With Your Shield or On It

Anti-Semitism is on the rise. The series of attacks and incidents taking place almost daily over the last several months have been a surprising wake up call for folks who don’t normally pay attention to such things.

I work hard to pay attention by following statistics about hate crimes and white supremacists through the DOJ, SPLC and ADL websites. I also read both extreme left and extreme right rhetoric on Twitter, and as much objective & non-mainstream news as I can manage.

Some days this is hard to take.

I had a really hard day recently when my kid sent me an extemporaneous essay she wrote after talking to her grandmother. My daughter is Jewish like her grandmother and the rest of her father’s family.  She gave me permission to post her essay on my blog.

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My grandmother asked me to stop wearing my star of David necklace when I traveled. She said “you never know when someone might be crazy, might hate you”. I wanted to tell her don’t be silly.

I wanted to say that growing up as an American Jew in the aftermath of the Holocaust, she inherited fear that is no longer relevant. And remind her that although the Ku Klux Klan had burned crosses on her college campus and her college roommate had asked to see her horns, that was fifty years ago. I wanted to remind her of the strength of the Jewish community where I grew up, where I live now, around the world.

But then I thought about having pennies thrown at me growing up, back when I didn’t even know what that meant. I remembered boys in school, people I considered friends, saying the Holocaust hadn’t happened and laughing at the expression on my face. I remembered literally being fetishized by multiple men who thought my religion made me sexually exotic. I remembered the faces of my students who told me kids at their school didn’t like them because they were Jewish. I remembered Pittsburgh. I remembered Nuremburg. I remembered the shiver of fear I felt when someone wearing military fatigues stepped inside the synagogue on Yom Kippur, and my family’s shaky, relieved laughter after services when we realized that every one of us had had the same reaction.

 I can’t dismiss what my grandmother said. And I can’t write off how I sometimes hesitate before I tell people I’m a Jewish Studies major. I don’t want this hesitancy. Judaism is the thing that I feel most passionate about, that helps inspire me and order my life. It’s given me a community [at my university], and connects me to a worldwide family that stretches back 2,000 years. I don’t want to be afraid for myself or anyone in my global community. We have gone through much before, but I fear that we have much left still to endure.

I know it’s important to keep ourselves safe at this time, but it feels just as important to shout from the rooftops – I’m Jewish, I’m proud, I’m human.

I am afraid to wear my Magen David. But I’m also afraid to hide it.

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Magen David translates literally as “Shield” rather than “Star” of David. And while it pisses me off that a piece of religious jewelry (and a boatload of empowered bigotry) could make my child vulnerable in the world, I am glad she is fierce enough to carry her shield.

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