I’m going to be perfectly honest: until 2016 or so, I never really thought about antisemitism — at least not how it might affect me personally. Because, luckily, it didn’t.
I was born in the late 1970s. Both of my parents are Jewish. My father is Israeli. Although we were not observant Jews, being Jewish was definitely always part of my identity. We celebrated Jewish holidays with my grandparents, and Yiddish phrases were often used in my household. My dad’s parents had escaped the Holocaust in eastern Europe, and that story was always part of my identity.
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Growing up, I knew antisemitism still existed, but I didn’t think of it as something very common. Part of the reason was because I rarely experienced it myself. I can really only think of one time that I experienced antisemitism. I was about 6, hanging out at my downstairs neighbor’s apartment. She asked me if I was a “kike.” I wasn’t sure what she meant, so I asked my mom, who explained that it was a very mean word people used to describe Jews.
We soon moved away from that apartment complex, and I just filed that experience away as some weird thing that had happened to me. I spent my teen years living in a community near my grandparents, with a strong Jewish presence. Maybe that inoculated me somewhat from antisemitism? I’m not sure exactly.
Fast forward to 2016, soon after former president Trump was elected. I knew that a whole bunch of hate speech had been recently unleashed against people of color and other minorities. But I still never thought it would hit so close to home.
I was married (to a fellow Jew), with kids, and my older son came home to tell me a horrifying story. A kid at school, who knew he was Jewish, had told him that the Holocaust was justified and that Jews were Satan worshippers. Really, he said that to my son’s face.
We touched base with the school, and had a meeting. The administration was just as appalled as we were — or so it seemed — and told us they’d meet with this child’s parents. I waited for an apology, from either the kid or his parents. Nothing.
According to the principal, his parents said that their son was “just being a kid” and knew better. At some point, the kid gave my son a half-sincere apology. I never got one from his parents. In fact, they would turn their head away anytime they saw me.
Soon after this incident — literally within weeks — we were on a train to the city, and there it was, carved into a seat: “kike.” That word again, the one I hadn’t really thought of since I was 6 years old in my apartment complex. I showed it to my kids and explained what it meant.
Since these two incidents, it feels like there has been an onslaught of antisemitic hate, and it’s not just because I am more attuned to it. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), antisemitic attacks reached a peak in 2021. Since 1979, antisemitic incidents have increased 34% each year. From 2020 to 2021, attacks on synagogues and Jewish community centers increased by 61%; assaults on Jews increased 167%, and harassment against Jews increased 43%. These statistics are scary, especially if you — and your children — are in the group being mercilessly targeted.
I have seen this play out not only in my life recently, but in the lives of dear friends and family members.
Our close friends lived in the town where the Tree of Life synagogue massacre took place — the deadliest attack against Jews in America. Their close friends were killed in that attack. My husband teaches in a Jewish school, and I can’t tell you how many safety protocols are in place, and how many warning letters he’s received about possible violence.
Just last week, an FBI memo was sent out warning that synagogues in New Jersey were under threat. Yes, we live in the tri-state area, and yes, I was scared. During that same week, after the Kanye West antisemitic debacle, numerous friends of mine received antisemitic hate online, especially on Twitter.
As a writer, I can tell you that I have received multiple threats against myself and my children based solely on the fact that I am Jewish. This hasn’t even been in response to pieces I’ve written about being Jewish. Attackers figure out somehow that I’m Jewish and send hate mail. I have been told that I should go die in an oven. I have been told this more than once.
I am not really sure what happens next. I am lucky in that nothing violent has happened to anyone close to me, but the thought that it could happen casts a shadow. Even if it doesn’t, hate speech and threats are a type of violence in and of themselves. They are a type of terrorism. And these types of attacks don’t seem to be letting up; in fact, they’re getting worse, and I fear for what the world will be like once my kids are out on their own.
I think the best I can do is to share with others what is happening, as I am now. I think that if you aren’t a Jew yourself, it can be hard to understand exactly what is happening in this country, and the extent to which Jewish people are under attack. It’s real, it’s scary, and it’s unrelenting.
But I’m not the only person who needs to speak out. If you are a non-Jew who has witnessed antisemitism, please speak up for us. Please share articles and stories about what is happening to us. There is so much happening in the world — so much hate being unleashed on all types of minorities, but please don’t forget the Jews. Be an ally for us. We need your voice.
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