Standing Up To Anti-Semitism

Staffer discloses personal experiences with hate after recent shooting, frequent incidents, encourages advocacy

When I was seven years old, my parents took me into a local ice cream parlor. As my family enjoyed our dessert, a group of boys entered the store. Upon reaching the counter, one boy noted a penny left on the ground. He bent down to pick it up and his friend sneered, “What are you, a Jew?”

The pain that filled my parents’ eyes after this incident as they were forced to explain the stereotype that Jews are greedy was a sight that I will never forget.

Although that was my first taste of anti-Semitism, it was certainly not my last. Unfortunately, I am not alone in these experiences. Many believe that anti-Semitism has been nearly eradicated due to its often subtle nature, but a survey conducted by the International Center for Countering Anti-Semitism found that 85 percent of all Jews have experienced anti-Semitism.

While I do believe that much of what is considered anti-Semitic speech, including what was said in the ice cream shop, stems from ignorance, we cannot afford to excuse discriminatory behavior. I have heard many times that “it was just a joke,” but I have learned not to take these comments lightly.

Halfway through my eighth-grade year, back when I lived in Michigan, I found myself in a conversation with some classmates in which I mentioned that I was Jewish. One boy immediately went off on an anti-Semitic rant, calling Jews “pigs who are all on their way to Hell.”

These words made me uncomfortable, but I did not want to stir up more trouble, so I chose to let it go. Sadly, he refused to do the same. His words soon turned into threats, including a promise that he was going to “take care” of all of us Jews by bringing his aunt’s AK-47 to school and “finishing Hitler’s work.” I reported this to my teacher, and luckily no school shooting ensued.

While this incident was scary, I refused to dwell on a threat that never came to fruition. Moving past my fears became easier when I moved to Illinois and found an amazing community at Stevenson.

However, I recently had a terrifying reminder of this episode when I heard about the horrific shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue that claimed 11 lives. The rhetoric of the shooter was hauntingly similar to that of my classmate, showing that hate is not exclusive to little boys, but is also present in adults who are capable of inflicting unspeakable harm.

Anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice are always present, and it should not have to take a tragedy like the one in Pittsburgh for our country to recognize this.

I could waste my time regretting the fact that I did not stand up for the kid in the ice cream parlor who was teased for picking up a penny, or for myself when I became a target for anti-Semitism. Instead, I spend my time taking comfort in knowing that the next time I hear or see hate, I will be able to stand up. Will you?