Anti-Semitism: It's Not Over

          In America there has always been a divide between the North and the South. The South has always been looked at as the North’s backwards cousin, stumbling fifty years behind us, unable to catch up to our tolerance. Growing up in Boston, I was always taught I was lucky. There is a fairly large Jewish community here, and going to a Jewish school, attending temple, and having a common heritage with most everyone in my formative years never left me feeling out of place. I didn’t care that there were no Chanukah specials or that the only Jews I saw on TV were nerdy, banking, over-parented, stuck-up stereotypes because I was surrounded by my community. It was always normal to get rid of bread on Passover, play with the dreidel, eat gefilte fish, speak Hebrew, use Yiddish words, or cry on Holocaust Memorial Day. I was always aware how much harder it was for my mother to grow up in North Carolina, far from any synagogue and away from anyone like her. I was grateful to be represented, at least in the faces I saw in my daily life. But this didn’t stop me from latching on to whatever pop culture I could that made me feel the slightest bit recognized; for years the Black Eyed Peas' song “I Got a Feeling” was my favorite song solely because it said “mazal tov."

          When I left my Jewish school I started to see a different world. People no longer knew what I was talking about when I spoke about my culture. I didn’t get religious holidays off from school anymore and would therefore often miss assignments; meanwhile school breaks always coincided with Christmas and Easter. Holocaust Memorial Day came and passed year after year without an acknowledgement, except for me and maybe a few other silent Jewish kids quietly thinking “never forget.”

          Taking in more media, I began to realize that my culture and who I was raised to be my whole life was not cool. The Jewish kids on TV or in books were always weird, scrawny, and weren’t people I’d want to hang around. Over-bearing mothers and lisps as well as comically curly hair and always greeting everyone with an over enthusiastic “Shalom!” were the representation in the media. The indie girl was never Jewish, the popular girl was never Jewish, the handsome boy was never Jewish. I began to distance myself from my culture. What I had once took pride in identifying with became a dirty secret. The first time I saw Jewish people acknowledging their culture in something I thought of as cool (slam poetry) I cried for hours.

          Slowly, as I got older, I started to realize what had happened. I gained back my appreciation for who I am and grew angry at the years that were stolen from me, shrouded in self-hatred and animosity. I began speak up more about anti-Semitism, only to be met by constant skeptical looks. “Is anti-Semitism really that big of a deal?” “Didn’t it all end with the Holocaust?” “Do you really have to bring that up?” “(insert random European group) has been discriminated against too!” I was frustrated with the lack of recognition of what I and many other people have gone through. Despite the strength of my convictions that yes, anti-Semitism still exists and is especially harmful to Jewish youth, I would sometimes doubt myself because of the lack of coverage, discussion, and recognition around me.

          Recently these doubts have been disappearing. The number of antisemitic incidents doubled in 2013 compared to 2014. According to the FBI, 57% of religious hate crimes are targeted at Jews. Shootings in Jewish community centers, temples, Jewish schools, and Kosher grocery stores are not an anomaly or a surprise. All Jewish spaces have more security then you would expect. For many years, I didn’t know that it is not common practice to hire armed security guards to check IDs and tickets outside of churches as well as synagogues.
          I stopped thinking about the division between the North and South when, during a basketball game, a Catholic high school chanted to Newton North High (a school known for having a large Jewish population) “you killed Jesus.” Swastikas were also found graffitied around Newton North, which does not even have a Jewish majority, just a larger number of Jewish students than we are used to seeing.
          This incident brought anti-Semitism home in a whole new way. I’d been used to hearing horror stories of Jews in different parts of the country or the world and feeling their pain as if it had been my own, but I had never felt something like this in my own community, in my own backyard. I was sickened and rocked to the core. Yet, sadly, a part of me was also happy to finally have my fears and claims validated. I was glad to be able to say my pain is real! I exist and I am hurt.
       There has been a slight increase in discussions of anti-Semitism in the media recently, the reason for this being that many academics and social scientists have deemed this “the last century Jews will live in Europe.” When watching a Vice documentary about this topic, I was disgusting to hear that they wrote this, one of many Jewish exoduses, off as a result of Israeli propaganda. This Vice program made the argument that Israeli programs are the sole or most important reason that Jews feel the need to leave Europe, that just because a foreign country puts an ad on TV saying “we have a place for you” people leave their homes, the only language they have ever spoken, the only land they have ever known. This is false. Jewish people, especially Jewish people who are show outward signs of their religion in their mannerisms or dress, are afraid. Jews in Europe often feel ostracized and ashamed. It is not the ghost of past genocide that flutters fear in our hearts; it is the threat of violence today. Jews make up less than 1% of France’s population yet over 50% of hate crimes are targeted towards Jews. I will not allow the fears of my family and friends to be dismissed as over reactions. We do not need to be taught the lesson of "get out while you can" one more time. No Jew dares to take any chances anymore.

          As French and German Jews are advised by law enforcement to remove their kippas and mezuzahs I am still getting messages back home that I am overreacting, that this is an issue long dead and gone.
          As often as I have heard the phrase “never forget,” I think there are some people who need to hear it again through my ears, who need to consider what that means to me and my family. Never forget is not only a way to remember those we lost; for us it is a warning. Don’t let it happen to you. On Holocaust Remembrance Day I cry for those I lost, for the parts of my culture that were destroyed, but also because I know it is not over. That members of my community, especially in Europe, have to be wary. Jews in Europe are truly scared because of what they see around them, not because Israel has offered them a place. European Jews that leave their home countries have to make a very difficult decision. They leave the only life they have ever known, the people who should make up their nation and their comrades because they feel unsafe, because they want a future where their children can practice their religion and enjoy their culture. The immediacy of the holocaust is wearing off and thus allows people to get away with more with less outrage. A recent study by the Anti-Defamation League shows that in many countries, over twenty percent of people think the Holocaust did not happen or was greatly exaggerated. This problem will only get worse over time because the study also found that younger people were more likely to either have not heard of the holocaust or to believe its effects were exaggerated.

          Jews have sometimes been seen as the model minority, sometimes the scum of the earth, sometimes witches, child eaters, but most often scapegoats. Jewish stereotypes are usually rooted in one of two things; either 1) Set ups for scapegoating or 2) Issues created for Jews by gentiles. An example of the first might be Jews control all of the banks and the flow of money. Then when a country's finances suffer, you can blame the Jews. An example of the second would be the Jewish helicopter mother, who is over-protective of her children, probably because she is worried about what might happen to them in the gentile world.

          Thousands and thousand of years of oppression, pograms, genocides, and destruction have left their mark on my people. It's not easy to heal the scars of millions of deaths that left a whole generation deeply traumatized and generations after that with a lack of knowledge of where they come from and a deep distrust of outsiders. It is not over. We are here and we are suffering worldwide. Jews are a diverse community spanning many races: Jews can be black, Asian, Middle-Eastern, white-- any race at all. Judaism is beautiful, Judaism is cool and Jewish girls are stunning. No big nosed witch can convince me otherwise, no disgusting cartoon, no garish sitcom will ever make me feel unworthy or ashamed again. I am a strong, beautiful Jewish girl. To any Jew reading this right now who has ever felt like they need to hide themselves, like being a Jew is outdated, like our culture is nothing more than a satire, let me tell you that being Jewish is so cool. Shabbat? It's super cool! Matzo ball soup? Also cool! Wearing a hamsa, having curly hair or a big nose is something to be proud of. It's a badge of honor saying "of all who were lost, I survived and I will keep surviving." To everyone else, please, don’t forget us. We need your help. Jews are again asking themselves the age old question, “Do I need to pack my bags?” Advocate for us. Speak up when you see something wrong. Let the world know we are still fighting. We have never had the luxury of forgetting.

text: ariela rosenzweig
visual: mixed race politics
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1 comment

  1. This is SO COOL! I love it, and you're such an amazing writer, Ariela! ~Luv2themoonandback


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