05. January 2020 · Comments Off on Jewish and proud · Categories: Olio

I grew up in an immigrant Orthodox Jewish family in a working class Midwestern urban neighborhood. I learned English as a toddler by watching TV and talking to my older brother. Anti-Semitism was always in the background during my childhood. At public school, I was kicked out every morning so my classmates could pray to Jesus. I wasn’t allowed in Cub Scouts because I wasn’t “American enough.” I had to beat up classmates to be left alone and respected as a “tough Jew.” My grandfather lived in a small town in Wisconsin where he was simply known as The Jew. We moved out of our working class neighborhood because, unlike me, my brother didn’t have the meanness I possess to be a “tough Jew” and was bullied in high school. My father slugged more people over anti-Semitic slurs than I can count on my fingers.

When suburban Jewish kids and their parents told me that they never experienced anti-Semitism and America was anti-Semitism free, I would roll my eyes. They believed in a fictional America where the Holocaust made Americans sympathetic to Jews, MLK made white people abandon racism, and America opened its arms to immigrants and was a good cop to the world. My experiences told me otherwise, but I kept quiet because I wanted to be accepted socially.

It’s true that anti-Semitism in America waned by the time I was in my twenties. But it was bound to wax again. I noticed it while participating in anti-war demonstrations during Bush’s Iraq War years. I noticed it again while working with the Obama campaign. The 2000s saw the emergence of suspicion and hatred of Jews on the left that was tied to a passionate, warped obsession with and fantasy about Israel being an inherently evil colonial power and Palestinians being noble, angelic victims. On the right, it was tied to the emergence of white nationalists, who became emboldened by social media and finally by the election of Trump.

We’re now back to the level of anti-Semitism I experienced in my youth. There is a key difference today in that people commonly carry guns and mass killings are a tragic new normal. Now in addition to fist fights instigated by anti-Semites, there are shootings.

Being Jewish is culturally intrinsic to who I am. Being a child of Holocaust survivors is something I’ve lived with every day since I was four or five. My Jewishness and my family’s tragic history have always influenced my life choices, big and small.

I hold no illusions that America will become free of anti-Semitism. But I do think anti-Semitism can be diminished. Here are four hopes I have to that end. 1) Jews show public pride over who they are and never hide their faith and culture. 2) Trump is voted out of office and the public demands its political leaders abandon racist and bigoted rhetoric. 3) Social media companies get serious about restricting hateful rhetoric and disinformation designed to trigger hate. 4) Cultural norms shift and the rude and disrespectful discourse we currently accept as normal comes to an end. Will any of these changes take place? Wholesale change is unlikely, but incremental shifts in the right direction are possible.

In response to the rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence worldwide, tomorrow has been designated Jewish and Proud Day. I’ll wear a kipa in public, something I haven’t done in 50 years. I’ll pray at sundown even though I’m an atheist. These are symbolic efforts, but they are important to me. We can be a less hateful country, but it will take serious work to make that happen.




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