I'm Not Welcome at Home

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm Not Welcome at Home

I grew up in San Diego. I attended high school in La Jolla, a wealthy coastal enclave that is so snooty that it has its own Zip code so that its residents don't have to have their mail addressed to "San Diego," even though they live within the city limits.

Until shortly before my family moved to San Diego in the early 70s, Jews could not buy houses in La Jolla. There was no law on the books enforcing this segregation, you understand; it was simply that real estate brokers wouldn't show La Jolla houses to Jews and La Jolla residents wouldn't sell to Jews. Finally, there were enough wealthy Jews in San Diego for the invisible hand to break through this prejudice, and now you can't swing a cat in La Jolla without hitting a Jew.

Some vestiges of the ancien regime survived, however, the two most obvious of which could be found on Mount Soledad. "Mount" is a bit grandiose, but this hill is still a wonderful part of the San Diego landscape. The top of Mt. Soledad is, I think, clearly the highest point in the city, and the views from there are terrific. The hill runs right down to the shore, to Windansea Beach, where I often went to eat my lunch when in high school and almost as often didn't manage to make it back for afternoon classes. Lovely spot.

Anyway, the La Jolla Country Club is partway up the slope of Mt. Soledad, overlooking the sea. When I was in high school, the club was still "restricted," as they used to say in the bad old days: no Jews allowed. I haven't checked to see if that's still the case, but it's hard to believe it is. The old days of a small, WASPy clique controlling the village are too far in the past, and too much of the money needed to sustain a facility like the country club is in the hands of Jews, for this old prejudice to survive (by the way, blacks, Catholics, and so on weren't exactly welcome with open arms in old La Jolla, as you probably guessed).

The other symbol of the old days is the cross atop Mt. Soledad, or, as it was formerly known after being constructed in 1913, the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross. It stands on city-owned land at the summit of the hill, that beautiful spot where the public can come to see inspiring vistas of the entire city and its surroundings.

What that cross always said to me, a Jew and a San Diegan, was that I was not welcome. I did not really belong in San Diego. The most physically prominent point in the city, which could be seen for miles around and where you would naturally go to see the rest of the city in its grandeur, had been declared Christian territory.

When the city was challenged in court, it trotted out the usual rubbish about historical significance and other secular reasons why public land should be used for sectarian religious purposes, including the re-purposing of the Easter Cross as a military memorial (presumably, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, and other non-Christian soldiers are not worth remembering). Yet, over and over again, the courts consistently, and correctly, found the city's ongoing support of the cross to violate the state and federal constitutions. It's no coincidence that even with the increasingly large Jewish population of La Jolla, virtually all of the cross's defenders continue to be Christians. The cross simply isn't a secular symbol of the city's heritage; it is a Christian symbol, and I'm surprised at the number of Christians who are willing to defend it by pretending to drain it of all its true significance to their faith. If it were a tree, or a rock (let alone a Star of David, a crescent, or a stupa), they wouldn't care about its removal. Their faith is important, and it's a good thing, but it's dishonest to pretend that their desire to keep the cross there isn't a product of that faith.

Anyway, for legal reasons that are a bit opaque to me, the anti-constitutional groups think that they can stave off the removal of the cross by having the land transferred from city to federal control. Dubya, of course, being a uniter and not a divider, signed the bill to do so. So every time I go home, I'll have the comfort of being reminded that I'm there on sufferance and don't really belong.

Of course, most of the people who want to keep the cross there aren't mean-spirited, and they certainly aren't anti-Semitic. But they just don't get it. The whole problem was neatly summed up in the comment of one happy person--a schoolteacher, no less--visiting the site on the day that Bush signed the bill:
“If they don't want to look at the cross then don't come up here.”
That's the whole point. Not only is this public land in a technical sense that the government owns it, but it's an important site for the whole community. It is literally the summit of our city, one of the most awe-inspiring points in a city that is blessed with awesome physical beauty. Besides which you can't "not come here" to avoid seeing the cross unless you want to avoid the entire northwestern quadrant of the city: otherwise, you have but to look up, and there it is, sending its message to everyone for miles around.

To Christians, the message may be that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. But for us Jews on our way to work or school, the message is that if we don't want to be told that we're second-class citizens, we should go back to where we came from.

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