Growing up Jewish in New York, the capitol of bagels and lox, I was never “the Jewish one.” My experience of antisemitism or even ignorance in that category was limited to a couple of moments:
– One time was on a 10th-grade trip to Washington, DC. Above the hotel room that 3 of my friends and I were sharing, there were boys from somewhere else who’d flirted with us in the elevator. Very exciting, since we went to an all-girls school and didn’t get a lot of action. Later that night, the boys heard us on our terrace, came out on theirs, and started throwing pennies down at us. Not just dropping, but throwing. Hard. (A strange way to flirt, but teenagers aren’t the smoothest.) Then, we heard them yelling: “Hey JEWS! You like money, right? Come up and get some!”
– There was also a friend I made on a family trip to Oaxaca, Mexico when I was 11. My dad called him a boyfriend, which embarrassed me. He took me into the square’s main church and said (in Spanish), “You’re Jewish? But you don’t have horns!” I’d heard that people thought that, but didn’t know there were STILL people who did. Even in Mexico.
– More recently, there was the web developer who told me to stop “Jewing” him down. (If I’d done the proper research before hiring him, I would’ve known better. His myspace page featured a picture of him sticking out his tongue and giving “the shocker.” A myspace page on its own, in 2009, was a red flag.)
Other than that, I’ve been pretty sheltered. I’ve known about the Holocaust since I was 9 and was the only kid in my grade allowed to stay up and watch the TV miniseries “Holocaust,” starring Meryl Streep. I always felt distanced from what happened to the Jews because it seemed so…old-timey. This was the modern age. We had TVs, and girls wore pants. That terrible thing had happened when my parents were kids, which seemed as recent to me as Stonehenge.
My dad is always talking about the Holocaust. He just might mention it once a day, minimum. But maybe because of what happened in Charlottesville, and seeing those nazi flags and stupid tiki torches, it struck me in a new way when it came up yesterday. This was the weekend of the summer when we all visit my parents at their house in Connecticut. (In, yes, a mostly Jewish enclave.) Partly to delay a talk about finances, another theme of my dad’s, my sister asked him his earliest memories.
He said he remembered being 4 and hearing his mother talk about “what Hitler is doing to our Jews.” Our family, he told us, lost 500 people in the Holocaust. I’d never really absorbed that number, or what it might have felt like for his parents, here in America, to get word that all those people were gone.
I don’t post much about politics — not because I don’t have opinions or thoughts, but more because it’s not where I express myself best, and I always think someone else has already said what I wanted to say, but better.
In the case of neo nazis and white supremacists (who don’t deserve capital letters), plenty of people in my orbit have already pointed out that, in all the outrage, there’s a big glossing-over of the antisemitism. I wanted to chime in this time, though, and not stay silent. People are standing up to the racial hatred in wonderful ways, but largely leaving out the hatred of Jews.
THAT is what those nazi flags are about. Those hideous swastikas. They stand for killing Jews. Something that happened, on an enormous scale. It’s why we say the words, “NEVER AGAIN.”