One morning, I woke up for the A period class. My eyes were still crusty as I stumbled out of my Mom’s car. As she drove off, I weakly walked to my locker still trying to adjust to life as it worked against my inner temptations to just lay on the ground and fall back into my deep slumber. Of course, I wouldn’t – the ground being too cold and rigid to even consider as a bed.
My locker was somewhat hidden in one of the corners of my school. As I approached, I saw something that shot shivers down my spine. Something so familiar yet never experienced by me personally before. How could this be? I thought I had already outlasted these experiences.
“You don’t fuck with the Ravens” was spray painted on the ground of my locker corner section. On the left side was a regular swastika. On the right was a neo-swastika. Eerie. Unsettling. Mind boggling. At least it wasn’t me they targeted. I turned around toward my locker only to find that it was already opened. As a matter of fact, it was more than opened. The interior was ripped wide with jagged tears of metal squiggled into unnatural and forced formations. All my books that I had entrusted to be safe there had been thrown away to some unclear location along with my reading glasses at the time. With the cherry on top, the people who did this left one last swastika with a joker card inside. On the joker card “TO Ravens” was written in. Now I would be blind and uneducated.
Seeing how I had clearly been targeted, I realized how much this event trumped all other moments of anti-Semitism I had faced thus far. I had been in fights, both verbal and physical, but had never faced anything like this. I thought the worst part of middle school had been concluded but clearly not. I drooped to the ground gripping my hair. I didn’t know how to feel. The world began to disappear around me. Everything felt dark and as color seemed to calm, my heart rate rose.
All day, between interactions with legally obliged cops and superficial reactions from “friends” a horrid and cynical feeling of remorse seemed to change inside me. I didn’t think for an entire day. Just stared blankly as my insides turned and my skin unraveled like a snake.
I get home and break down as my parents begin to try and calm me down – trying to help as they swelled in pain with me. I’m pale as a ghost and not ready to face reality. I hate reality. I hate how no one can seem to connect with me. I hate whoever did this and I hate the burdens of being Jewish in that moment. The Kike. The penny picker. The money stealing, barbaric, big nosed, victimized filthy Jew. This is all I am. And such a simple thing as spray paint and torn metal can convey all of this. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with breathing the same air you do? Why must you choke all the joy of feeling young and innocent with an unexplainable hate derived from nowhere? Did I do anything to offend this person/these people? Who are the Ravens? Why am I a magnet for this inner turmoil?
All of these questions and thoughts. I screamed and cried and spewed my hate to the air. In one night, I felt anguish that I would never wish on my worst enemies…
But then I went to sleep and I had dreams: Have you ever dreamt of breaking a boy’s legs back and watching him suffer as he tries to crawl away? Have you ever dreamt of grabbing a gun and unloading every round into the carcass of your victims? Have you ever dreamt of listening to the screams of your enemies as they get torn apart by some sort of torture device seen from a horror movie? I have. Does it even fucking matter what kind of device? How lovely to dream of gore. The internal workings of something monstrous construed.
Alarm clock goes off. Things still feel aloof and chaotic but I get up anyway. I hate the world too. I get to school. More superficial comments of sorrow. You don’t know my pains nor are you helping. I hate my new temporary locker arrangement. I hate watching the workers clean off the concrete and fix the locker. Oh what’s that? I now have a field supervisor watching me at all times? Wonderful. Oh what’s that? My temporary locker is my new official locker? Excellent. Nothing is natural anymore. Everything is forced. Manners. Customs. Conversations. Forced. My cynicism and hate overwhelms me. I don’t know how to be me. My innate, original sense of self is gone.
But there are two people in single bodies. Did you know that? Some people are brave on the inside and scared on the outside so they never act. Some people are quite opposite. I was on fire on the inside but invisible on the outside so I remained silent. This was such a fact that one time, in class, my entire body began to jolt and twitch as I daydreamed of getting into a fight with one of my older bullies from middle school. Now all my enemies were the same; Even the ones who never had anything to do with the hate crime were victims of my unforgiving imagination.
Don’t worry, though. This was only a period of time. I recovered. I got better. They caught the assailants too. The ringleader (whom shall not be named) was a mischievous child from a broken down family. Figures. The follower was Isaac Perry; a person who Nazis and Neo-Nazis would infamously call ‘a Nigger’. This African American was confused and followed the ringleader ignorant to the intentions he had. And why my locker? Mere luck. The court case took place and put them both under one year probation. Isaac Perry lasted the year under good behavior. The white ringleader, of the attempted Ravens Klan, was caught selling fake cocaine – baking soda – to students at his high school. He suffered house arrest. This was settling and actually helped me find some resolve but it still wasn’t enough.
Isaac Perry also would write me an apology letter (of course with access from the courts). It read as follows:
“Dear Charles Volk,
I’m sorry for what happened to your locker and about the racist markings spray painted amongst your locker. I will tell you that I never wanted to hurt you. When the [ringleader] vandalized your locker, I didn’t know he was going to paint swastikas on it and I definitely did not know the locker belonged to someone Jewish. Let me tell you, I’m sure the other guy didn’t know either. It was just a huge conicidence I’m black so I would be mad too if somebody did to my locker what happened to yours.
Again, I apologize for the incident and I know it traumatize you. But don’t be afraid to approach people and talk to people like your father said. Also, I apologize to the parents. I hope you have a good life.
In many ways this was a release for me. Suddenly, I was free. This was the most important letter I would ever receive in my life. It taught me forgiveness.
As time went on, and as I found “my rock” within the Drama Department of OPHS (thrive), I began to turn towards Judaism again. In the midst of this education, I learned a rather important quote, “Live well. It is the greatest revenge.” The Talmud said this. I was moved and just thinking about it changed my life. Every development I’ve made has been conducted with this in the back of my overly passionate mind. I went to bed dreaming it even. I breathed that passage and tried to regain who I once had been. I soon realized it wasn’t a matter of reconstructing what once was but instead developing into a new man. A Jewish man. And that very Jewish man went to Sunday school and confirmation. He went to Jewish summer camp and engrained the memory and relationship of 68 wonderful CITs into his mind. He got to play Lazer Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof in the dawn of his theatrical career. He dated a beautiful Israeli women for two years and learned more from her than the world around him could have offered at the time. Yes, he excelled in fantastic ways because of his positive Jewish experiences. Love became far easier than hate. He grew and transformed to adopt the concept of nobility that lies within the bases of Judaism. He went to college and indulged himself into AEPi, SF Hillel, and headed the Jewish Mural Committee. He became a leader of his Jewish community. And now he is proud. So proud that he couldn’t be anything else. So proud that he never let hateful intentions get the best of him again. I am proud of the Jewish arrogance I flaunt around and will never stop.
I am so proud to be Jewish. Every bit of being Jewish, even the bad that follows it, is so worth it. It’s worth remembering that your people endured the holocaust. It’s worth watching news reports of hate towards Jews on an international level. And it’s all thanks to the weathering that attempted to break me down. Not just I but all Jews face that David and Goliath interaction. All around the world we remained outnumbered but commit to a connection so versatile and powerful. So I urge you – if you’re in a place that doesn’t welcome Judaism as any other culture around it – don’t be afraid. Don’t give yourselves to poor attempts of racial dominance. Don’t let cowardly spray painted notions and pathetically hate induced actions thwart what you are. You know what you are. You know the power is within you. You are one of the chosen people! G-d is within you. G-d is in all of us. G-d is that feeling you feel right now as your reading this. Baruch Hashem.