We Must Be Prepared and Trained — and Never Be Victims Again
The year was 1994. The place was Western Ukraine, formerly the Soviet Union. I was nearly 10-years old, but I vividly recall that evening. “We need to decide. Will it be Israel or America?” my uncle asked. Between my mother, father, uncle, and grandparents, the consensus was overwhelmingly America.
We left everything behind and crossed the ocean. Immigration was not easy. As for all new immigrants, learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, accepting public assistance, and making a living were immense hurdles to overcome.
This is not just my story. This is a story of waves of Soviet Jews who fled during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. This is also a story of Jews who fled almost every country of the world due to pogroms, systematic discrimination, expulsions, and religious persecutions.
We fled because we wanted to be safe, to live our lives without fear. We fled because we did not want to look over our shoulders when simply walking the streets.
I love America.
America has become a sanctuary to every religion, race, nationality, culture, and sexual orientation. Racism and discrimination might not be a thing of the past here, but this is a country where “the people” are afforded the freedoms and unique opportunities to challenge and impact government policy.
America has been a gracious safe haven for Jews for a quarter of a millennium. This is a place where we can be anything we want to be, without repercussions. Here, we can be outwardly Jewish. Here, we can openly practice our traditions, and attend our synagogues without the fear of being bullied, fired, stabbed, or killed.
Or can we?
The year is 2020. But as I walk through the quiet streets in my South Brooklyn neighborhood, I look over my shoulder.
I am a proud Jew.
Jews are being murdered in broad daylight on the streets of New Jersey for the sole reason of being Jews. Jews are being stabbed in their synagogues during holiday celebrations. Jews are contemplating removing their kippot, avoiding social gatherings, and skipping synagogue services — in 2020 America. Let that sink in.
We’ve grown comfortable in the land of the free. We’ve assimilated so well. But how quickly we forget that the hatred for our people is as old as we are. How quickly we forget that the last time we thought “it would never happen here,” it did.
Are we prepared?
After the attack in Pittsburgh, I took up self-defense to learn how to protect myself and my community. As a member of Americans Against Antisemitism, I spearheaded the Synagogue Security Initiative, offering free security training to synagogues all over the country. Hardly anyone called.
Sadly, that has drastically changed recently. The demand for security training has skyrocketed.
We are a thriving community. We are a benevolent community. We did not cross oceans and move mountains only to be senselessly killed in America. Murder in Jersey City and the stabbings in Monsey serve as a painful reminder that the time for relying on our politicians to protect us is over. The time for “never again” is now.
We must refuse to be victims. We ought to protect ourselves. Every synagogue and Jewish establishment must be protected. Every door secured. Every Jew trained.
As I walk the streets of my South Brooklyn neighborhood, I look over my shoulder… but I refuse to fall victim to the ancient hatred rearing its ugly head again. I am trained, and I am prepared.
Inna Vernikov is the founding attorney of the Law Offices of Inna Vernikov, PLLC. She is a recipient of Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 Award, board member of Americans Against Antisemitism, and a Chair at Legion Self Defense. Inna has been published in The Forward and In Touch Weekly.