Recently Jewish families around the world celebrated Passover, a time of renewal, freedom and reflection on our shared values.
At Chabad of Poway, located just outside of my district in San Diego County, the conclusion of these holiest of days was interrupted by evil. Lori Gilbert Kaye was senselessly murdered, and three other people were seriously injured by an anti-Semitic individual armed with an assault rifle.
Like so many in the community I represent, I found myself in a state of shock, in a state of profound sadness, and maybe more than anything, I found myself in a state of anger. I felt an anger that I know my Jewish grandparents felt decades ago.
My grandpa, Ted Levin, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, fighting the Axis powers for the nation he loved. From an early age, he taught me about patriotism and the promise of America.
After the war, grandpa Ted moved the family from Chicago to Los Angeles, with his wife and two kids, including my dad. When he and my grandma opened a small carpet and drapery business, rather than using the family surname, they decided to call it “Dean Interiors.” For the purposes of doing business, my grandpa took the name “Ted Dean.” To his customers, he went by Dean until the day he died.
My grandpa using Dean rather than Levin was a constant reminder that he was not fully accepted because of his Jewish identity. Even after fighting for our nation — one founded on the principle that all men and women are created equal regardless of their race, religion, color or creed — he was forced to use a non-Jewish name in order to realize the American Dream.
We’ve come a long way since then, no doubt. During my campaign for Congress last year, I was proud to display our family name on signs, shirts and in mailboxes all across the district. When I see the nameplate on my door in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, I think of my grandpa.
But after the events of Poway, I was reminded of just how far we still have to go. I keep returning to the question: how does this level of hate, bigotry,and anti-Semitism persist in our society? How have we failed to rid the world of this evil?
Far from ending anti-Semitism, we have seen a disturbing increase in this brand of hatred here in America.
As President Obama pointed out: “There’s always been another, darker aspect to America’s story. Progress doesn’t just move in a straight line. There’s a reason why progress hasn’t been easy and why throughout our history, every two steps forward seems to sometimes produce one step back.”
Six months ago in Pittsburgh, we took a step back.
Recently in Poway, we took another step back.
However, there’s a reason that we are better off now than when my grandpa decided he couldn’t use his real name. We continue to march forward, together.
We marched forward when President Truman first acknowledged the State of Israel in 1948.
We marched forward when many Jewish Americans have been recognized and celebrated as symbols of American excellence.
We marched forward during the civil rights movement when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King.
We marched forward, together. Not just as Jewish Americans, but as Americans of all races, religions, colors and creeds who rejected the darkness of hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism, and realized that the Jewish story is the American story, a story of huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
We must continue to march together. The responsibility to confront the evil we see today does not lie solely with Jewish Americans or elected politicians. Driving out the evil in this world requires every person — regardless of their race or religion — to take personal responsibility in a shared effort.
We need to bring together members of all religions, backgrounds, and political parties to address hate and anti-Semitism, and that’s what I intend to do over the coming weeks, months and years. I will lead wherever I can, but I will also look to my non-Jewish neighbors and all citizens to help lead this march in their own way, however big or small.
I won’t promise that this is the last time we will experience a step back, but I will promise that if we stand together, speak out together, and march together, that the promise of America — the promise my grandpa taught me to believe in — will someday be realized.