The Two Singers-Story #2
When we first moved to Florida, my mom told me to never tell anyone that she was from Iraq. I was instructed instead to answer, if anyone should ask, that our family stemmed from England; and, boy, did people sure ask! My skin tanned deeply in that Florida sunshine, causing strangers to consistently quiz me on my origins, often asking me if I was an “Indian.” I never knew if they meant a person from India or a Native American.
In school one day, after asking about a lesson in class, my teacher told me— in front of the other students—
“It’s too bad Hitler didn’t get to finish his job properly so that I wouldn’t have to teach students like you”
Embarrassed, I remember looking around the room to see what the other kids would think of this. A couple of boys smirked, but no one else seemed to have noticed the comment.
It wasn’t just Jews and vegans who were disliked where I grew up, either. One day, when I was fourteen, an older student who lived near me gave me and a few others a ride to school. We were at a red light, and all of the cars had their windows down on this hot, muggy Florida day. Suddenly, I heard my two white schoolmates giggling up in front and, as the light turned green, they shouted the “N” word out of the window, which was a common word spoken by people of this type.
Startled, I looked out of my window as our car sped off— just in time to see an elderly black man with pained eyes, looking at me as if it was I who called him that word. I had no way to apologize to him, which haunts me to this day. My mother instilled in me that all people deserved to be treated with dignity and respect and that no race or religion was better than another. Unfortunately, not all parents around here taught their children the same.
In my heart, I felt that cruelty to nonhuman animals was akin to other forms of bigotry. A world that allowed defenseless beings to be tortured on such a massive level would be doomed to human inequality and suffering, too. I believed that the oppression of all beings was linked together. Jews and Blacks and others were often referred to as ‘animals’ throughout history, and that comparison made us easier targets, as people felt OK about harming and killing ‘animals’.
When I tried to bring up this concept of ‘justice for all’ to others, I was met with sarcasm, insults, biblical justifications, and worse— from students, teachers, and neighbors alike. I felt so unbearably alone with this painful awareness until, one day, while at the library, I found a magazine article about an author named Isaac Behavis Singer in which there was this quote by him:
“…as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la Hitler and concentration camps a la Stalin . . .”
Reading this, I understood that I was not alone in my thoughts. I knew of two people now who advocated for the rights of all animals, and, funnily enough, they both had the last name of Singer! Both Peter Singer and Issac Behavis Singer sang to me an enduring song of kinship that helped me to realize there was a larger, more compassionate world to be made. Little did I know that, in just seven months’ time, soon after my sixteenth birthday, I would leave home to search for that world, and to try and make my dreams come true.
Stay tuned for story #3 of the memoir blog, 40 Vegan Years exclusively on VeganFlix!