All change starts with words. The same way hate speech can be spread and manifested in crime and mass fear, openheartedness and sharing of ideologies, narratives, and traditions can create a powerful cross-cultural understanding which transcends hatred and creates lasting peace. It is essential that space is created where people can openly express why they love their culture, what their values are, and what makes their stories and traditions so awe-inspiring.

 

Growing up Jewish, I’ve always felt different than my peers, but I've never felt like I was unsafe in society.  I know that my community has an extensive history of oppression in many different countries including America, but I barely felt that history, growing up in the early 2000’s. Nevertheless, I felt more comfortable in my surroundings when I kept my Jewish identity hidden from those who weren’t Jewish too. 

    

This all changed after the Gaza war of 2014. I was devastated by the war, deeply heartbroken for the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives, and concerned by the anti-Semitic angle taken by the media. I experienced targeted hate speech and witnessed the spread of propaganda on social media platforms. When I would try and talk to my friends about Israel, I experienced apathy and evasiveness.  Even the diversity dialogue training group I was a part of had banned talking about Israel, with no explicit reason.  

It was then that I realized the importance of being vocal about one’s cultural background, regardless of if it felt socially acceptable or not.

 

At that time I was a junior in high school and I had just come back from a semester living in Beer Sheba. I had a newfound love for my vibrant culture and heritage— and I no longer wanted to keep it hidden.  That love was, and still is, a big part of who I am. 

 

I realized I had a role to fulfill— to educate people about Israel, the good and the bad.  Keeping quiet about my appreciation for my culture wouldn’t bring understanding, talking would. But, talking alone wouldn’t bring mutual understanding. Listening is necessary too.  If I was not an advocate for my people, who would be? If I didn’t listen to others, who would listen to me? 

 

My father, a Conservative Rabbi, came to the school that year to talk to the students about Jewish culture, after an outbreak of anti-Semitism and insensitivity on my Philadelphian high school campus.  I was almost surprised about how unembarrassed I was to have my dad talk to an auditorium of my peers. 

 

I feel that same unashamed urgency now.  In light of the United Nation’s move to deny the confirmed historical and spiritual connection of the Jewish people on the Temple Mount, the Alt-Right’s annual conference of the National Policy Institute ending in politicians shouting “Heil Trump!” and a number of swastikas recently drawn in schools and on public property, I am more aware than ever about my role as a Jewish person in society.  

 

It is UNESCO that should be embarrassed for trying to erase my history. It is anyone in the Alt-Right movement that should feel ashamed for trying to revive my oppression.  It is anyone who refuses to listen to narratives that differ than their own based on prejudice or bigotry that should be held accountable for their intolerance.  Creating peace begins with connecting across cultural boundaries, and everyone’s involvement is required. 


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