I am Jewish and I am afraid

Photo courtesy of Maya Torres, Student Publications

When I was 16, I received a Star of David necklace from a friend. I wore it nearly every day of 11th grade, and I thought about my late Papa who had died just a few years prior.

Like many Polish Jews, my Papa was persecuted for his faith during the Holocaust. His parents nearly died in Nazi Labor Camps, and with faith and luck, my family barely managed to survive.

In the United States, we have a phrase: “Never again.”

Every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we as Jews make a vow that the violence and death and destruction of our people will never happen again. The woke Instagram stories of people from other faiths join us:
“Never Again.”

I am not saying I have ever experienced a taste of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Today, I am granted the privilege of a safe life with open practice of my beliefs. But my family, just a few decades ago, was not granted this privilege. And in 2021, I fear that people may be forgetting or even abusing the phrase, “Never Again.”

For starters, there is no way to condone the actions of the Israeli government.

While there is misinformation flying from both sides of the argument, one thing is very clear: wrongs are actively taking place, and we as a world must hold the government behind them accountable.

Let me make it very clear that the word “government” means just that.

The government does not represent the ideas of the nation itself. The government does not represent Jews. In fact, the current Israeli administration is going against every Jewish value there is.

However, when people reflect their judgements of the government onto the Zionist movement, I fear they do not fully know or understand the meaning of the word Zionism.

Oxford Languages, the top Google result, defines Zionism as “a movement for … the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel.”

Putting aside the argument of who has the right to the land, let’s look at the Jewish people.

Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, Judaism was the only one of the three primary Monotheistic religions to not have a country with a majority population of its faith.

To this day, Israel stands as the single majority-Jewish nation in the world. So when I see people, the same people who write “Never Again” on their Instagram stories once a year, actively calling for the end of the only Jewish state to exist, yes, it does come across as antisemitic.

For those who are not familiar with the Jewish faith, Jerusalem is the Mecca of Judaism. We pray for it. We pray facing it. We pray that we may one day return to it. Regardless of who “has the right to the land”, this country holds a special place in our faith that it simply does not for any other religion.

I have seen the argument that people are able to criticize Saudi Arabia and other majority-Muslim countries (key word: countries) without being called Islamophobic, but I want to point out the forgotten word: “government.” People are able to criticize the government of Saudi Arabia without being called Islamophobic.

If people actively called for the end of the existence of Saudi Arabia or its people, I think the Muslim population of the world would have a serious problem.

Following centuries of genocide that began way before the Holocaust, the Jewish people want one thing: the right to have a country on the land we pray to on a daily basis.

This is not an unjust request or something that other religions do not already have.

Beyond religious reasons, having a country to which Jews can flee in the case of another genocide against our people is a necessary tool for protecting the meaning of “Never Again.”

In the past month, for the first time since 11th grade, I’ve actively chosen to not wear an obviously Jewish symbol around my neck. Not because it doesn’t match my outfit or because I don’t want to sweat onto the chain, but because I am afraid.

So when people tell me that their words are not antisemitic, I kindly request that they shut their mouths and listen up.

Women have the right to decide what is or isn’t sexist. People of color have the right to decide what is or isn’t racist. But when Jews are in the picture, their right to claim that something is actively harming their community is suddenly erased.

Regardless of what you believe, you simply cannot give an entire oppressed people a double standard in this case. It paves the way for future erasure against us. And it simply isn’t fair.

I am a political person; I am driven by a passion for social justice and equality in the world. And to be frank, the events taking place in Palestine are no exception.

I ache for the families who are being harmed, and I ache that the violence is being perpetrated by a country supposed to represent my Jewish homeland. But calling for the end of an entire country and wishing death upon its people is extremism and hate by any definition.

I truly wish for peace in Palestine and across the world, but above all, I wish for the continuance of a Jewish nation that protects us as a people against future harm.