Opinion | Why I Cannot Celebrate Mother’s Day 2024 in New York City

By | May 09, 2024
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Mother's day protests

Last week was my mother’s 90th birthday celebration. Four generations of our family gathered at a kosher restaurant on Long Island to pay tribute to our matriarch, a great-grandmother of seven. On the car ride back to Manhattan, I spoke to my adult daughter in Nyack about the next family event and the challenges of hosting a Mother’s Day brunch at my Morningside Heights apartment, normally the ideal midpoint between Rockland and Nassau counties and Washington Heights, where my youngest son and his wife live.

“I’m thinking that Grandma would not enjoy eating bagels against the backdrop of ‘Globalize the Intifada!’ or ‘Say it loud and say it clear; we don’t want no Zionists here!’” I quipped, referencing two of the numerous slogans we have been hearing outside our living room window for months.

“Yeah,” sighed my daughter. “I don’t want to have Neil or Arlo ask why people are screaming bad things about Israel…why don’t we meet up at my place?”

Arlo is two and a half and Neil is nearly five. Both have already been to Israel; in their Hebrew school and in their home, love for Israel is a centerpiece of communal and religious observance, as it was for my kids and for me. Ruby, my infant granddaughter, is too young to understand the literal meaning of words such as “Two, four, six, eight! Israel is a terrorist state!” but the loud chanting to the accompaniment of the beating of drums would likely agitate her.

As I look out my window and note the heavy police presence and barricades on the Columbia campus, a week after the illegal encampments were cleared and hoodlums masquerading as freedom fighters took over Hamilton Hall, I feel confirmed in my inclination to protect my oldest and youngest family members from this dystopian street scene.

Let me be specific about the location of my apartment. Owing to the fact that my husband is a tenured professor at Columbia, we live in faculty housing on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 116th Street. So we have had a loud front-row seat to the unfolding campus insurrection, which began on October 8, just one day after Israel sustained the bloodiest assault on its citizenry since the Holocaust.

Even before Israel began its counter-offensive in Gaza, protests against Israel sprang up on the Columbia campus under the banner of pro-Palestinian advocacy. As if by telepathy, campus agitators around the country got the very same idea at the very same time. Suddenly, my news feed was filled with lookalike protests, not so much on behalf of Palestinian civilians but against Israel and Jews. Months later, it is becoming obvious that the allegedly grassroots campus pro-Palestinian movement is being orchestrated from afar. 

In seven months, I have yet to see a single sign, chant, event or action dedicated to peace-making on the allegedly pro-Palestinian side. Instead, hundreds of Columbia students ordered keffiyehs online, outfitting themselves like Hamas fighters in a high school play, adding COVID masks for extra anonymity. For months, they went through my neighborhood and tore down posters of Israelis (and others) taken hostage by Hamas on October 7. They stormed Morton Williams, a local supermarket whose owner is Jewish, placing stickers on Israeli products and vandalizing the kosher section. They terrorized Jewish students. They disrupted numerous events, most notably the lighting of the holiday trees on campus in December, holding up sanctimonious signs declaring, “Joy Is Canceled.” 

That evening, after their public display of activism, I witnessed many fearless campus warriors leaving the protest on campus to set off for holiday parties downtown in festive attire, vaping on the subway platform, laughing loudly, with some jumping the turnstiles at the Broadway and West 116th Street subway station. Their joy was hardly canceled. They were empowered, above the law.

Somehow that scene seems almost quaint compared with what took place last week on campus when a group of students, with the alleged help of outside agitators, stormed Hamilton Hall. As an alum of Columbia (Journalism, 2011), I have an ID and have been able to gain access to campus even when it was locked to outsiders. That night, I walked through the campus live-streaming the action. Thousands of students were milling about, most draped in their trademark keffiyehs. A smattering of faculty wearing reflector vests were present to support them. I saw the storming of Hamilton and captured footage at various points of the night: 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and finally 3 a.m. I headed back outside when I saw a cloth banner that said “Free Palestine” unfurled opposite my bedroom window, out of the Amsterdam Avenue-facing exterior of Hamilton Hall.

I saw the Palestinian flag being dangled outside of Hamilton Hall as well as a banner renaming the building “Hind’s Hall” in tribute to a young Palestinian girl killed in Gaza. I saw hundreds of college kids sitting on the ground, looking awestruck as a charismatic boy with a megaphone leaning outside of the south-facing window led the crowd in a version of the gospel song “Enemy’s Camp.” 

The scene was both deeply silly and chilling. There was palpable energy in the air; kids were whooping and jumping up and down. Many of the girls wearing keffiyehs on their heads were also wearing shorts and skimpy shirts, a look I suspect would not be tolerated in Gaza. Openly gay students shouted their solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It was somewhere between a music festival and the zombie apocalypse. I walked through the throngs of kids, recording. This was the big happening on campus, the high point of their college experience, even more exciting than camping out in tents on the Columbia University lawn next to Butler Library.

I have no doubt that the sweaty, swaying kids on campus believed that they had found their Vietnam. Too bad their Vietnam was my 1932 Reichstag elections.

I invite anyone who has the chutzpah to claim that the rabidly anti-Israel slogans and sentiments being broadcast from the heart of American college campuses are not antisemitic to watch my livestreams of the student insurrection on the Columbia campus.

Israel and, by extension, Jews who support Israel are being targeted, threatened with death and intifada. If you are unfamiliar with what intifada is, I will share my personal account. We spent the academic year 1997-1998 in Israel. On September 4, 1997, the day of my 14th wedding anniversary, I narrowly missed being blown to bits in a triple suicide attack on Ben Yehuda street in downtown Jerusalem. At least five people were murdered that day, with dozens left injured and maimed. A family that lived on my block in the German Colony lost their youngest daughter, an elementary school student.

That attack fell between the First Intifada, which ended in 1993, and the Second Intifada, which began in 2001, and shared their style. Both were characterized by relentless suicide attacks and other forms of terror. During the period of the two Intifadas, 1,400 Israelis and more than 5,000 Palestinians were killed.

“Free, free Palestine!” you say? Try “Free, free Palestine from Hamas!” if you actually care about the fate of Palestinians, many of whom are openly speaking out about their oppression by Hamas. 

So this Mother’s Day, I am keeping my 90-year-old mother, adult kids and small grandchildren far away from those who think it is acceptable to chant, “There is only one solution! Intifada revolution.” And from cosplay activists serving as the useful idiots for Hamas, and perhaps other radical jihadi groups that wish not just Jews but all “infidels” dead.

Shira Dicker is an NYC-based writer, publicist and activist. Her short story collection, Lolita at Leonard’s of Great Neck and Other Stories from the Before Times, will be published this spring by Wicked Son Press. 

One thought on “Opinion | Why I Cannot Celebrate Mother’s Day 2024 in New York City

  1. Larry Snider says:

    Thank you Shira for your active focus on the Columbia University anti-Semitic Encampments. You didn’t run or even try to avoid it. You sent out a close look at all that was happening and how it felt for Jewish students and other to live in and around a campus overtaken by hate.

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