Young Jews in US Encounter Anti-Semitism Firsthand

By Zauzmer, Julie | Sunday Gazette-Mail, November 11, 2018 | Go to article overview

Young Jews in US Encounter Anti-Semitism Firsthand


Zauzmer, Julie, Sunday Gazette-Mail


Shots rang out in Pittsburgh. And in Washington, for the first time in her life, Yael Fisher felt scared to be Jewish.

"I had never felt in danger because I'm Jewish, physically in danger, Fisher, 22, told her friends as she picked over the remnants of their Chipotle dinner last week. "I had to run an errand alone, and I was nervous. I've never felt that before.

Her three friends, all of them also 22 and Jewish, nodded gravely.

Hayley Berger told Fisher she remembers the day she first became aware that there are Americans who hate Jews, who hate Jews so much that they would murder. It was the day in April 2014 when a white supremacist fatally shot three people outside the Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement home in her Kansas suburb.

Reuben Siegman recalls the day he learned: He was living in St. Louis last year when a Jewish cemetery in town was vandalized. Graves were toppled again, days later, at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

"That drove me to wear a kippah for a while, he told his friends. "It was like: I will be Jewish. And there's no violence you can do that will scare me away from that.' "

For many young Jews across the nation, last month's mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was a jarring lesson. Many millennials who grew up hearing about anti-Semitism from their parents and grandparents think of the Holocaust, Eastern European pogroms and the Spanish Inquisition when they think about violence against Jews - stories they read in history books about events that happened well over half a century ago, and all in the old country, not the United States.

The Pittsburgh rampage, committed by a gunman who reportedly shouted "All Jews must die as he fired, shattered what remained of that illusion.

Young Jews in the United States are now aware: They live in a country where anti-Semitism still lives - and where it kills.

The idea that hatred against Jews resides in the past has been fading for the past few years as anti-Semitism has reared its head repeatedly. Hate crimes have increased. In the days since the Pittsburgh shooting alone, vandals wrote "F- - Jews on the wall of an Irvine, California, synagogue and "Kill All Jews inside a Brooklyn synagogue.

Twitter seethes daily with anti-Semitic messages that attract billions of views. President Donald Trump himself has been accused of anti-Semitic messaging, and when neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year chanting "Jews will not replace us, Trump responded that there were "very fine people on both sides.

For Gaby Kirschner, 24, the realization dawned in May of last year, when she went to a New York City protest against actions of the Trump administration.

She had never been very religious; she still describes her childhood Hebrew school as "an old lady in a basement yelling at me after school. She learned about the Holocaust there, but she never learned that Jews had been discriminated against in the United States, barred from social, professional and educational opportunities for decades. "We were never taught this is still going on today, she said.

But on that day last May, Kirschner heard a group of pro-Trump counterprotesters shouting "Jew at her as she walked down the street. It happened on Twitter, too. Strangers replying to her tweets about sports, writing back, "Jew. She was rattled.

She went back to the religious practice she had left after her bat mitzvah at age 13. She started attending Jewish communal meetings, feeling pride in her faith: "If they want me erased, well, here I am!

Yet she still felt scared on the street, wondering whether a stranger looking at her might sympathize with neo-Nazis, wondering if he could read her identity right on her face. After that day at the protest, she did something else that she had been pondering previously for cosmetic reasons, and now desired for safety: She got a nose job. …

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