Performing a Mitzvah with a BBQ Brush

November 30, 2020Anat Hoffman

Sometimes a Jew has to learn from a Christian how to perform a mitzvahmitzvahמִצְוָהLiterally, “commandment." A sacred obligation. Jewish tradition says the Torah contains 613 mitzvot Mitzvot refer to both religious and ethical obligations. .

I learned how to clean racist graffiti from the walls of Jerusalem from Father Nicodemus of Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion. Father Nicodemus Claudius Schnabel has too much experience with racist graffiti.

When he saw me attempting to remove the words “Christians go to hell,” one of the 22 ugly messages on his Abbey's walls, he pointed out that my BBQ metal brush and my acetone bottle would not do. He introduced me to the techniques of high-pressure sandblasting and plain old white paint.

This lesson came in handy last week, when I encountered racist graffiti on my neighborhood community center and middle school reading “Muhammad is pig.” A message weak in English, as well as civics. And no one walking by had the time or incentive to wipe it off.

I have made it a rule to stop whatever I am doing to clean up racist graffiti. I believe that it is a mitzvah that must be done immediately. A few years ago, when my son spent a semester in Germany, I came for a short visit. On the way from the airport, I spotted the words “Heil swastika” painted on a wall on the highway.

I asked my son to stop the car. We dropped everything and went hunting for a hardware store in the city of Jülich… on a Sunday. Even though cleaning the graffiti infringed on our lunch and visit together, we both felt good about cleaning that wall.

Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center and my esteemed colleague and friend, attributes the willingness to turn a blind eye to racism to the secular Israelis who lack a firm grasp or sense of ownership over their Jewish identity. This creates a vacuum into which racist, extremist ideologies can wear a Jewish disguise and overtake Jewish identity in a way that also serves anti-democratic and authoritarian leadership that seeks an enemy.

Christian and Muslim Arabs are not the enemy. They are our neighbors, many are our fellow Israeli citizens, and some are our friends.

Father Nicodemus taught me how to remove racist graffiti, but I believe that we all have to become teachers to teach those around us why it is important to remove racist graffiti: It is the right and noble Jewish thing to do.

All you need to do is have the courage to act. Just a small act and a small can of paint can make a world of difference.

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