Hi. My name is Rebecca, and I am a Jew.
The word: Jew.
Are you uncomfortable yet? Did your breath catch, every so slightly? Did your chest tighten? Did you get an inexplicable unsettling lurch in you stomach?
Truth: Sometimes the word Jew causes that reaction for me. And I can say that, without fear of accusations of being an antisemitic bigot, but I imagine that many people who do or don’t identify as Jewish can relate.
Actually, I won’t pretend to know how people who are not Jewish feel about Jews. I’m curious as all hell to know, but can’t say that I do for sure. I have some educated guesses, but I will get to that.
I know I’m not the only Jew who struggles and grapples with this part of their identity. Let’s just say I have conducted extensive field research on the subject. I dedicated four years of my professional life to Hillel International, working with Jewish college students on the San Diego State University and University of Oregon campuses. I have staffed three trips to Israel in which an accumulative 120 American Jews alongside 30 or so Israeli Jews between the ages of 18-25 toured the country, with Jewish self-exploration as a major theme of the trip. In high school I was involved in BBYO, a Jewish youth group, on the city chapter and Pacific Northwest regional level. And guess what?
Almost every American Jew with whom I have discussed the subject with has encountered some form of antisemitism.
Let me share a real life anecdote: In elementary school I lived in Wichita Kansas, where the Jewish community was quite small (or at least it was then). My sisters and I were the token Jews, or at least it felt that way. My mom’s periwinkle Plymouth Voyager was the one carpool to Wednesday night school for our entire elementary school. I think there were five of us. Every year during Chanukah my mom would spend an entire day in each of our classes, reading Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblin, teaching dreidel with M&Ms, and making latkes. Let’s just say our entire school smelled strongly of latkes for days on end. Oy. Lol.
Back then I didn’t know the negative connotations with being Jewish. I knew it made me different. But different in a good way, not a bad way. Like I was part of something special and magical.
My first glimpse of antisemitic reality was in 4th grade, when our class read Number the Stars. I. Was. Crushed. Why? How? Why? I remember in vivid detail reading that book, and the main character’s little heart racing when the Nazis knocked on the door. My heart was racing. I was sweating. The back of my neck stung when her friend ripped off her Star of David necklace to protect her. The tears came out of my eyes. I was terrified. I was different. And if I had owned a Jewish Star necklace at the time, no way in hell would I be sporting it on the regular.
I started to notice my mom was not invited to hang out with the other Girl Scout troop moms. I started noticing that the annual girl scout pizza parties always happened to fall on Passover. Maybe this was just coincidence, maybe not. I’ll never know. All I do know is I felt different and my gut told me it was because I was Jewish.
Over the years I have learned about Nazi propaganda and how antisemitism took the world by storm, pervaded the culture, and ultimately led to millions of Jews being sent to the gas chambers. Hello genocide. Like, not even 70 years ago. In freaking Europe…
If you don’t believe that antisemitic undertones remain in the collective memory of the world, from Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and beyond, you are misinformed or you are lying to yourself.
I don’t know if you knew, but “wildfires” are breaking out all over Israel right now. It isn’t confirmed, but credible sources are linking this to arson. My gut tells me these are intentional and not just “wildfires”. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions, time will tell.
I am not surprised. I am upset. I feel… Tired. And sad.
But hi. My name is Rebecca and I am a Jew.
If the word Jew makes you uncomfortable, don’t feel guilty, it’s the reverberation of the antisemitic undertone that permeates thousands of years of world history.
But please know, antisemitism is a mechanism of oppression. Jews have been a worldwide scapegoat, the targets of the blame and shame Game, with a capital G. I could definitely expand on how and why, and maybe in a future post I will, but I’m hoping you will trust me, because it is the uncomfortable truth.
I still don’t wear a Star of David. I do have a beautiful, delicate mezuzah that found me on the streets of mystical (and somewhat kitschy) Tsevat, which I wear on a long chained necklace not every day, but a lot of days :). I have Judaica art in my cubicle at work. I talk openly about my Judaism, and if that makes me the token Jew, I’m okay with that. I am Jewish out loud.
With grace and compassion, I explain that the yiddish word “schmooze” in the context that I, my mom, and my grandma use it, doesn’t actually have the “get-ahead” connotation that has been so widely adopted. We’re just schmoozin’ as we’re noshin’ on our nosheri, and getting lots of schmutz on our Shaina Puddims, ya dig? God, I love yiddish. Mom- don’t get too ferklempt reading this please.