An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Donald,

Tonight, I write because I can’t sleep, and indeed, haven’t slept – like so many Americans who wait with bated breath to see if your angry visage really will follow that of our eloquent, articulate first black president. If we will see less support for immigrants (in our nation so proudly built by, so thoroughly filled with immigrants), less respect for women (women, who give us life and who deserve respect, at minimum), less empowerment for our brothers and sisters of color (when finally it seemed as if maybe, just maybe, we were beginning a path forward toward social justice in our country). Yet, I write to say how grateful I am for you – for making the mainstream aware, for showing us the work before us, for making plain for whom we absolutely cannot vote come Tuesday.

Mr. Trump, the words you say undervalue the way immigrants have transformed our nation. Mr. Trump, the words you say further oppression of women, setting us back, not moving us forward. Most of all, Mr. Trump: I need you to know this: the words you say can spill blood.

I write because I have been someone with hate in my heart. I see in you a “leader” who stirs just the enthusiasm for violence that I have experienced in my own past. I grew up in an ultra-religious Israeli community, and as I searched for meaning and identity in my adolescence, I found it as a youth activist in an extremist group. I hated Arabs, Muslims
and Palestinians. I spent my days plotting activities against them – beating up some people I had never met just for what they represented. I knew people who were so filled with hate, they took a stone, and cracked the skull of a 70 year old Palestinian farmer. Your rhetoric reminds me of this all the time. I have evolved: I have been working for decades on how we can see all perspectives in conflict, and I work now for youth and for peace with amazing colleagues at the UN, at Columbia University, in our communities. As such, I am not speaking of your base, but of a few people on the fringe, like I used to be: those who don’t have a deep understanding of reality or a broader context. Your words, “rigged” election, “crooked” leader, and some of your supporters publicly calling Hillary a “traitor” – these words can and do incite violence. I remember the chants in my youth – “Rabin is a traitor” – that precipitated his assassination – it is 21 years to the day that Rabin was killed – a day that was met by my young friends and I with rejoicing and much dancing. Would you rejoice if Secretary Clinton was killed? Would your supporters rejoice? If your answer is no, know that your words suggest a different story. Your words can spill blood.

I write because I have been someone who was taught to view women as provocation to sin. Women were so “dangerous” that we were not allowed to look at them: I was made to believe that looking at women would cause me to lust, putting a wall between me and God (as if women were only sexual objects).  Years later, after I had liberated from this ultra-Orthodox mindset and experience, I had the privilege of participating in diversity training where the group faced stories of women of all ages, races and ethnicities through the simple question, “how is it to be female in society?” the depth of which reduced us all to tears. After, I took a course in graduate school called Gender Mainstreaming in Global Affairs, where, to my surprise, I was the only male in the class. Thank you for making male ignorance of the female experience, and male furthering, exploitation of, or oppression of women a mainstream topic of discussion.  I learned then, as I re-learn, even more deeply via your intensely misogynistic comments now, that we have huge continued work to do here, societally. And I hope the fact that you have made it a dinner table topic means that the next generation will see as many men as women in their Gender Studies classes.

I write because I am essentially an immigrant. Although I’m lucky enough to have citizenship because my father grew up in the Bronx and Washington Heights and then immigrated to Israel in the 70s, I grew up in Israel. After moving to NYC because the violence at home had escalated to the point where I was losing dear friends, nothing prepared me for a life where I knew no English, where I struggled for a full year, moving from a basement with 5 roommates, to staying weeks in house full of mice, to “making it” – paying $500 for a room in the East Village only big enough to house a bed – I worked for $7 per hour 60 hours a week and took ESL classes 30 hours a week. I struggled mentally, physically, but was surrounded by community: in my ESL class, there were people from at least 15-20 different nationalities. Everyone worked full time to make it here, everyone did the jobs that most Americans don’t want to do. So, when you talk about immigrants, for so many of us, we picture amazing people – our own families, our own friends. For me, I especially remember members of the Mexican community, who invited me to dinner when I had no food, who offered me their family’s couch when I couldn’t make rent – when you even remotely imply that Mexicans are rapists, when you allude to the wall you would build to keep them out, I see only my incredible friends who struggled to survive, who took care of me like I was a member of their blood family. I am outraged that you refuse to see the beauty in our immigrant communities, how America is great because of our contributions, but I do thank you for empowering our immigrant families to bring out their mothers, their grandmothers, their great-grandmothers to own their rights, and to unify their communities to vote in record numbers.

Donald, you need to know that your rhetoric nourishes the dangerous fringe. For instance, I was so deeply filled with hate for those who were different from me, it took me years to overcome it, but it taught me what hate could do to you. From an early age, I had been indoctrinated into ideologies of violence and direct threat. I was not only advocating for violent political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I also took an active part in violence. I also was a recipient of violence – from stones, to shots, to Molotov cocktails – I have a lot of real life violent memories lodged in my mind. I have different images now, since I have had rich, peaceful experiences since then, but I can still touch and feel the roots of hatred. I can understand why people go there. Yet, I learned to see from multiple perspectives, and I am now a person who worked tirelessly with so many others to pass a UN Security Council Resolution 2250, which is about youth, security, and peace, who strive to find another, better way forward. I write in gratitude for your unearthing these powerfully important truths about our world: we do not live in a post-racial society, even after having eight years of leadership from a black president. We do not live in a world of gender equality, even though we have a woman running for president. We do not champion our conglomeration-of-immigration nation, even though incredibly few of us are Native American, and therefore, we are, all of us, immigrants. Thank you for making plain the work that is before us, and for revealing the work that our communities need to do. You have loudly, angrily reminded us that we are so far from post-racial, post-gender, post-hatred: but you have also sounded a cry, far and wide, that we need to gather together to heal the wounds of our nation, to work to be everything that our forefathers (and mothers) fought for us to become.

Thank you for helping me revisit meaningful cognitive and emotional transformations.


Kobi Skolnick