My father grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and my mother grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They experienced little anti-Semitism growing up, partly because large numbers of Jews lived in their communities, and there were peaceful relations with the Christians that lived alongside them. They never reported hearing anti-Semitic slurs or seeing swastikas drawn on walls. My parents were accepted in their communities and were able to coexist with their neighbors regardless of religious belief.
However, these safe havens that my parents peacefully grew up in have been rocked in turmoil recently. Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in St. Louis and Philadelphia, with tombstones being knocked over. Each time this happens, it feels like a little piece of me is knocked over as well. Anti-Semitism is nothing new to Jews; much of our history involves fleeing people who virulently hate us, yet America is supposed to be different. It was designed to be open to all regardless of race or creed, which is precisely why Jews have flourished and found a safe haven in the U.S. What went wrong?
Was it the rise of fake news and accusations that Jewish billionaires like financier George Soros were rigging our political system? Or was it the constant accusations from Donald Trump throughout his campaign that Hillary Clinton was meeting with international bankers to plan a new global order—a well-known anti-Semitic trope? Maybe it was the lack of mention of Jews in the White House press statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Donald Trump understands the power of words just as well as anybody, so it’s not as if the omission of Jews from this statement was an accident.
There has been a noticeable increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. Thirty-one Jewish community centers and day schools received bomb threats and had to be evacuated on Monday, February 27. My eight-year-old cousin was in a community center that had to be evacuated because of a threat.
He is young enough to not understand that it was because of his religion that he had to evacuate, but he knew that something ‘bad’ was happening. Thankfully, these threats were no more than just that, threats, but next time it could be far worse. Fifty-seven percent of all hate crimes are motivated towards Jews, according to the FBI.
Given all of these threats to Jews, our President should deliver a strong rebuke to this scary trend, in the form of a speech or some other highly visible public forum, especially since our president has a Jewish daughter and three Jewish grandchildren. Moreover, it falls upon everyone to be vigilant against anti-Semitic behavior and hateful behavior of any kind, calling it out right when it is seen and then making clear such actions are not welcomed. Going to protests, signing petitions, and contacting local legislators are all ways to make your voice heard.
I have heard anti-Semitic comments myself from classmates at Stuyvesant and from people on the subway. It’s something that I have struggled to respond to because it is such a emotionally charged topic. Oftentimes people are ignorant of the struggle that Jewish people have endured as a minority always on the run.
Am I facing as much danger from Trump’s administration as undocumented immigrants or Muslims? No, but the fact that so many religious and racial groups have seen hate crimes increase because Trump is willfully ignorant or even encouraging such behavior by demonizing immigrants and encouraging violence at his rallies is why his presidency is so alarming. This distinction between those who are part of Trump’s America—white, male, Christian—and those who are not is magnified by Trump, when these differences should not be a point of division. I wish that Trump would make America great again, by returning it to the welcoming and accepting culture my parents were able to enjoy.