Written by: Katie Stone
Edited by: Eden Burkow
American acknowledgement and empathy for the Jewish people is a tumultuous concept. For starters, only 0.2% of the world's population identifies as Jewish -- that literally means that more than 99% of the world population IS NOT Jewish. So what?
Typical tropes portray Jews as wealthy, greedy and power-hungry, making them elite oppressors as opposed to a minority with its own list of struggles within the community. Although the majority of Jews are white presenting, it doesn’t mean that we don’t face a multi-layered othering in this country.
While the beauty of Judaism is its existence as a religion, culture and peoplehood, it also leads to a lot of confusion among non-Jews. Each Jewish experience is different, but they all contain such an incredible and powerful storyline that share similar themes of suffering, resilience and community.
My Jewish Experience
When I was growing up, a child of two middle class Jews in Manhattan suburbs, the Holocaust wasn’t just a thing we talked about during the World War 2 unit of my high school history class. Unlike Great Depression or the Civil War, topics I could easily memorize for my next exam, the infamous period of 20th Century anti-Semitism based in Germany hit me a little deeper, to say the least.
The topic of the Holocaust always left me feeling uneasy, with a pit in my stomach.
My grandmother and her family left their comfortable life just outside of Prague in 1939, just before the Nazis took full political hold of Czechoslovakia. They managed to get Chilean visas and a series of boat tickets down to South America, but a devastating number of others weren’t as lucky. This was never lost on me -- my siblings and I were taught that my Jewish heritage was something to take pride in, but not something to flaunt thoughtlessly. I remember thinking this was silly; how could the America I grew up in, led by Barack Obama, still harbor hatred for Jews? It’s clear to me now that my mom was preparing me for the American I know today.
Anti-Semitism hit an all time high in 2019, according to the American Defamation League. Yes, you read that right. An all time high.
Since 1979, when the ADL began tracking hate speech and crimes, 2019 comes in with the most anti-Semitic incidents with more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment across the United States.
Within the last couple of days, during Hanukkah (December 10-18), a number of horrific acts took place in the US: an Anne Frank memorial in Idaho was vandalized with swastikas, a Chabad in Lexington, KY was attacked during a Hanukkah celebration, and yet these aren’t shocking to me. Hate crimes against Jews feel commonplace in this country that boasts liberty and justice for all.
Did YOU know about this? Now that you know, how do YOU feel about this?
Politics in America
To be a young Jewish liberal is to not fit in on the political spectrum – and maybe I’m wrong about this. But here’s how I interpret the current American political climate with regards to the Jewish people.
I’m not welcome on the modern day far-right, overtaken by conspiracy theorists, bigots and xenophobics. I care about reproductive rights and basic human equality more than my income, so I’m not well represented by Republicans. The center can be a bit too apathetic for me, with passionate feelings about police reform and LGBTQ+ rights. I am excited by some of the ideas coming from progressives, but unfortunately, they loathe my Jewish existence.
Perhaps in a revolt against Trumpism and the surfacing of xenophobic ideals, the progressive movement in America has gained strength. And just like I was warned about as a child, anti-Semitism seems to be baked into the most liberal and open-minded spheres of thought leaders. Maybe the most well-known group of progressives these days are known as “the Squad”** (NOT AYANNA PRESLEY (she voted against a blatantly anti-semetic BDS bill)) a group of 4 intelligent, empowered women hoping to change the world through their Congressional actions. While they garner support from their constituents when it comes to expanding rights to all walks of life, it seems like they missed the part where Jews are included in American and Israeli policy.
You might have not known that, and now you do. It’s not to say that they aren’t pivotal leaders for our time, it’s to say that on the single issue of Israel, I do not agree with three of these four women.
So, for those reasons it feels as though my Jewish identity doesn’t fit so well into the American Political system. This year’s election was like no other -- we have never seen a Presidential abuse of power like Donald Trump’s administration. For me, it was unacceptable to vote for anything other than his opponent.
Even though he’s let the America we once knew tear at the seams, I can understand why 22% of American Jews voted in Trump’s favor. I feel excited and hopeful that I got to vote for America and Israel on the same ballot. Because, and let me be clear, the Israel I voted for, along with more than 75% of American Jews, is not necessarily Netanyahu’s Israel.
This spring, it felt like the time had finally come where the public was forced to reckon with its deeply rooted issues. Minorities across the country saw growing awareness for the personal unfairness they, and generations before them, had experienced in this country. But how come Rashida Tlaib doesn’t recognize the country my ancestors prayed for as a homeland for their ethnic group?
These are the perspectives of a Jewish white woman. Although these may come from different places, they eventually intersect at a place of liberal American Jewish values. Most importantly is the notion that Jewish strife exists, it always has and it probably always will.
Jews come together, of all colors, bodies and sexualities, in spite of our resilience against hate. It does not mean we accept it, but it means we rise above it.
Over the past 4 months, Katie created a website to highlight different generation z personnel’s experience grappling with their jewish beliefs and identity in the modern world: https://jewishyoungadults.wordpress.com –– read more here.