After the Apocalypse

I’ve never been afraid to be a Jew in America before.

Tonight isn’t the first time I’ve felt these fears during Donald Trump’s campaign. I’ve felt them ever since Trump told the Republican Jewish Congress they wouldn’t vote for him “because I don’t want your money.” I’ve felt them ever since he and his sons started retweeting posts and images from anti-Jew white supremacists. My fear has intensified, steadily, since Trump retweeted an image of a Star of David emblazoned over money, and reached a peak when Trump used his last campaign ad to decry “a global power structure” represented solely by Jews.

At least, I thought it was a peak. But I was wrong. Tonight, after it became clear Donald J. Trump would become the next President of the United States, I sat in my room and cried for more minutes than I can count. For the first time, I am truly afraid to live in my country.

I haven’t talked about these fears during this election cycle because, of all minority groups, I have the least to fear — and that’s saying something. My terror shouldn’t take away from the sheer dystopia facing all people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, low-income people with government health care, sexual violence survivors, millions upon millions upon millions of people in our country who aren’t safe here anymore. I don’t expect government policy to adopt anti-Semitism, although I write that with some hesitation. But Trump has enabled anti-Semites, brought their bigotry back into the mainstream, and created a space for hating Jews that our country has not seen since World War II.

Again: I’m lucky. I’m white. I’m upper middle-class. But I am terrified for my friends, for my family, for the Jewish children I hope to bear one day. I’ve always known I would be an overprotective mother, that I would find plenty to worry about for my children: bullies, tough schoolwork, heartache. Never before have I worried that my children might be called kikes. Never before have I had reason to fear for their wellbeing because of their ethnicity and religion. Never before have I felt my family would be unsafe not just while living in America, but because we live in America.

I’ve always said with pride before that I look Jewish, and that my dad does, too. I’ve loved that with one look, maybe two, people can recognize the identity I love so deeply. Now I’m terrified. I’m terrified that with one look, a stranger will decide I am less than human. I’m terrified that they will decide the same about other people I love, too.

To my friends of color: I don’t know how you’ve made it this long, with this much fear. I’m so sorry for any way I’ve contributed to that. To however small an extent, I know your fear now. I don’t know if I have your strength to bear it.

All my life, Jewish elders have told me anti-Semitism is a cycle. You don’t know what it’s like, they said, but it’ll come back. It always does. I shrugged it off.

They were right.

I don’t want the Trump voters reading this to unfriend me or distance themselves from me personally. That’s not our way forward as a nation. But I want you to know that you have plunged my life and the lives of millions of others into uncertainty and horror. I want you to know that when — not if — someone calls me a yid, you are to blame. I want you to know that you have wrenched America away from all its claims to democracy and equality. And if you are a Jew, and you voted for a man who exploited anti-Semitism in order to gain votes, you should hang your head in shame. I pray for you, because you need it.

For that matter, we all do.


Courtesy of Zimbabwe and China, Another Threat to Elephants: Enslavement

Nature University | National Geographic

Nature University | National Geographic

It seems that where elephant welfare is concerned, every rose has its thorns — or every pole has its hook.

Yesterday, I rejoiced over America and China’s joint agreement to enact near-total ivory bans. The move represented a huge breakthrough in saving elephants, as China and the U.S. are the world’s first- and second-largest ivory consumers. I squealed when I saw the headline; I posted a brief, impassioned status about it on Facebook. For not even a day, I had renewed hope that perhaps, we can save elephants from extinction — perhaps, we can afford them the lives they deserve as emotional, sentient beings.

Now, again, I bow my head in despair.

In March, the Zimbabwean government captured 80 elephant calves, stealing them from their families in Hwange National Park and storing them in cages. Four months later, Zimbabwe sent 24 of those calves to China, flying them there in the dead of night.

Chinese zoos are known to mistreat their elephants, valuing them only for the money they harness from visitors. The zoos rarely have the resources to meet elephants’ physical and behavioral needs, putting elephants’ health at risks in both their enclosures and lack of proper medical treatment. Moreover, China lacks legislation to protect animal welfare, giving the zoos — which often beat, prod and starve animals, elephants and otherwise, to teach them unnatural tricks — nearly free reign.

As such, it should have come as no surprise that when National Geographic released photos of the Zimbabwean elephant calves in China, the animals showed signs of malnourishment, neglect and outright abuse. In fact, I was not surprised — I knew better. Seeing the images, however, remained shocking.

The calves, such as the one pictured above, suffer bloody cuts, swells and abscesses. According to Scott Blais, the CEO of the Global Sanctuary for Elephants, most of the cuts were likely caused by infighting among the calves, some of whom have small tusks. Taken from their families at such young ages, the calves are missing essential years in social development. Infighting reveals unnaturally aggressive behavior on the elephants’ parts — without their herds’ guidance, they have started losing empathy for one another, “a core element of their normal state of being.”

Bullhooks, often used to transport, discipline and traditionally “train” elephants, likely caused the other cuts. According to elephant behavioral expert Joyce Poole, none of the calves’ photographed injuries — whether caused by tusk or hook — have been treated. Rather, the elephants’ handlers are letting the wounds fester, causing some calves to develop infections and swelling.

The photos also show little to no food for the elephants: only grass, too short to eat, scattered across their enclosure. No water sources are visible either. The lack of adequate nutrition accounts for the elephants’ protruding bones and mottled skin.

In addition, some of the older calves appear to have had their tusks broken off at the lip. Poole called that occurrence “highly unusual,” speculating it might signify damage during shipment or pushing against the enclosures’ bars.

Zimbabwe last sent elephants to China in 2012 — eight calves, healthy in the wild, again stolen from their families. As of today, seven of those elephants have died. Chinese zoos’ maltreatment has caused creatures who normally live around 70 years in the wild to die before living a decade. Now, 24 new calves face that deadly fate.

Why is Zimbabwe kidnapping elephant calves, sending them effectively to their deaths? The Zimbabwean government claims that despite the current poaching epidemic, they suffer elephant overpopulation. Claiming to harbor between close to 100,000 elephants on land that can only hold 50,000, Zimbabwe’s leaders justify selling calves to offset that problem. However, wildlife groups disagree with their statistics.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, a nonprofit group, contends that Zimbabwe’s government has not audited their elephant population since 1997. Instead, the Task Force argues Zimbabwe has overestimated their figures to sell calves for $40,000 to $60,000 apiece. The Elephant Database — which receives reports from an international network of nonprofits and governments — found that Zimbabwe had only 47,336 elephants in 2012, down from 84,416 in 2007. The Great Elephant Census, a project aiming to calculate southern Africa’s elephant population by 2016, counted only 20,000 elephants in the region as of March.

Meanwhile, elephants as a species face extinction, due to an uptake in poaching and habitat loss. According to 96 Elephants, a nonprofit organization, 96 African elephants die every day — one every 15 minutes. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, released statistics showing that poaching rates currently exceed elephants’ birth rates. The United Nations reported in March that between 20,000 to 25,000 elephants are slaughtered per year, and conservation groups argue that African elephants face extinction within decades. Yet CITES has refused to classify African elephants as endangered. Moreover, CITES has sanctioned Zimbabwe’s elephant sale — trading most ivory is illegal, but trading live elephants is not, and the sale does not threaten the entire species.

That point of view ignores animal rights, and the rights that elephants in particular deserve. Elephants are among the most sensitive, intelligent creatures alive, close to humans. They recognize their reflections in mirrors; they can paint themselves; they cover loved ones’ corpses with dirt as mock burials; they cry when sad; they form lifelong relationships; they love. Stealing elephant calves from their mothers does not threaten all African elephants, but it inflicts inhumane, reprehensible treatment upon those unfortunate calves. Elephants drink their mothers’ milk until they are three or four years old; some captured calves have not yet reached two years. All the calves are missing vital emotional, social development. They have been abused and traumatized, and will likely die early, in wanton state.

Ending the ivory trade is essential, but for elephants, it’s not enough. We must respect them and their rights to natural, healthy lives. By treating its elephants as mere objects to sell, Zimbabwe is forcing calves into pachydermic child slavery. By beating their elephants and denying them medical treatment, Chinese zoos are holding calves in conditions that, if the children were human, would provoke riots.

Even as we celebrate advancements in elephants’ survival, such as America and China’s ivory agreement, we must remember the progress that remains to be made. Elephants are more than their tusks. To call ourselves not just human, but humane, we — Americans, Chinese, Zimbabweans and beyond — must enable elephants to live in peace. Just as we would protect our own children, we must protect elephants from slaughter, abuse and enslavement.