My views on Anti-Semitisim
February 4, 2021
Before I proceed with this story, I believe it is significant to mention that this story is merely my interpretation and endurance of Anti-Semitism. In consideration of my approaching revelations, I do not endeavor to make you, the reader, feel as if my story is the only inference of Anti-Semitism. There are, undeniably, contrasting stories of Anti-Semitism that are concealed by Jewish individuals. It is noteworthy to comprehend that the event of my story may not be entirely applicable to those around me nor those around you; however, I do believe that you will find some comparison to your life or to the lives of those around you.
I do not think the events of this story had a distinct beginning nor will they have an immediate conclusion. I truly feel that there is no direct response to what it means to be Jewish. A question as simple as “is Judaism an ethnicity, nationality, faith, culture, or heritage?” among more. I guarantee you that if you asked every Jew on this planet, not every individual will offer you the same response nor reasoning. Although this question does not seem prominent, it has evolved the way I have identified myself as a member of the Jewish community, especially those occasions where someone asked me what Judaism was and I did not have a discrete answer. Honestly, this bothered me. It appeared to me as if I did not have the right to say I was Jewish if I did not know what it meant. I think that with this question in mind, the older I get, and the more I learn about my core beliefs, my response will continue to change. Although this is true, to quote my father, “at the end of the day, [I am still] Jewish.”
I personally have never referred to Judaism as a race, nevertheless, I will say that I have undergone internalized racism. So you might be thinking, “how has she gone through internalized racism if Judaism is not a race?” Internalized racism can be defined in several ways, even so, they all share similar terms. For instance, internalized racism can be defined as “the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group and gives rise to patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that result in discriminating, minimizing, criticizing, finding fault, invalidating, and hating oneself while simultaneously valuing the dominant culture.” In spite of the fact that not all of these qualities apply to me, I can confidently say that quite a few of them do.
I find it frustrating when people showcase their thought that they are permitted to address any inexcusable and offensive remark to someone with the reasoning that it is not “racist.” I have encountered a number of individuals who suggest that their First Amendment “immunities” grant them the freedom to say anything of their choice along with the ability to avoid the potential consequences. Here, I believe situates an evident misconception. Yes, anyone can say anything, except should they say everything? I think not.
I have always pondered at the thought that people seemed so interested in my inherited and genetic features compared to every other Jewish student in my school environment, which are, indisputably, beyond my control. Once more, this is a “thought.” It had not crossed my mind that perhaps a Jewish kid passed by me in the secluded hallways of the school and was harassed in regards to their inherited and genetic features. Yet, when this conclusion came to mind, I thought, “maybe they just do not talk about it.” I do not blame them, though. Why would they, though, when so many other students have made such a firm assumption of what it means to be Jewish?
Ever since I was younger, I have received differing comments concerning stereotypical and prejudice criticisms specifically directed towards me, dating back to before and highlighted during the Holocaust. Someone once looked at my nose and asked “why are all Jewish people’s noses so big?” as they pressed their finger against their nose and focused their attention on that of my own. On another occasion, someone was trying to guess my name and before they even estimated they said, “you’re jewish right?” using a tone and glaring at me with a smirk as if it was not even a question but that they have accurately, and made abundantly clear, assumed that I was Jewish. I remember, on both these instances, responding in a confused manner. I narrowed in my vision and stared at their expression, silently questioning them in my mind. What does that even mean—I look Jewish? Is that even a bad thing?
Moreover, the most pronounced of comments always scrutinize my demeanor. As I am sure many high school students can relate to, I am exhausted in the morning after hours of efficiently completing homework all the while having to awaken early the next morning to catch a ride on the bus, and with no disregard, following this schedule the following day. In no way do I feel responsible for having to wear a full face of makeup and dress accordingly. For those of you who are able to do so, I admire that. Be that as it may, when I do have time to put on five minutes worth of makeup, students around me feel it is essential to “inform” me that I am wealthy or self-absorbed (among more that I do not feel are appropriate to mention), neither of which are the case. Please keep in mind that I do not assume this, people will say it to my face if that is what they think. These notions are made after “confirming” that I am Jewish. But why? Not all Jewish people are wealthy and self-absorbed, just like how any other segregated group of people do not consist of the same characteristics. We are all people.
To this day, every time I come home and rant about this to my father, as these events prove to be persistent, who is a born and raised Israeli, he always reminds me that at the end of the day “we are all Jewish” as I mentioned before. When I say this I am referring to the amount of times other Jewish teenagers in and out of my school atmosphere have perceived me as not Jewish because I care about people and endeavor to be nice to those around me, or perhaps because I attend school, in-person or virtually, wearing a hoodie and sweatpants almost every day, while other girls my age like to reveal parts of their body that should be kept for themselves and disobey dress codes. (Before I continue, I would like to reinforce that I choose acceptance over judgement every day and I only mention this because any of these interpretations are just as offensive as the other.) My mind has been brainwashed by the society around me to think that every Jewish girl presents herself like this. I find myself constantly trying to prove myself to others as if I am not the “typical” Jewish girl. This has taken much of my love for my traditional background and beliefs. It is almost like I am ashamed to be Jewish.
Truthfully, I believe that most individuals who try to l0ok like something they are not present this persona and demeanor to everyone around them that they “do not care” what others think. Yes, some people do not care. Do you know why? People who truly do not care what others think of them are those that dress and act the way they want to dress and act. So if this were to happen, it does not matter if you wear less and are confident about the way you look (in appropriate settings). I am not saying that it is inferior to look any specific way. I am all about people dressing and acting to exemplify and express who they are; but not who they are not. This is where the problem lies.
Furthermore, I find it embarrassing sometimes to come from a cultural background that a large number of people, in the past and present, have disapproved of. I have had people try and remind me what I am “supposed to” believe in. Yes, I am Jewish, but I am also my own individual.
I found a dissimilarity that discerns American Jews, European Jews, and Israeli Jews. I cannot assure you, but I doubt, that Israelis will tell you that they do not do, act, or celebrate the same practices as American Jews with European origins. This observation has interfered with my thinking and prompted my shame for being Jewish. I became so confused when I was trying to differentiate what I was. I can now proudly say that I am in between. I am part of the first generation of Americans in my overall family, and I will tell you—my family is ginormous. It humours me when my father is speaking of an extended family member and I have absolutely no idea as to who he is referring to. Continuously, it is difficult to fit into both cultures.
Here, in New Jersey or in the country as a whole, I might pronounce a word “incorrectly,” when really that is how you would enunciate a Hebrew term and it has been “Americanized.” Then, there are times where I am pronouncing a word incorrectly because what I say may be an English word but I have grown accustomed to hearing my parents articulate words with their foreign accents. Every time the holiday season comes around, people ask me what I received for Hanukkah and I respond with “nothing.” They would ask me that for eight days straight and the response alters. Not receiving a gift every single day of the holiday is not upsetting in my family, because we only receive gifts every time we see a different family member, once again, given that my family is ginormous. As I am sure many can relate, Jewish or not, family and extended family are spread all over the country or even across the globe. For me, I barely have any family here except for my intermediate family. I rarely see my extended family who, most of them, live about a twelve hour flight away from here. I understand that it would be disappointing for someone not to be granted a gift every day of the holiday if that is their tradition. As for me, I personally ask for things that cannot be handed to me in a box wrapped in gifting paper. I would prefer to be respected with truth, loyalty, and honesty from the people I care about, and for some reason, those traits are easier to say and harder to give. But to quote my dad for the third time, American Jews, European Jews, Israeli Jews, and anything in between, “at the end of the day, we are all Jewish.”
Something in particular that always irritated me was when both my parents’ Israeli friends or my family from Israel speak to me in English and then say something about me, positive or negative, to my parents or others that are spending time with one another, beside me, at a gathering of some sort. Part of this lay fault on me for not speaking Hebrew to them, although much of that ignorance comes from the fact their children do not understand nor speak Hebrew and therefore, cannot pass down the language to their own future children. It is still somewhat disappointing to feel as if I am not Israeli because I am assumed to not know the language, obviously, though, what is disappointing is not that I do not know Hebrew, as I do, rather as if I am disappointing the Israeli community because I choose not to speak Hebrew in public. It is not because I cannot; it is because just as many people who come from foreign countries to America and have accents, I have a slight American accent when I speak Hebrew. I do not think people notice it as much as I think they do, as it really is not a thick accent, I am just aware of the way I pronounce words in a language so far from English because I feel that there is something wrong with not being able to emphasize a word formally. This is where I feel like a hypocrite.
I will never bystand when most of the Americans who I have come across have commented on both my parents’ accents. The amount of times people just laugh when my parents say something, not because it was funny or necessarily because they find it humorous that they could not pronounce a term, but usually due to the fact that they feel awkward and did not understand what my parents say is quite troubling. They will say to me either “what did they say,” between their grinding teeth as they attempt to hold up a smile or “your parents are so funny.” Yes, they can be, but in a different aspect. We are loud, talkative and opinionated! People take advantage of my parents because they give and do not take. My parents are constantly undermined for their capabilities because they are from a different country. I could never say I have endured this, but I have watched my parents when they are stressed and anxious after they return home from work and lose a position or job to someone who is less educated and determined as them, but they were born and raised within this country and do not have accents. I have had discussions with my mother about how disappointed she is under circumstances such as these, but at the same time she knows how “connections” are crucial. If my parents have accents but they are able to speak two to three more languages than a child raised after generations of American-born citizens, why should I feel ashamed that I am fortunate enough to speak English fluently and understand two other languages in which I do not speak as well? I should not, that is the answer.
I cannot ever say that I am ashamed of my skin color, as I know that although my genetic features are beyond my control, it is almost a privilege to be white in a society where any other race developed as a “minority.” Despite the fact that I might not struggle with the color of my skin, that does not mean that other cultural characteristics are excluded from my shame. For instance, when I am laughing or exercising, not even excessively, my face will turn an abnormal pigment of red. As for my brother, he has come home with people asking him if he is Hispanic or South Asian, when he is Middle Eastern and Eastearn European. Again, why do people say these things as if they are horrible or offensive?
There are various expectations for beauty depending on traditions, culture, and location, among more. Think about it: I know that if I go to a tropical country that receives heat, sunlight, or humidity on the daily basis, even perhaps that of my father’s heritage, I am seen as an outsider, as someone who is assumed not to know the language, have an arrogant personality, as people notice my light, fair, and sun-sensitive skin. On the other hand, if I spend time here, in my hometown area of New Jersey suburbs, I seem American in a less unorthodox way, where people speak English to me because they are in a country where the foremost language is English.
People do not always think my brother and I are related. Candidly, I have one of those faces where countless people tell me I look like someone they have seen recently, a past student, or generally, someone I have never known. My brother has adopted my father’s tan and brown-tinted skin, dark brown almost black hair, and tall height. Me, contrastingly, I do not fall far from the tree to my mother in regards to appearance. My hazel eyes and light-brown hair do not fool anyone—I look like her when she was my age. Anyways, my brother is still my brother and I do not think it is fair for people to make assumptions only to use them as judgement.
Now, I am proud to say that I am a Jew. I am proud to say that throughout the horrific events of oppression and death that Jewish people have endured in the past in which prompt emotions that could never be expressed in the words of the English language, how beautiful it is to know that those who survived passed town a tradition that was lost by many others. I am proud that I am more than a Jew but that I may advocate for myself. I am proud that I was raised to love and embrace all creations of life, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, and more. I am proud that I hold a name that represents my heritage. I can only hope to continue growing and developing as an influential figure, individual, and voice.
After reading this, all I ask is the next time an assumption or judgment crosses your mind, as we are humans and thinking these thoughts come naturally, ask yourself if it would offend anyone if you were to tell them what you were thinking. You might not think that it is offensive, but if a part of you is even debating whether to comment or not, just do not. The more you hold back what you want to say only to give yourself a few moments to reflect on the consequences of your words, you will become more conscious of the reactions people have when someone, other than you, comments on the way they dressed or their features that they have no control over. I guarantee you that the more that individuals do not hear remarks on their appearance, the less they will judge themselves from within. Yes, there will always be the parts of who we are that we see as “imperfections” or “flaws,” but those judgments, if anything, should not come from other people. This will only make the insecurities feel more overwhelming. If people allow themselves to grow out of their insecurities, as others do not comment on their appearance, then they will be more successful in learning to love themselves for their religion, faith, beliefs, culture, ethnicity, passions, traditions, and even the things that they wish they could change about themselves. What is notable is that everyone tries to not judge others and choose acceptance instead, every time you wake up in the morning, throughout the day, and every time you close your eyes to rest. What is not acceptable is when people choose rejection and judgment every day. So try. I promise it is worth it.