Although anti-Semitism has been on the rise lately, it’s obviously not a new phenomenon. Can somebody really call themselves Jewish if they’ve never experienced or feared anti-Semitism? Of course they can–but they can also call themselves either extremely lucky or delusional. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and while I have no witty take-away, I think it is important for everyone who feels safe to share.
As a little kid, I was preoccupied by the Holocaust. I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago with such a large Jewish population that we had days off for the High Holidays, Hebrew was offered in my public high school, and my AP English teacher told our senior class (of whom everyone but one student was Jewish), “Don’t write about your trip to Israel in your college admissions essays…everybody’s done it, so it won’t set you apart from the crowd.” Highland Park, IL was a very easy place to be Jewish. We had a lot of Holocaust educational programs in school…including a resident Holocaust scholar, who taught AP European History in the high school, and various Holocaust education courses at my synagogue. I remember learning about the Holocaust as early as 4th grade. I also remember having several very graphic nightmares about the Holocaust. I was convinced that in a previous life, I had perished in the Holocaust, and these nightmares were actually remnants of a past life. This continued for awhile, to the point where my parents did not have me participate in the Chain of Memory program for my bat mitzvah, where I would “twin” with a child who died in the Holocaust and didn’t have a bar or bat mitzvah of their own.
I only ever really experienced anything that could be called anti-Semitism as an adult, through the relative (back then) anonymity of online dating. A friend (who was an idiot) told me that I shouldn’t write “seeking a fellow member of the tribe” in my profile, because it wasn’t explicit enough. He didn’t understand that I was looking for someone who understood the cultural jargon. I briefly changed my profile to say I was looking for a Jewish partner–and received messages like “JDate for the juden”…and that was the end of that. (I hope the assholes who said these things to me die alone and that nobody touches their horrible penises ever again.)
Back to my fixation with the Holocaust. As a kid, I always wondered what I would do if I was in that situation. Not regarding standing up to the Nazis, because assuming that I would be in the non-persecuted class of people was both a luxury and a profoundly stupid decision. I wondered if I’d be able to see the writing on the wall and get me and my family out of harm’s way in time. My dad’s family immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s from what was then Russia–an entirely different catastrophe. I don’t know enough about my family’s situation to know what was the final straw to prompt them to leave, but can assume that there was residual trauma. (My great-grandparents divorced. I have no knowledge of marriage and divorce records of the time, but that seems like an anomaly.)
I want to emphasize the fact that I did not make Aliyah due to anti-Semitism. I wasn’t running from my past, but towards my future. Realistically, the greatest danger facing me in Israel (tfu tfu tfu) is some kind of car/korkinet (scooter)/electric bicycle accident.
But still, anti-Semitism is a factor I can’t ignore. And something that is on my mind here, in London. When Lior and I arrived, I suggested that maybe we shouldn’t be speaking Hebrew in public…just in case. (Though who would actually know it’s Hebrew, aside from other Jews?)
Lior outright refused, saying that he wasn’t going to hide who he was (or something like that). So we speak in our mostly secret language, where I mostly complain that Londoners don’t know how to walk in public without taking up the maximum amount of space possible. Whenever someone here asks where I’m from, I say Israel (by way of the US, hence my accent), and every time I do this, I’m overcoming inner turmoil–is it safe to say this? But still, every time, I do, because I realize that people might not know what it means to be Israeli, to live in Israel…every time, it is a risk, but also a personal statement.
One that I’ll continue to make, because really, what other choice do I have?