When my twin brother and I began attending grade school in 1955, in Budapest, Hungary, our father applied for, and received, special permission from the government for two things: as religious Jews, my brother and I would be allowed to wear our yarmulkes, (skullcaps) in school; also, we’d be allowed to not attend school on Saturdays, so we could observe the Sabbath with our family. (In Hungary in the 1950s, schools were in session six days a week.) Our parents arranged that on Sunday afternoons we’d visit one or another of our classmates and catch up on what we’d missed in school the previous day. In first grade I recall no problems with any of our teachers or classmates about either issue.
In the fall of 1956, we were in second grade. That November the Hungarian Revolution flared. Schools were closed for a time, and when they reopened, things were different. New people were in charge of the government and they were going to make some changes. One day a minor official visited our classroom and, making no attempt to lower his voice, or to hide his disgust, asked our teacher, “Who are the two monkeys with the beanies back there?” One of our classmates, a girl who was our most frequent Sunday afternoon tutor, with courage well beyond her eight years, piped up, “They’re not monkeys. They’re our friends.” Emboldened, a small chorus of our classmates echoed her. The rest of the conversation between our teacher and the official was conducted in the hallway, outside our classroom. No one ordered us to remove our yarmulkes. Our family emigrated from Hungary a few months later and eventually settled in the US.
Since the election, there has been an ugly uptick of harassment, and even violence directed at people whose skin color or clothing marks them as belonging to one or another of the groups that were disparaged—and threatened—by the president-elect and by vocal members of some of his followers. (For example—though certainly not limited to—Muslim women wearing hijabs.)
From here on out we may all have opportunities to speak up and defend each other.