Growing up as a Jewish woman, I was always surrounded by other Jews. I went to Hebrew school, a Jewish overnight camp, the Jewish Community Center and part of a large, vocal Jewish family. So being Jewish was part of my blood.
I can’t remember the first anti-Semitic incident I encountered. I remember hearing rumblings in my high school that someone threw coins at another student and said, “Jew, pick them up. You don’t want money to go to waste.” There were some casual incidents I encountered, like people saying, “You don’t look Jewish!” or “Speak Jewish!” One time, my hairdresser told me I don’t have Jewish hair like my sister. When I came to Ohio Wesleyan, I met people who have never met a Jew before. They would ask me if I celebrated Christmas. I said no, and they asked me if I was sure. Was I sure I didn’t celebrate Christmas? Yeah, I’m positive.
But those incidents are minor compared to what’s going on for Jews around the world. In January, the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo was attacked. And outside Paris, a Kosher grocery store was also attacked, and is suspected to be connected with those attacks. There has been a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, which The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg illustrated in his brilliant feature “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” But it’s happening at home, too.
I’m from Milwaukee, which has a large and active Jewish population. But go anywhere outside Milwaukee and our state capital, Madison, and Jews in Wisconsin are sparse. Unfortunately, Wisconsin saw a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, “more than twice those seen in recent decades,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. There were 33 confirmed incidents in 2014, compared with the 13 in 2013. One example of an incident was “at one business, a hairdresser told a potential client that she doesn’t cut ‘Jewish hair.’” And no, that hairdresser was not mine.
Even more disturbingly, over a two-day period, there were 39 acts of vandalism in Madison, which is supposed to be the bastion of liberalism in Wisconsin. The acts ranged from swastikas on garage doors and KKK spray painted on a side of a house, the Wisconsin Gazette reports.
So, what are American Jews supposed to do? Do we follow Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s advice and move to Israel? Do we stop openly calling ourselves Jewish? Do we wear yellow stars on our clothes? No. The answer is not as simple. Anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years, and it will be around long after we’re gone. There is no easy way to combat or ignore it.
My concern is these incidents will get worse, possibly to the point in which people will be afraid to openly identify themselves as Jewish. There is no easy fix for this issue; there are some people who will just be ignorant or narrow-minded. Education could be an option, but there will always be people who will not want to learn.
I want a world where people can proudly wear their Star of David necklace or their tallit. I want a world where people don’t feel like they need to flee their homes in fear of their lives just because they have a mezuzah on their doorframe. My wish is for my children to be proud of their Jewish heritage and not have to be quiet about their religion. I also hope they will not be asked if they’re sure if they don’t celebrate Christmas.