I’ve been told my whole life to get over it.
For years people have said things to me like, “you know, I understand your people have been been through a lot, but you need to try to live in the present.”
Then people get killed, and all of a sudden there are headlines like, “Anti-Semitism is on the rise.” Anti-Semitism is not on the rise. It has never gone anywhere. And it’s here, even in little ol’ Nelson.
On Friday I was in a public place and struck up a conversation with a stranger from Tuscany, a place I am going to visit soon.
About a minute into our conversation I mentioned that I grew up with a lot of Italians, and was really excited to go there because I felt that Jews and Italians, broadly speaking, tend to have some similar cultural values.
Her tone and body language changed instantly. No, she replied. “Italians don’t like Jews at all.”
This stranger then proceeded to tell me again that Italians actually don’t like Jews, and “are more interested in the Palestinians.” I responded that, you know, it might sound crazy, and she might not be able to believe it, but I’m currently dating a Palestinian woman. So you know, sarcastically, I told her, I must not be interested in them either.
I think this made her aware of how bigoted the statement she had actually made was, and she promptly left the public space in which this encounter occurred. The other people present were pretty much aghast.
Let’s infer for a moment what the statement this stranger said to me means.
It means, a) all 14 million Jews on the Earth support some of the policies of a military on the other side of the planet, and should be held accountable for those actions; b) to be Jewish implies that you should be not liked because of the policies of that state; c) You are responsible for the treatment of the Palestinian citizens of Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza; d) You hate Palestinians, and Palestinians hate Jews. People who support Palestinians, should therefore dislike Jews.
People might call my experience in light of those events a non-issue. Those are people who don’t understand what it’s like to see someone spray paint a swastika on your elementary school at six years old and have to ask your mother why.
People who haven’t had nightmares their whole lives about people in black suits coming to take their family away while they hide below floorboards. People who aren’t afraid to tell people what their cultural background is. People who think they’ve got the short end of the stick, and that the Jews run the banks and the media.
Julias Maslovat, a Holocaust survivor born in Poland and raised by adopted parents in Sweden, is someone I’m grateful to call my friend. He says that the only way to fight any kind of bigotry in this world is to call it what it is.
Please, if you do see anything like this, say something about it. This happened in public. These things have almost always happened to me in public. But it feels like everyone always wants to be silent when they see it. Silence is tantamount to complicity. Julius and others will tell you that.