Graphic by  Justin Capone

Graphic by Justin Capone

AntiSemitism is Different From The Discrimination We’re Used To Talking About But That Doesn’t Mean It Doesn’t Exist

By Tara Steinmetz

11 ・16 ・2018


 Four and a half months ago, as I was packing up my things to move to Paris for study abroad, my mom sat on my bed to give me some final words of instruction before sending me off.  She had been quiet for a while, clearly in thought, before breaking the silence. “I want you to leave all your Jewish jewelry here,” she said. I looked at her incredulously and retorted by calling her ridiculous and paranoid. There wasn’t a single day in the past two years that I hadn’t worn my hamsa necklace or two rings with the Magen David star and a Hebrew prayer. They’d become a part of me and offered me a way to proudly carry my Jewish identity with me wherever I went. True, Anti-Semitism wasn’t uncommon in Paris, but I hated the idea of hiding my identity to placate others. My rings were so small; who’d even notice anyways?

Since coming to Paris, she was right that I had gotten some strange looks on the metro, as people’s stares traveled from my hands to my face; a few times I’d been inclined to twist my jewelry  over or cover them in discomfort. But I never felt unsafe, and nothing truly dangerous ever happened. It wasn’t until this past week that I understood my mom’s fear.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I was slow to process. I remember receiving the news only about ten minutes after it happened, before the body count had even been confirmed at 11 people. I remember being appalled and angry, but as the rest of my Jewish community ran to social media to cry out, I stayed quiet, trying to calculate.

Anti-Semitism was always real to me, but in the Southern California bubble I grew up in, it existed solely in the tone of people’s voice or the stories of an older generation. I’d gotten rather used to being dismissed when trying to explain Anti-Semitism to others, as if the violence against us was over and Jews were just searching for people still after them.

Soon I found myself inclined to dismiss it, too. I have been afforded a great amount of privilege given the color of my skin –  so long as someone doesn’t stare too closely at our last names or make assumptions about the sizes of our noses or the frizziness of our hair, Jews have been able to blend in. At the same time, the power and success that many American Jews have achieved today allow us to be protected by the power structures we live in.

However, throughout history Anti-Semitism has proven to never leave, only morph. For the past two weeks I have seen communities, homes, and synagogues vandalized with swastikas and death wishes towards my people. Only a few days after Pittsburgh’s catastrophic shooting, the words “F*** Jews” were scrawled in bright red paint on the side of my hometown’s synagogue.  It’s clear that the action of one man has empowered so many others to share their own hatred. And it was only until the pain of the Pittsburgh shooting began to settle in that I was forced to reconcile that the hatred of this shooter was not isolated, but a glaring emergence of all that people had grown to dismiss.

In 2016, the FBI hate-crime statistics showed that over half of all reported religious hate-crimes were against Jews, despite comprising only 2% of the American population. Such Anti-Semitic hate-crimes have increased on the far-right and far-left, with a 60% increase since 2017 according to the ADL. However, Rabbi David Wolpe, in TIME magazine, explains that perhaps this phenomenon shouldn’t be so shocking. Standing as one of the oldest hatreds in history, time has shown that where bigotry thrives, Anti-Semitism exists right along side it.

What makes Anti-Semitism unique is the way it molds itself to fit changing paradigms, making Jews the eternal ‘other’ regardless of social or political reality. Jews have been persecuted for being “communists, capitalists, foreigners, residents, immigrants, elitists, have strange ways, are too assimilated, bankroll the left (George Soros) or bankroll the right (Sheldon Adelson). You can hate [Jews] because they were weak and stateless or now because they are Zionists and defend Israel.” Whatever outsider is feared at the time, Jews are made out to be.

And therefore, when we live in a political reality where hatred is made okay, where our president and politicians spew rhetoric of white supremacy and marginalized communities are made to feel unwelcome, it is no wonder that Anti-Semitism has made itself visible again.

Anti-Semitism never left. 11 gunshots ring loud enough in everyone's ears now to be woken up to this reality. I have been so comforted by the support of other marginalized communities, such as the Pittsburgh Muslim community who raised thousands of dollars for victims of the synagogue shooting. But, I also ask myself why did it take 11 victims dead for people to wake up and see Anti-Semitism staring us in the face?

In the past, the unique oppressions of the Jewish people have often been left out of important discussions in circles of intersectionality and social justice. Our privileges have seemed to mask the unrelenting hatred that continues to shape-shift and follow us, making us easy to overlook.

And thus I ask that when the media craze settles and your ears stop ringing, that you don’t forget that Anti-Semitism is not just a thing of history. Our world is complex, and privileges and oppressions are not simple or mutually exclusive. We cannot afford to look away from hatred, no matter what form it takes.