It was my first sleepaway camp–a ballet intensive program, 5 weeks long. I was thirteen years old, and the butterflies in my stomach were a confirmation of both my fear of not being a talented dancer and my excitement to prove myself in this competitive world. The camp was located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and about ⅞ of the girls there fit the skinny, white, blond dancer aesthetic.
I met my roommate about 1 hour after checking in. She was medium height with gentle dirty blond locks and an inviting smile. We introduced ourselves and she immediately rushed to hug me. About thirty minutes later as we were unpacking our suitcases, she turned to me.
“Are you Christian?” she asked with a hopeful grin. I felt confident, and ready to share a piece of myself with my new roommate, but telling her I was Jewish did not warrant the response I had expected. She brought her hand to her heart.
“I’m so sorry; I think you’re going to hell,” she replied, this time hopelessly.
Myths and Stereotypes:
Antisemitism shows up differently for every Jewish person. Some people may experience seemingly larger aggressions, some people may live in environments where being openly Jewish could get you beaten up, and some might live in a place where they’re consistently dealing with microaggressions. What’s important to rmember is that all of these anti-Jewish sentiments are still forms of hate.
For anyone wondering, no, I am not trying to take over the media, I do not like gefilte fish, and I do not know how to spin a dreidel. In fact, I’m pretty terrible at it. However, microaggressions can come from either side of the spectrum: people can try and tell you you’re too Jewish or that you’re not Jewish enough. Being Jewish means something different for every Jew. For me personally, it means celebrating most Jewish high holidays, going to synagogue a moderate amount, but not nearly as much as my Orthodox cousins do. For me, it means being the loudest person laughing at a dinner party, having full, curly dark hair that takes hours to tame, but also celebrating Christmas and eating pork. Judaism is a spectrum and there are different branches of it, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox being the most commonly known ones. What I always like to say is there is no one way to be Jewish.
The Overarching Myth of “Jewish Privilege”
One of the most well-known and falsely spread myths about Jews is that they have what many refer to as “Jewish privilege.” “Jewish privilege” is most commonly defined as a form of power that Jews possess, which is also rooted in the trope of rich, scathing Jews. In several ways, this fake phenomenon also coincides with the Model Minority Myth. The Model Minority Myth is a tall tale that concludes that certain minorities still have a large amount of privilege due to their socioeconomic status on a whole. There are many reasons why this is untrue, one being that no specific group or identity is all the same, another being that after the Holocaust millions of Jews were left with nothing.
Our Ancestors and the Holocaust
With just, at most, a few living relatives and severe PTSD, Holocaust survivors were starting from scratch. I cannot possibly cover the entire story of the mass murder of six million Jews in this article, nor would it fair to reduce it down to that, but what I will say is the Holocaust is still denied, uplifted through Hitler jokes, and dismissed in many ways today. The school I attend in Philadelphia, a private Quaker school by the name of “Germantown Friends,” claims to strive for an equitable and inclusive environment, while scarcely covering Holocaust material in their curriculum. Generally speaking, one of the keys to an open-minded and diverse world is education. Without education around these topics, how are people supposed to know the deeper and denser history behind the hurtful words they themselves do not understand? Educating oneself won’t always be comfortable; it won’t always be joyous; but in order to create brighter futures we must explore some darker pasts.
Statistics and Studies on Anti Semitism
Just in April of this year, the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) reported that the highest number of antisemitic incidents had occurred in the United States in 2021. There was a total of 2,717 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault just last year. This number is the highest it’s been since the ADL started tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. They concluded that there was an “average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year.”
The ADL also found that attacks against Jewish institutions, such as Jewish community centers (JCCs) and synagogues, had increased by 61 percent, incidents taking place on college campuses climbed by 21 percent, and incidents at K-12 schools went drastically up by 106 percent.
How You can Help
Antisemitism is constantly hurled at Jewish-identifying individuals, brushed past, or even ignored. The simplest way we can all do our part to stop anti-Jewish hate is to educate and teach ourselves. Go to the ADL website, learn about the ways in which Jews are oppressed in mainstream society today. Learn about Jewish history. Listen to Jewish voices, uplift Jewish culture, and experience Jewish joy with a larger community or even just a Jewish friend of yours. You can teach yourself about the Jewish high holidays, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Passover (there’s not just Hanukkah, you know). And If you are Jewish, don’t let fear keep you from being who you are.“Ya-sher Ko-ach, may you have strength!”
Resources You Can Explore:
https://www.jdc.org/ – The Leading Global Jewish Humanitarian Organization
https://jewsofcolorinitiative.org/ – An organization with a strong focus on Jews of color
https://www.keshetonline.org/ – An organization dedicated to Jews who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community
https://www.adl.org/ – The Anti-Defamation League, focuses on antisemitism in general and antisemitic incidents