“Leora,” my brother said quietly as I was putting him to sleep. “I hate being Jewish.”
As a sixteen-year-old who has always been proud of and vocal about her Jewish identity, I was floored.
“Sweetheart, what makes you say that?” I asked.
At first, he said “he didn’t remember,” but after I calmed him down and told him I wouldn’t be angry, he said, “a kid at recess asked me what holidays I celebrated. So I said New Years, Halloween, Hannukah. He just said ‘your religion is stupid’ and walked away.”
And my brother, a third grader who didn’t know how to respond, then came home and told me matter-of-factly what had happened. My mother sent an email to the principal (who then had the child apologize), but I didn’t see any of the typical outrage that I generally see on Facebook about discriminating against LGBT students or stereotyping certain ethnic groups. Granted, we didn’t exactly publicize the incident, but if my brother was told that his 'race was stupid,’ protests would be written, complaints would be filed and teachers would be lectured. But this antisemitic comment, however innocent or childish-- literally-- it may have been, was ignored by the community at large.
Just a few weeks ago, I happened to be the victim of an anti-Semitic Facebook attack. I recently posted a provocative Palestinian political cartoon that was a clear example of libel against Israel. A Facebook friend saw it and then asked me if I was Jewish, since I had never brought up my religion before. (With a name like Leora Eisenberg, I usually don’t have to.)
Yes," I said haltingly, not knowing where this was going. "I am Jewish."
“And you support Israel?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t like to discuss my political view with my friends because I don’t want to lose them. I know that sometimes I post things to Facebook, but I don't talk about it."
Two days later, I read a post regarding our conversation on his Facebook account, which included a few choice phrases like:
“If you want to know more about your favorite country just search about it or write 'the massacres of Israel.' It's a shame to be Jewish; I think that all the world hates you and I think that you know too.”
“I know many people from all over the world : Muslims, Christians even atheists; they know what is the meaning of HUMANITY and they are against Israel. The difference between Jews and other people that Jews know what is right but they do not follow. They have evoked God's anger."
Shame on me for not knowing what humanity is. Shame on me for having political opinions. Shame on me, of course, for the whole world hating me. And then I felt sick as I saw one like on the post. Then two. Then three.
And when I told my friends, they said, “oh, Leora, I’m sooo sorry” or “be strong, Leora, it’ll all get better,” but I knew that if my sexuality were attacked on the internet, they would be up in arms protesting, but since it was just anti-Semitism, it was just a fact of life and something I would have to accept.
It hurt to know that people my age, people of a generation that prides itself on being extremely vocal about human rights and racism, were silent about anti-Semitism, even if it was directed towards a close friend.
So why is today’s youth silent about it? Why does modern society distance itself from the issue of anti-Semitism when it is so vocal about other social issues? Why are teenagers sitting back and letting their friends be told that ‘their religion is stupid’ and that they ‘don’t understand humanity’ when they voice their opinions and protest for people’s rights all the way from Ferguson to New York? Maybe it is when this society ignores anti-Semitism that it stops defending humanity.