” and I had to see these things in writing on the daily. Well, correction, according to my husband I didn’t have to see anything, but curiosity is a malady I’ve never cured. I read all the views that were anathema to me, which was tough coming from a medical family: Masks don’t work. The Dems just want to derail the election and they’re hyping this Covid thing up. Don’t trust Fauci. 99.999 percent of people survive this. Every medicine cabinet should be filled with _____ (insert controversial prescription drug) and people should be popping it like candy. Go out, live your lives. Forget about social distancing. Attend parties and have fun!

Now I need to say: Please don’t do any of those things. I would feel a terrible responsibility if anyone got sick by misconstruing anything in this column. I didn’t agree at all with those views, and would periodically talk to the doctors in my family about it, and with my friend who is an epidemiologist in DC. I am not a doctor, but I’m the daughter of one, the sister-in-law of another. I have a brother who is a chief paramedic who worked with FEMA in March and April. COVID-19 is very real. I will not expand upon the fact that one of my family members had to carry bodies from one makeshift morgue to another back in April/May.

Later on, it was disconcerting for me to see rabbis in other communities looking for loopholes to hold large events and large minyanim. On one particular day, I saw a frum doctor call out a super-conservative woman I had been friendly with in my 20s. The doctor felt my acquaintance was disseminating her own information about the pandemic irresponsibly to the masses. A battle royale of the online variety ensued and even made the news.

I decided to start following the old acquaintance on social media knowing it was another masochistic move feeding an addiction to being a drama onlooker. I vehemently disagreed with so much of what she was saying. I reached out with an apology for not being in touch, but then urged her to consult respected MDs before presenting her information. She responded by telling me she had her own doctor who agreed with her views. This launched an almost daily bicker session between us. Oddly, in between, we would agree on really random and mainly inconsequential things. At one point, she showcased a unique skin treatment on Instagram and I asked “I want to do that after this pandemic. How expensive?” Some people would criticize me for any engagement (or for my superficiality. Take your pick.), but in a world where I was feeling the heat of so much hate, something about these interactions soothed me. I found it interesting that between terse words, heightened animosity and some rudeness on my part, although we would never be considered close friends, we were developing an online camaraderie when it came to the points we agreed on.

One day, she showcased vitamins she was taking and I thought: I really should be taking the vitamins my neurologist recommended. I finally started taking them, and then looked into a supplement my acquaintance had shown her following. I brought it to my doctor who examined the ingredients. “I don’t know if this will do anything,” he said, “but it’s all good, natural and it definitely can’t hurt. At best, it might reduce your inflammation.”

So I added that supplement to my regimen. While this acquaintance and I clash daily on politics, whether I keep it to myself or voice it to her, I credit her with reducing my migraines and joint pains. I mean, look, it might be a placebo effect, but I feel good about my new routine! When I informed the acquaintance, she genuinely enthused about how happy she was to get this feedback.

I started to really think about all the contentiousness in the Jewish community and how there is validity for a lot of the anger, but how it’s all saddening and maddening. I have often wondered when we will all come together. My like-minded friends will often ask me,“Why do you keep such radicals on your Facebook page that say aggravating things?!” The truth is that there have been incidents that have led me to unfriend people, but I have also been able to show some conservative acquaintances that “the left-wing, nut-job liberal” (moi) can agree with them on points, and that she also dislikes certain senators’ statements and their inciting rhetoric.

I have had the opportunity to connect with other conservative friends who conceded that they are really upset about what happened at the Capitol. Some are still die-hard Trump lovers, but others have become disenchanted. They do always say: “But he’s good for Israel!” I tend to ask when they are making aliyah already in a chiding tone…and we move on. We realize we have more in common than we thought. Then other people reveal themselves to me as liberal and say, “How do you do it? I’m not able to.” I shrug and sigh and answer a question with a question…as so many members of my tribe do and did before me: “I like to try to strike a balance when I can and achieve peace when possible. Who needs more stress and migraines?!”

Shira Hirschman Weiss, based in Teaneck, works as a publicist, crisis communications manager, and separately (as separate as the laws of Kashrut), she writes about matters she does NOT promote in her day to day PR work. She is a mom, reality tv anthropologist, and a social media addict as well.

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