On Wednesday night (has it really been less than a week?) I stood in my kitchen feeling very shell shocked. Jenny and I were having the sort of hushed toned conversation I remember my parents and their friends having when they didn’t want to give kids anxiety. She had been explaining to her golden haired sun child why he and his family did not have much to worry about, but their neighbors and some of their friends do.
Then she looked at me and said, “I have no idea how to explain to him why you need to worry.”
“Yeah, it’s hard, right?” I said.
Yeah, it’s hard.
I *look* like every other white person. I can walk down the street with the same privilege as any white woman. I don’t wear any physical markers of my Jewish lineage, but the truth is I’m a model minority and I’m keenly aware, based on experience, of the ways in which my privilege can be revoked at any time.
Like when I was going to the rural elementary school in WV and people would come to stand in between the school and the buses to hand out Bibles and each year I had to decide whether to take one or not. Taking one felt like a betrayal of some core value, but I knew if I didn’t then the people would ask me why and I would have to choose whether to say because I’m from a Jewish family, or because my parents are atheist. I always decided not to take the Bible. I always figured that being from a Jewish family seemed more final. You can convert an Atheist, but I had heard that Christians didn’t want to convert Jews. It always took me a long time to recover my credibility with my peers and for the teasing to stop after I refused. I got pretty familiar with the epithets of antisemitism. I’m not sure if I ever told my parents because I knew that doing so would only cause more attention on my head in a small town where people talk too much.
When I was in high school and I had finally gotten in good with some of the older kids in Charleston’s punk scene. A friend of mine had recently broken up with her boyfriend and was in the phase of dishing all his secrets. She told me that a lot of the guys in the scene were contemplating becoming Neo-Nazi skins. When she brought up to them that they seemed to like me and another girl with a Jewish background she was told that we didn’t count because we were “Cool Jews.” I discovered raves around the same time and made a quiet exit from the local punk scene. I didn’t want to be there when my heritage stopped being cool with them. I didn’t want to be in good with them if they were planning an attack on any of my Jewish friends.
In college, at Marshall, I was waiting in the hall of my friend’s apartment for him to come home when one of the Neo-Nazi skins who lived in the tiny apartment down the hall came slumping by and asked if I could help him fill out a job application to a fast food restaurant. I was a little bit stunned and a lot worried that one of his buddies would come by, but I decided to help. It soon became obvious that this kid couldn’t read, basically at all. I asked him if his friends, the other Neo-Nazis could help and he said they’d all be drinking too much beer. I worried that he’d blame me if he didn’t get the job, thinking maybe I’d sabotaged him. When we were done filling out the form he offered me a flyer and my heart sank. It was to a skinhead concert later that week. Once again the dread welled up, but I decided to tell him I was from a Jewish family. He basically ran away from me at that point and I spent the next several months looking over my shoulder wondering if those guys were going to jump me. It didn’t happen. I moved to California the next year.
Recently I’ve seen some memes on liberal FB groups, Bernie groups, that I’m not even sure people know are originally from antisemitic groups. Things about how the Rothschilds run the world because they’re evil bankers. I can’t help but picture the caricatures from pre-WWII Europe of Jewish money changers with giant noses. Things about how all Jews support Israel and its policies unquestioningly and so are automatically culpable for war and genocide. I know how it could seem like we do. We have family and friends there we don’t want to see hurt, but I know even Jews living in Israel don’t necessarily support the policies of Israel. Just like people in the US, it is possible to be living in a country that you don’t support. I fear that we are being demonized.
Pair this with the dog whistling tactics of the Alt Right, those silent ways of signaling which keep their leaders out of culpability. The way my name could be surrounded on both sides by three parenthesis and signal that I’m a target. On the street I blend, online, my difference is clear. The other day someone told Dave it is stupid to believe that Trump is an antisemite, after all he has a daughter that converted to Judaism and married a Jewish man. When I hear that I hear the local punk scene guys saying, “Yeah, but she’s a cool Jew.” I highly doubt we’re first or even tenth on the list of people that need to worry personally, but we’re on it, and I’m scared too.
Yeah, it’s hard.
My situation is not as immediate as the situations of others, but I’m not without reason to worry personally. I will actively stand with brown, black, Native, disabled, Muslim, and GLBTQ people at every turn. My safety is meaningless if others are in danger. I and other Jews have been raised our whole lives to stand and say, “NEVER AGAIN” and I know most Jewish families were taught to apply that principle universally. I promise that I will not stand idly by. I’ve learned to be ever vigilant and I’ve de-escalated several situations that could have harmed me personally. I will use my personal vigilance and de-escalation skills to protect others. I hope that others would do the same if I needed it.
As this nation transforms around us may we all become warriors for what we know is right.