Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Lifetime of Antisemitism

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I'm a Buddhist now, but I was raised Jewish. And I still identify that way culturally. So when the tweet up there showed up on my timeline (retweeted by April Hathcock), something started to bubble up inside. I'm guessing, if demographic statistics are anything to go by, that most of the people reading this post are not Jewish. In the past I know that my gentile friends are astonished at the experiences I've had, but it's important to know these things, so I decided to share a sampling of my experiences with antisemitism. I'm going to share small ones and big ones, because Sarah Hamburg is right - most people don't encounter real, live antisemitism.
Small: In high school, I was called "kike" by the younger brother of one of my closest friends. He thought he was being funny, and other people laughed. I know I didn't cry, and I'm pretty sure my friend made their younger sibling apologize, but I knew I could never trust that person - or anyone who laughed - again.
Large: The synagogue I attended when I was a child, the building where my father's funeral service was held, was desecrated with swastikas. I felt so safe, so loved, in that building when I was young. The rabbi and his wife embraced me and my family when we joined the synagogue, and it's one of the few places where I've ever felt like I actually belonged and was welcome. Those swastikas took that from me.
Small: When I was 7, my parents bought a house in a nice suburb of Boston. I immediately set out to make friends with kids in the neighborhood - I'm a gregarious person, after all - and I ended up meeting a girl close to my age right next door. Success! However, a couple of weeks later, the little girl who lived in the house next door yelled at me when she found out we were Jewish: "I never would have wasted macaroni and cheese on you if I'd known you were a Christ killer!"
Large: If I want to visit my father's grave, I have to contact the board that is in charge of the cemetery because they have to keep it locked up with a chain link fence. They have to do this to keep people from desecrating the graves because it's a Jewish cemetery. And to drive the point home: he's buried north of Boston, in Massachusetts, where people are supposedly liberal and open and accepting.
Small: At a previous library, I was told I was over-reacting, and that a work party wasn't just Christmas, because they played "White Christmas" (which was written by Irving Berlin, who was Jewish). I don't know if the person who said this to me actually believed what they were saying, but I'll always remember that almost nobody else spoke up to correct that person.
Small: I've been called "[word]-nazi" multiple times in my life. "Grammar Nazi" mostly, and some "Table Nazi" when I worked in a restaurant. It's ridiculous to compare anyone to a fascist, genocidal regime for things like a predilection for correcting grammar or wanting the tables to be done according to spec at the end of a shift, but it stings extra hard for someone who is Jewish.

As hard as this all may have been for you to read, please know that this is only a sampling of things I've experienced. Never mind the ever-present micro-aggressions - things that are easily brushed off by people who aren't on the receiving end.

One other thing: I didn't publish this to make you feel bad. I published it to let you know that racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, have always been a part of the culture in the US. It's going to be worse now, so you need to believe people. And you need to speak up when you witness this kind of hate.



  1. Large: My temple has police protection during services, religious school, and Hebrew school. In a nice suburb of DC. (And not rent-a-cop, but on-duty police.) This is not new or temporary. It is surrounded by a barrier of those planters that are also car-bomb deterrents.

  2. Very good piece. Thank you for writing.

  3. Thank you. I truly didn't know. This is so wrong on every level. And you are right, it will only get worse. This is not the world I want to live in. We DO need to speak up.

  4. Thanks for writing this. I didn't realize you were Jewish too. I'm sorry to hear that we've had so many similar experiences (I wrote about a few in my last blog post). When I was recently compared to a nazi by a non-Jewish "friend" for wanting to open up a dialogue with Trump supporters, I nearly lost my shit. Oh yes, I'm just like the people who slaughtered my relatives and would have killed me in a heartbeat.

    I'm wonder if you found your time in Vermont as interesting as I did. Where I was, everyone just assumed that EVERYBODY celebrated Christmas, and at my place of work, everyone was expected to help set up the Christmas tree and garlands in the library every December. It was tremendously uncomfortable for me every time the winter holidays came around.

    Recently, some asshat at our local high school put up a picture in the cafeteria of an "easy bake oven" with "Jews" being pushed into them. I fear for my son getting older and experiencing all this himself. It changes you -- knowing you're part of a culture/religion that is hated by so many. And it feels like it's been getting worse, not better.

    1. I was in far southern VT, which is more western MA than anything, so I didn't have to help put up Christmas decorations. On the other hand, it was while living in VT that I picked up the habit of wearing my Star of David necklace in December - even though I've not been observant for decades - to stave off the flood of "merry Christmas."

  5. When I was about 8 years old, I was riding my bike after school on school property - a boy who was in my sister's class (3 years older than me), called me a dirty Jew.

    At 25 or so, I did a bus trip in Europe. There was a brash young black woman who, I guess, thought I was bitchy. On our last night of the tour, I heard her talking in another room to 2 younger women who had been hanging w/ me for a good part of the trip. I heard her refer to me as a dirty Jew - bad enough - then the girls laughed.

    In my 20s I lived in England, just outside London. I went to the horse races w/ a friend of mine (who knew I was Jewish). Her brother was sitting behind me and my friend was standing in front of me, facing me & her brother. She was talking about placing a bet, looked at her brother and laughed. I asked what was funny. She put her finger next to her nose and said, "He says I'm being Jewish." Needless to say, I was extremely hurt.

    I guess I consider myself lucky that that's been the extent of the anti-Semitic experiences I've had

  6. Thanks for sharing all this. While I've been lucky enough not to experience anything resembling your "large" experiences, I probably experience more than my share of microaggressions because I don't "look Jewish" and I'm not actively observant. People feel like they can say anti-Semitic things around me because they either assume I'm not Jewish, or assume that not being observant and being married to a Christian, I must myself be anti-Jewish; so anything goes around me.

    There's the added layer that here in the Deep South (as, I suspect, most parts of the US) there's an assumption that everyone is Christian unless obviously otherwise (and sometimes even obvious outward signs of Judaism, like Star of David necklaces or mezuzahs on your doorway, aren't enough, as there's a fashion among fundamentalist Christians to study and emulate Jewish customs).