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My experiences with Anti-Semitism, as a Jew
October 4, 2021
I have always had an interesting connection with Judaism. I was born and raised Jewish, I had my Bar Mitzvah in 2019, I am a part of multiple different Jewish youth groups and being Jewish is a very important part of my identity. It wasn’t always like this. I would like to preface the rest of the piece by saying I am not trying to victimize myself; I just want to share some of my experiences with Anti-Semitism.
Judaism was a pivotal part of my childhood and upbringing. I would attend services somewhat often with my family, I went to a Jewish preschool and eventually started going to Religious School at my Synagogue, Temple Israel. Seventh grade was the first time I truly gained consciousness, perspective and unfortunately experience with Anti-Semitism. The 2018 Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting was a moment of realization for me. I realized multiple things, but first and foremost I realized that it is not completely safe to express who I am, which is sadly a common theme for many people across the world, including but not limited to people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, Muslim people and millions of others. I became scared to warship and congregate in my Synagogue, a location that had been a safe place for me to express myself for so long. I even felt unsafe at my Jewish summer camp, Camp Shwayder, one of my favorite places in the world. Around this time, I became somewhat conflicted. This was the year of my Bar Mitzvah, but when most people asked me questions related to me being Jewish, I would tend to brush them off because I felt like people were patronizing me. I also faced things much more serious than casual patronization.
I have heard almost every single Jew joke in the book, but there have been a few that stuck with me throughout the years. In my seventh-grade science class, I remember sitting with a Jewish friend of mine when a classmate of ours walked up and said that he had a joke for us. Not knowing any better, we said yes and were expecting a laugh. “Where do you send a Jew with ADHD?” he asked us. We both knew exactly what was coming next. “Concentration camps,” he said, bursting out laughing. I remember telling my mother when I got home from that school, and her contacting the dean of the school. I don’t remember any action being taken because of it. This was not the most serious thing I faced that year.
My second semester elective in seventh grade was an art class that I was not particularly excited about. I’ve always enjoyed looking at art but making art has never really been my thing. The person who sat across from me was a year older than me and had gone to the same elementary school that I did, so he was a mutual acquaintance of mine. I had never really talked to him much, but he had seemed like a somewhat interesting person. As the year went on, my opinion on him completely changed. He would make comments like “Dirty Jew,” and “Die in a gas chamber.” That wasn’t even the worst of it. There was even one day where he chased me around the table with a hot glue gun, successfully burning me on the left ring finger, calling me things like “K*ke,” and “R****d Jew.” All of this happened while the teacher and other students were in the room. The teacher did not notice, and if he did, he didn’t do anything. I was too embarrassed to say anything about it to anyone.
For the longest time I felt like my Jewishness was something to be hidden away from others, an afterthought that didn’t matter. Only recently have I realized that it is something to be proud of. It is a part of who I am, how I was raised, and there are many mindsets that stem from Judaism that are important to me and resonate with me. Although I may not be the most theistic person, I still find lots of the teachings and stories in the Torah important and I am able to interpret them in a way that fits modern society better. I am a proud Jew, and I am lucky to be able to express myself in this way. Many millions of people across the world still aren’t able to, and it is important that we keep fighting for a future where everyone can truly be who they are.