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Hiding From Hate

By Corinne Asturias

THIS WEEK IN METROPOLIS you'll find a story that hasn't appeared anywhere else and is likely to create controversy. But this is a story that Metro believes needs to be told. Readers will have differing opinions about its significance, as we did during our internal discussions. But we decided that ultimately this story raises issues too important to be eliminated from the public dialogue.

We think the world can only be helped by an open conversation about ethnicity, about personal choice and the reactions to hate.

The valley was stunned this past summer when a trio of neo-Nazi-leaning teenagers were arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at the home of local Superior Court Judge Jack Komar. Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack, and the bomb caused only external damage to Komar's Willow Glen home.

The kids were arrested shortly thereafter (one of them called 911), their homes were searched for evidence and the wheels of justice turned swiftly.

In the days, weeks and months that followed the attack that the Mercury News and other media reported that despite the hate-crime intentions of the suspects who believed Komar was Jewish; that the judge was in fact a practicing Roman Catholic.

This was reported prominently and repeatedly in coverage--as if to give us all a sigh of relief: these kids were fools. Jewish people are still the real target of hate criminals (even if the perps occasionally do get confused). And Komar was actually a mistake.

Whew, don't we all feel better?

Metro learned recently, however, that Komar was born Jewish (his mother was Jewish, a circumstance that would allow him to be rabbinically recognized as a Jew) and converted to Catholicism in 1962. We also learned that he asked the Mercury News to suppress this fact, and they agreed. His reason? He was afraid more hate criminals would come after him if they knew of his Jewish roots.

WE DON'T TAKE ISSUE with Komar for being frightened by the attack--it has to be a terrifying and scarring experience to be awakened by an incendiary device thrown at your house in the middle of the night. But we do take issue with the way he--and the Mercury News--chose to eliminate his religious background from the public record. It would have been very easy to acknowledge his Jewish past in one sentence explaining his conversion to Catholicism in 1962.

And as far as we were able to ascertain, repeat hate crimes against the same victim haven't emerged as a pattern anywhere. Especially when the perpetrators are in jail.

The suppression of Komar's background--in our view--grants a victory to the hate-criminal contingent. It says that they have succeeded in making us afraid to be who we are or even, in Komar's case, who we were.

It will take vigilance with laws, prosecution and enforcement to stop hate. But it will also take the courage to continue to openly live our lives, practice our faiths, take pride in our ethnicity, and acknowledge our pasts--regardless of whether we think it might inspire some kookball's wrath.

Komar has said he is not ashamed of his Jewish ancestry. We believe him, but think he missed an opportunity to create solidarity with a community that has historically been a target of hate-based violence.

We could accept the fear argument from a private citizen a little more readily, a person thrust into the spotlight only by virtue of his or her victimhood. We would have hoped for more courage and forthrightness from a judge, who willingly accepted the difficult and potentially risky task of putting criminals behind bars. He of all people should recognize that if our reaction to hate is to hide, we have let the skinheads win.

The attempt to elude hate via deception is a pathway well-worn with footsteps: by gays forced underground or into denial, by light-skinned African Americans desperate to "pass," and by a whole phone book full of immigrants with Anglicized surnames.

While ethnic secrets are a choice that may offer protection for a few in the short term--it is a strategy that dishonors the greater unity and good. If we are working toward a world where people are free to put menorahs in their front windows, to live, work, be educated, love and marry regardless of ethnicity, surname, language, religious belief or sexual orientation, we just can't bend to the temptation to hide.

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From the December 23-29, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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