Be proud &mdash not afraid &mdash when we celebrate Israel

Israel’s 60th birthday was a moment in history many thought we’d never see.

For me, fond family memories came up in conversation last week — memories that included presenting a list to the Russian embassy of Soviet Jews to be released, singing “Hatikvah” in San Francisco with Temple Isaiah’s children’s chorus and calling my brother, Zane, in Israel to make sure he brought home a 50th birthday poster from Israel to hang in my room.

But this anniversary also has brought up questions — some of them confusing — that I have been pondering since.

As I drove my 4-year-old daughter, Cassi, to school at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on May 8, she noticed the unbelievable police presence around the perimeter of the building. When she asked me what was happening, I told her that it was Israel’s birthday — a very special day for Jews all over the world.

I explained to her that there are some people in the world who do not like Jews, so the police were there to make sure the birthday party went off without a hitch. She gave it a second to sink in. Then she said in her cute, confident way, “Oh, I know. Some people just don’t know what being Jewish really means.” Yes, we indeed have a United Nations peacekeeper on our hands.

Later that day, when I went to pick up Cassi, I walked through a metal detector and counted about 20 police officers and JCC security guards all on high alert. I did not give it too much thought. This high-security environment felt the same as any other higher-profile Jewish event I had been to in my 35 years — Israel in the Gardens, Rosh Hashanah at Congregation Emanu-El.

As I got upstairs at the JCC where the moms sit and gossip while they wait for their kids to get out of their after-school activities, I learned that what had not really phased me was of the utmost importance to most of my friends.

I began talking to a group of four moms, all of whom are Jewish. One mom fretted all night, debating whether or not she should send her son to school that day. One mom stayed within three blocks of the school all day to be near her daughters. Another mom went through the drive-thru drop-off and almost kept going without dropping her son off. Yet another mom told me that there were about five kids from Cassi’s class who stayed home from school.

What was their fear? Why was this day different from all other days?

As I drove home, my focus turned to how I saw the situation: Why didn’t I think twice about sending Cassi to school? Why was I unaffected by all of the police?

I would like to say that I made a conscious decision to send her to school, to show her how we as a people stand up to those who deny our existence — and sometimes work to destroy it.

But what was the message that other parents sent their kids by keeping them home from school on Israel’s 60th anniversary? I am not sure what the parents said to their kids about why they weren’t going to school, but I assume at least one family told them that they were staying home because it was too dangerous to be at school.

In fact, many parents joked that there was no safer day than May 8 to be at school with most of San Francisco’s finest at attention. It is the random expression of hatred — like the fatal and unexpected attack in 2006 on the Seattle JCC — that scares me. The obvious target days are often the safest.

I have been taught from a very early age that being Jewish does not make one different — it makes one special. There are always those along the way who mock Jews, hate us, even kill us. There are those who will never understand us. But what I know from what I was shown is that standing up for who I am, what I am and what I believe in is at the core of being Jewish.

By not sending Cassi to school, I feel like I would have shown her to be afraid of the unpredictable, to fear those who hate, instead of showing her how to walk with pride into the Jewish Community Center as a young Jewish girl in solidarity with the state of Israel as we all reach this milestone together.

Carrie Melmed Goorin, a former teacher, grew up in Lafayette and now lives with her husband, Ben, and their two children in San Francisco.