Community Perspective: Because I’m Jewish

A contributed Perspectives piece by Josh Linder

Have you ever had a penny thrown at you? Have you ever been invited to your friend’s house for dinner only to overhear your friend’s sister say that you’re not welcome in their house? Have you lost most of your family to gas chambers and death marches?  I have…because I’m Jewish.

On October 27th, in the worst single attack on American Jews in the history of the United States, 11 people lost their lives in Pittsburgh…because they were Jewish. In August 2017 white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, chanting anti-Semitic slogans and displaying anti-Semitic symbols, to protest the removal of a statue and help unify factions of white nationalists. On July 2nd, 2016, President Donald Trump tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton in front of a collage of US dollar bills and next to the Star of David in which was inscribed, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” On November 4th, 2016, President Trump aired his last campaign advertisement in which he used well-known alt-right, anti-Semitic rhetoric when he declared that the “global special interests…don’t have your good in mind” while showing images of prominent American Jews. Meanwhile, on September 17th, in Elkton, Public Works Director Troy Shifflett said he “jewed them down” in reference to getting a good deal on a purchase for a city event. If you think these events are unrelated, inconsequential, or exaggerated by the media, then you don’t know what it means to be Jewish. Or African-American. Or any group that has historically been and continues to be targeted by far-right hate groups. This is familiar to us. It is ingrained in our society so much so that people don’t even realize anymore when they are being anti-Semitic or racist. For America to be great, this must end.

We cannot allow white nationalism and the outlets that support its ethos to dictate the future of America. Far right, white nationalists are among the most dangerous and violent people in America. They are the real threat to American values.

Whether it’s an off-hand anti-Semitic or racist comment, or an allusion to an anti-Semitic or racist stereotype, or the killing of people because of their race or religion – no matter the scale, we must always stand up and speak out. One of the most powerful and effective ways to be heard and to affect change is to vote for those local, state, and national candidates who have a history of speaking out against hate groups and supporting legislation that empowers groups targeted by hate crimes.

After white supremacists marched on Charlottesville, an hour from where I live, I decided to send my sons to Hebrew school. My oldest son was reluctant and wanted to know why he had to attend school on the weekends.  I quickly replied, “Because there are people out there who have never met you and yet they hate you because you are Jewish.” He didn’t understand my answer. Then, the Pittsburgh massacre happened, and I told him about it, and he replied, “I understand now.”

~ Josh Linder is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at JMU and the JMU Hillel Advisor

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