I am Jewish. I say that because I’m scared.
Don’t believe for a second that any of us ‘others’ are safe.
Fearless reporting, a behind-the-curtains look at how journalism is made — and an unabashed point of view. Welcome to Chills.
I am not religious. But I am Jewish, and I honor my family by remembering our past and naming myself as such. I am Jewish and will proudly say so, if only because people around the world, including in the United States, want us to die. Still.
I will not allow Israel to be the beginning and end point of this conversation. The politics on the nightmare the Palestinians are living are clear to me — mistreatment of any group, including the Palestinians, is to be condemned. The Israeli settlers taking over their land, I find abhorrent. To clarify: These extreme actions by the Israeli far-right are not the ways I was ever taught or thought that those who are Jewish are meant to think. I’m not talking biblically, although there are reasons to believe that too, but as someone who has been steeped in a tradition of tolerance.
I am here declaring that I am Jewish because my grandparents fled pogroms where they lived in parts of Russia in the early 20th century. I am Jewish because my dear friend’s mother in Rome was hidden as a baby in the Vatican while fascists hunted babies like her. And I am Jewish because I don’t know, and will likely never know, how many of my family members died in the Holocaust.
We think that history is behind us. But it never is.
Recently, I sent my father a screenshot of a man on Twitter asking me why Jews are so “oversensitive” to the use of the word “Holocaust” for things like the Covid-vaccine conspiracy theory.
“This is happening again,” I said to my dad.
“It has never stopped happening,” he replied.
I’m Jewish because the only time my father felt compelled to punch a man was when he was called “Heeb” in the U.S. Army. His very dog tags read “Hebrew.”
I’m Jewish because whether I’ve said so or not, I get emails telling me that I am going to “die in the ovens” because of my journalism. And because I’ve been purposefully targeted as someone who rarely, if ever, has mentioned my background publicly. (To the people who disagree with my post: Ask yourselves why my Wikipedia page should mention my family’s traditional beliefs when it is not part of my work?)
I’m Jewish because as I report on the war in Ukraine, I discover that my family, which I know next to nothing about, lived close to Odesa, then part of Romania, where the biggest single massacre of Jews took place in World War II outside of the crematoria. On Oct. 23, 1941, the Nazis shot 30,000 Jews in a single day. My father was four months old. I say that because our historical memory is short, and ever diminishing.
I am Jewish because I cannot even find my family in the Yad Vashem or U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s archives. My family, like so many others, were forcibly erased, and names are not something we know any longer.
I am Jewish because life-saving vaccines are not a new Holocaust.
This very week, the Anti-Defamation League announced that they have done a survey in which “classical fascist” antisemitic views are widespread in America. These center on “tropes of Jews as clannish, conspiratorial and holders of power.” As I write these words, I can hear even the most “liberal” of readers agreeing with this sentiment, although they would never say it out loud.
And I am Jewish because we have always had to fight to exist in the world, and because I know that when they come, they will come for me.
But, make no mistake: If you — even if you suspect you are not — are considered by them to be an “other,” like me, they will come for you too.
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I'm not Jewish. I say that, and am still scared. No one has ever pushed the business end of a gun into my face. Well, once, coming out of a night club at 3 am. I raised merry hell and they scarpered. But, it shook me enough not to want it to happen again. Suppose, if it did happen, to a Jew I was with: would I look on and stay stumm? Risk analysis is a flighty, fleeting process in such a moment. I hope I would act with appropriate honour. And pray forgiveness if I failed.
Many years ago, I wrote within the gay community that we must look to our laurels; that the rights conferred in the wave of liberalism that swept the world in the decades that followed WW2 can never be taken for granted. Simply: that which overlords have given can just as easily, by overlords, be taken away. (Like their sheep.)
The brash outings of the anti-semitic voice are gaining in currency. The sentiments it expresses are outrageous and, in times past, would have incurred wrath. In parts, it does so now but the voice, to use your word, is unabashed. Unabashed is how the world is getting. Unabashed at being anti-semitic; at being anti-gay; at being anti-abortion; at being anti. The permissive society - such as it ever was - is not a society that can be controlled for profit. Really, ask any businessman, they'll tell you the same. There is a storm on the horizon and we would all be best advised to batten down the hatches. Because, in the wake of unabashed words, there will come unabashed acts; some, even, unabashed reactions to put down unabashed protest.
It's a pleasure to join you here, Lauren.
This is so well written and stated, Lauren. I’m a disabled elder, a well-adjusted survivor of polio. The same Nazi ethos that prosecuted Jewish people would have had me eliminated as a “weak undesirable” had they the chance. As Michelle said, if we are not ALL safe, none of us are safe.
Thank you for your witness.