Sunday, May 25, 2014

Racism and Sexism Claims Ten Lives in One Day--Let's Talk Anti-Semitism

I've been sitting here in front of the computer for a good fifteen minutes trying to find the words to express my feelings about the shootings in Santa Barbara and the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Really, it doesn't matter what I have to say. I'm just one person, contributing to an already deafening cacophony on the Internet, expressing their disgust, their anger and their absolute shock.

I may do a Part II address the sexism in regards to the Santa Barbara shooting, but I am not sure.

The thing is, none of this is really that shocking to me. As a Jew (well, mostly), a woman and someone who studies the Holocaust as their career, I always knew it would be a matter of time before something like this happened. And it is only a matter of time before things like this happen again.

If you visit most (not all, now that I think about it) Holocaust museums or Jewish museums (those who don't really need to look into security measures), you will notice that you have to go through something of a mini airport security in order to enter. In the summer of 2013, I was lucky enough to attend a fellowship at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris. We spent our entire days there, often breaking for lunch somewhere in the 4 arrondissement. It was a pain to have to go through security twice a day and many people openly complained that this measure was overly cautious.

When I lived in Amsterdam, I visited the Portuguese Synagogue a couple of times for different Jewish holidays (their community is much more observant than I am, but it was still very interesting to see this beautiful synagogue still in operation after so much devastation during the 1940s). In order to enter the premises during such an event (i.e. when you're not visiting it as a monument or the attached museum), you are required to give the name of the person who invited you. At first I dismissed this as overly cautious paranoia still hanging on from the 1940s, but when a friend of mine told me that someone tried to throw Molotov cocktails during a Yom Kippur service, I began to understand.

My housemate and I were just discussing the shooting, and he said anti-Semitism to him seems like something out of the stone age: what our grandparents faced or heard about, but not anything that takes true root today. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is alive and well...rearing its ugly head in little innocuous throwaway comments that are likely not meant as racist or hurtful, but are (recently I heard someone say about a friend of mine that because they are Jewish, they must demand a high price for any of their professional services). But it also comes about in people staking out Jewish museums and shooting people who are simply a different religion than they are.

I don't understand why anti-Semitism is so prevalent. I don't understand why people have always hated the Jews and blamed them for things. The only thing I can think is that many Jews have either been forced to or have chosen to (depending on their situation) at different times in history to live separately and therefore become The Other. As a Holocaust scholar, I know all the reasoning behind anti-Semitism, I know the grievences the Jews supposedly committed that made them fodder for annihilation. But I can't help but think of individuals each time these facts are listed. What about the woman I used to visit in New York through a Holocaust survivor program who survived hiding in Germany as a prepubescent child? What would an eight-year-old do? What about all of the lovely kind-hearted Jewish people I know who have been there for me when I have most needed it?

Yes, of course, there are Jews who aren't good people just as there are in every race, religion or creed. But on the whole, how can you blame an entire people for any one thing? Especially when the Jews have never done anything to provoke it. Recently, I was shocked when someone asked me during a Holocaust Q&A what the Jews had done to provoke the violence against them. "Everyone hates them," this person reasoned. "They must have done something wrong." Sadly, I have heard this line of reasoning given for the hatred of gypsies and blacks as well and it makes my blood boil.

I think the best gift my parents gave me as a child was growing up in a diverse area and having a diverse family background. In my family, there are strong Catholics, Fundamentalist Christians, Jews and even a smattering of Amish people (chalk this up to intermarriage!). My uncle (by marriage)'s first wife was a Mormon as well, and my step-cousins were raised in that environment. My high school was Catholic, but had a significant population of Muslims and Hindus. Because of all of this exposure so young to so many different cultures and religions, I had always learned to respect others. As an adult, some of this sometimes fades in regards to religion (although I will say that as long as you don't patronise me about my beliefs and tell me yours are the best, then I will respect you), but it has still stuck with me. I was surprised when I learned that people disrespect others and their religious practices. I also find it weird to live in a town or go to a school where there are no non-white people. I have done it a couple of times (been in places with only white people) is weird.

Anyway, this is turning into a ramble and is really, really long. It isn't something I really want to put on my blog usually, but I just felt like I needed to say it and to express my feelings (the Internet makes us SO narcissistic, doesn't it?). I had written even more, but it got too political for where I want to take my blog...

I will try to write on the Santa Barbara shooting tomorrow.

I hope this made some shred of sense.

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  1. Really glad I came across this article, you made really great points and the entire things is very thought out and well written. It breaks my heart to know that anti-Semitism still exists today when it never should of at all.

    1. Are you a blogger? x

    2. Thank you Ashley. It has really been weighing on me. It is awful. :(


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