Content warning: antisemitism
I have always had a confusing relationship with Judaism. I had a bat mitzvah, yet simultaneously found myself believing in the divinity of Jesus after performing as Peter in my high school’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. If you have read my columns, you know I allude to my religious confusion quite regularly.
I am Jewish and Lutheran by birth. Whether I was gifted chocolate Hanukkah gelt or German Lindt Santas during the holiday season, I wholeheartedly accepted both sides of my faith as my own. The way I align with my beliefs changes from day to day. I frequently look to both Old and New Testament scripture and find peace in the image of a protective figure flying over me.
Look, I know religion is more than a label — it is a deep inner faith in a power beholden to none. As I grew up, and continue to grow up, I realize that religion is about more than personal belief; it is open to criticism from one and all.
Many people find it amusing when I claim I am “half-German, half-Jewish” — an unlikely pairing that has given rise to much of the antisemitism I’ve faced growing up. People casually dropped Holocaust jokes and theories about the reason for my parent’s divorce as regular tropes in conversation. People seemed to feel comfortable making comments about my faith rather quickly.
More than that, people expected me to make jokes whenever certain situations arise. Once, after I revealed a subway token that I had kept and strung on a necklace, a classmate pointed out that I had kept it due to my attraction to shiny things.
Wiry hair, long nose, greedy, frugal…
Just a non-exhaustive list of stereotypes that people seem to believe in.
While these jokes certainly harmed the way I perceived myself, I found myself at the receiving end of even more damaging antisemitic sentiments during the latter end of my high school years. When I transitioned into my senior year, tensions in the Middle East had reached an apex of violence. The Israel-Palestine conflict had flared up once again and television screens were consumed with smoke and rocket fire.
Before I continue, I would like to establish some clear-cut definitions. While I am Jewish, I am not Israeli. I have never been to Israel, nor have I ever been a citizen of Israel. I am certainly not party to the actions of the Israeli government in any capacity.
It may sound rather silly that I have to clarify such an obvious fact, but this seemed to escape the minds of many people around me.
One day, I attended a lunch with two individuals from my hometown. Somehow, we got to talking about the conflict and the environment grew rather hostile. In a span of minutes, I was accused of having a hand in apartheid and colonizing the Middle East.
How could I, a high schooler in the Bay Area, be responsible for such large-scale misdeeds?
Oh, because Judaism fits somewhere in my expansive identity.
Somehow, my personal faith had opened me up to criticisms surrounding dual loyalty and power-hungry politics. Somehow, to the people all-too-ready to voice these criticisms, the weight of the Jewish experience seemed to fall on my shoulders alone.
Somehow, to the people all-too-ready to voice these criticisms, the weight of the Jewish experience seemed to fall on my shoulders alone.
I only recount these experiences now because Jewish people have recently faced a series of egregious attacks from influential American figures. Last year, I began listening to Kanye West. I fell in love with songs such as “Bound 2,” “Off the Grid” and “Closed on Sunday.” I even bought Coachella tickets in hopes to see the first festival performance of Donda. Naturally, I also followed his Twitter and Instagram accounts to get updates on his personal drama with Pete Davidson, and any additional hints about the impending drop of Donda 2.
One morning, I woke up to see a Kanye tweet stating the following: “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”
For anyone not familiar with this military term, DEFCON (or “death con,” it seems, to West), is a term assigned to different defense readiness levels that a military requires. A DEFCON 3 rating suggests an increase in force readiness as U.S. armed forces may become involved in military conflict.
For weeks, Adidas refused to cut ties with the lucrative Yeezy brand despite public outrage. West was able to continue to air his grievances against the Jewish people on social media, as well as on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News.
To me, it seemed no one expressed extreme concern until a homemade sign found itself hung above the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. Residents stood on the overpass with their hands extended in an Adolf Hitler salute, sending a message clear as day: Kanye is right about Jewish people.
The same friends that giggled about greasy hair and poked fun at me for putting a German flag alongside my name in my Instagram bio reached out to me. They sent me texts expressing their horror over the hate speech that had been made against me and so many of my loved ones. They expressed their bewilderment at how anyone could possibly spew such despicable language.
Don’t you see?
Harmful rhetoric always starts somewhere. It starts with calling me a “cheap Jew” for tipping 15% instead of 20%. It starts by comparing my nose to yours, and then it never ends. Harmful rhetoric that goes unchecked leads to the emboldening of Nazi and antisemitic movements across the country.
It is not my job to defend my religion or legitimize my Jewish identity. It is your job to educate yourself and others about the harm of any hate speech perpetuated against any faith. Instead of serving as a bystander to antisemitism to the point where neo-Nazis are openly saluting Hitler on the 405, try reflecting on what got us to this point.
It is not my job to defend my religion or legitimize my Jewish identity. It is your job to educate yourself and others about the harm of any hate speech perpetuated against any faith.
Maybe I’m not Jewish, but instead Jew-ish. Maybe I can only claim ancestral connections to the faith on one side of my family. But maybe that doesn’t matter.
Maybe what does matter is the message you will take from this piece — regardless of who I am.
This past month has been incredibly difficult for members of the Jewish community living in the United States. While companies have taken action against formidable figures in society, such as Kanye West, the work to eliminate antisemitism is far from over.
As the media tide calms down and the waves recede from the beach, we are able to see rather harrowing grains of sand that remain. Antisemitism is alive and well within the United States, and it is truly a shame it has taken until 2022 for us to realize it.