People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013..
(photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
Swastikas. Hate speech. Bullying. Threats.
As the year 2019 kicks off, Twitter users around the globe are showing that antisemitic behavior is not something relegated to history books. Using the hashtag #firstantisemiticexperience, people have been sharing stories of their first exposure to antisemitic taunting and abuse.
The hashtag appears to have been started by Rabbi Zvi Solomons, the spiritual leader of the Jewish Community of the Berkshire synagogue in Reading, England.
On Monday morning, Solomons posted the hashtag, asking his followers to use it – allowing it to become a link on Twitter showing tweets from all those who include it – and share their own experiences.
And the stories began to pour in.
Carly Pildis, a Tablet Magazine writer and nonprofit professional, said that her first antisemitic experience “was when I was 13 and someone drew a swastika on my synagogue.”
Annika Rothstein, a political adviser and activist from Sweden, said hers “was in 7th grade; 6 neo-nazis at school stood next to my locker saying I should be turned into soap like ‘the others.’ For three years they tormented me to the point where I ended up shaving off my big, curly hair, hoping to hide my ‘Jewishness.’”
Shai DeLuca-Tamasi, an Israeli interior designer living in Toronto, said he took part in the March of the Living, “walking through the streets of Poland wrapped in flags of Israel. A young kid, no more than 15 years, stood behind the barricade with a switchblade, looked me in the eye and said, ‘next time it’s all of you.’”
According to the tracking service TweetBinder.com, more than 1,700 people have tweeted using the hashtag in recent days.
Twitter users spoke of having pennies thrown at them while classmates laughed; of hearing casual Holocaust jokes; of having educators, parents of friends and fellow students exclude them for their beliefs or accuse them of killing Jesus. Many of the stories echo each other, and it is clear – however many years later – that the experiences left a lasting impression.
Writer and editor Howard Lovy said that when he was 10 years old and living in Augusta, Georgia, “My family and I came home from vacation to find our house vandalized and defaced with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans.”
Freelancer writer Wendy Rosenfield said that when she was in first grade, she was playing tag on the playground.
“Best friend chasing me, starts yelling, ‘Believe in Jesus, Jesus is the Lord!’” she wrote. “I stop, stunned, respond, ‘But I’m Jewish.’ She says she knows, that’s why she said it.”
Mark Lewis, a British-Israeli attorney and activist, said when he was five he got in an argument with a boy who lived nearby.
“His mother comes out ‘shame Hitler didn’t finish you all off,’” he recalled “I had to ask my parents who he was. She was a teacher at an RC [Roman Catholic] school.”
Joshua Springer wrote that when he was 11, he was walking to Hebrew school when he was grabbed by two men and called a “kike boy.”
“I felt a knock on my head, and I only remember waking up on the sidewalk, yarmulke gone, backpack emptied,” he wrote. “I never wore a yarmulke outside again.”
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