Living in a mostly Christian state in a mostly Christian nation makes things pretty simple. Going to chapel every week at my school (founded by missionaries!) creates a sense of community and comfort that includes everyone and couldn’t be found anywhere else. The only problem? I’m Jewish.
Just the other week, a classmate of mine (we’ll call her M) approached me at the beginning of science class. When I asked what was going on, she told me she had seen another classmate with a swastika drawn on his leg. It was from a distance, M said, but she had heard him say my name. What struck me at that moment was how concerned she was not what this might mean for the future, but how I would handle hearing about it right then. What M doesn’t know, though, is that things like this happen to me every couple of days.
America is a mostly safe place for some people – usually white Protestant men. Diverging from even one of those categories causes occasional discrimination at best and life-threatening danger at worst, with most people falling on a spectrum somewhere in between. Personally, I can walk the streets without fear, but my synagogue (along with hundreds of others across the United States) is holding active shooter training and planning drills for the preschoolers during Sunday School.
How do you explain to a 4-year-old that they need to be prepared for someone with a gun to try to slaughter them out of pure hatred? How do you explain to an innocent child that their rabbi gets monthly emails from the FBI about threat levels? How do we explain this baseless anti-Semitism to our children, and how do we deal with it ourselves?
Over the years, some have chosen to abandon ship altogether, bringing themselves into the fold of Christianity, the “normal religion” here in America. Sometimes, this seems inevitable. But, the irony is almost painful. After 6 million of us were killed, we still held on. Yet, here we are still being persecuted. After the world said “never again,” the death toll is still slowly rising.
The solution to this dangerous puzzle is not an easy one. Huge tech platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter must find and remove the fraudulent content and hate speech that inspires hateful action against the Jewish community. Students must be taught from a young age that all offensive jokes based on race or religion are wrong and shouldn’t be repeated. Anti-Semitism will never fully be eradicated until there is not only no access to anti-Semitic content but also nobody who would believe it anyway.
Today, in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting, this issue seems like a Gordian Knot of gun control, ethics, racism, neo-Nazis, and a million other headline buzzwords. When we look back at this chapter of time, though, we’ll simply see it one of two ways. Either this will be a terrible story of the last gasps of a group torn apart by discrimination and ingrained prejudice, or a cautionary example of a time before our species stepped into a less hateful path. Our generation is the ones making that choice, and only time will tell which way the scale tips.
Featured Image: @pregadio via Unsplash