A Plane Landing by Claire Ockner

After a long night in the city, my mom and I returned to our hotel in Boston: the Marriott Copley. We walked down the hall, which was mostly silent, but for the muffled voices coming from inside the rooms. We approached our room, one of the many voices distinguishing itself from the rest. It was the voice of a woman in the room next to ours, presumably talking to a friend or partner.

“I have no problem with the Jews,” she said. Her voice was scratchy and high pitched and she sounded to be about 60. “I just don’t understand why he would want to convert. Who would do that?”

At this point, my ear was pressed to the door, waiting to hear what she would say next. My mom chuckled. I was born into a Jewish family, as was she, along with her parents and my grandparents’ parents, and so on through the generations of Platts and Ockners. My mother’s name is Hynda, which is Hebrew for female deer (which is probably why she named me Claire, a more basic name that is way less likely to be made fun of).

The woman continued her slightly antisemitic ranting. “I know that G-d will give the Jews a second chance… but if they still don’t accept Jesus into their hearts, they’ll be damned.”

Now my mother and I were both laughing. We knew that this was a widely held belief; hell, there were even people who thought the Jews ate children. It was funny. Not because we saw antisemitism as a joke in any way, but because we usually don’t hear those things within our “Shaker bubble”. As I lay awake that night, I returned to the question; Why would anyone want to convert? I didn’t know the answer. I was born Jewish, I never made a conscious decision to be what I am. How can I possibly know why people believe what they believe? I fell asleep.

The next morning, we boarded a plane leaving Boston. Planes were, at the time, my greatest fear. I would replay the images of planes falling from the sky over and over in my mind, almost obsessively. The turbulence was especially bad that day. Every time the plane jumped or turned even slightly, I would think to myself, this is it. You’re going to die. You’re going to die and everyone else on the plane is going to die and you have no control over it. When the plane landed, I felt a rush of relief. I made it all the way to Chicago in one piece.

Quickly, however, I began to wish I was back up in the air. I wished that my phone didn’t have service. I wished that I didn’t have news alerts on my phone. But I wasn’t up in the air. I was on the ground, staring at a news notification from CBS: Eight Dead in Shooting at a Pittsburgh Synagouge. Over the course of the day, I watched the death toll rise from eight to eleven. My mom texted her friends in Pittsburgh to make sure they were alright. They were.

As I sat, waiting for my next flight, I realized that I was no longer afraid to fly. I was not afraid of falling out of the sky and dying on impact. My fear had been replaced by something far more terrifying: being killed for being who I am.