Reflections on Anti-Semitism: Ask a High School Student

Submitted by Alec Hoyland

Bedford-Embraces-Diversity_Anti-Semitism is a problem.

It is not a problem unique to Bedford, Massachusetts.

No fire hoses are being turned on Jewish people in the streets.

But it is still a problem.

What is anti-Semitism and can I eat it?
Anti-Semitism is the discrimination or hatred of Jews because of their Jewish heritage. Simply put, it’s racism. No, you cannot eat it. Anti-Semitism in Christian Europe has existed most notably since the First Crusade, the exile of Jews from England in the 13th century, the persecutions and Inquisition in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Dreyfus affair, the Russian pogroms in the 19th century, and the Holocaust under the Nazis (and all of the other collaborationists), as well as hatred under the Soviet Union and Middle-Eastern countries.

The term “anti-Semitism” was developed as an official sounding term for Jew-hatred. Like the word ‘homophobia,’ it doesn’t actually make much sense etymologically speaking as Semitism and anti-Semitism are not opposites. It also does not take into account Ethiopians and Arabs who speak other Semitic languages (Amharic and Arabic) or those Jews who do not speak a Semitic language.

Anti-Semitism has existed in Bedford for as long as anyone can remember. Anti-Semitism is not the only hate issue in Bedford; however it is receiving a large media and social attention right now.

What is a Jew? I don’t suppose I can eat that either…
A Jew is a member of a group that traces their ancestry back to Biblical Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the book of Genesis. It is both an ethnic group and a religious group. It is possible to be Jewish and not be religious, and it is possible to be religiously Jewish and not ethnically Jewish. There are 13.4 million Jews alive today. The Jewish ethnicity has been traced genetically to those people living in Canaan (modern-day Israel) 5,000 years ago.

Jews do not speak Jewish. The religious language of the Jews is Hebrew (a Semitic language), which became extinct but was revived by the Zionists in the 20th century as Modern Hebrew. Ancient Jews also spoke Aramaic (a Semitic language). Yiddish is a dialectical language formed similarly to Creole spoken by Jews who migrated to Central Europe. Ladino is another dialectical language spoken by Jews who migrated to Spain. These are the most common Jews dialects. There are many more.

The point being that Jews are a varied people and that this concept of monolithic anti-Semitism is fallacious. It is just as subtle and varied. Hatred is a slippery thing.

Why is anti-Semitism receiving all of this attention now?
There have been countless unreported incidents of anti-Semitism towards Jewish students at Bedford Public Schools for years; however recently there have been many reported incidents in rapid succession at more than one school, including swastikas drawn on the walls of the high school, a group of students texting swastikas to each other, and a game “Jail the Jews” proposed by two students at the elementary school level during a creativity exercise. Concerned parents are concerned; and they should be.

Do students in the schools think anti-Semitism is a problem?
The simple answer is no. There are some concerned students who are working closely with the faculty to try to come up with a response to these recent events. There is talk of bringing someone in from Facing History, a group that gives seminars on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. As for the majority of students, from all races, creeds, and cultures, the opinion is that this is an over-exaggerated response to a small isolated issue involving a student or two who think that the drawing of swastikas is funny.

That right there is the problem. Superintendent Jon Sills believes that there are only a few students who may truly hate Jews for being Jewish, and the rest are either ignorant or callous.

I think that a lot of this stems from a lack of understanding. No one is rounding up Jews and forcing them into ghettos or forcing conversion or death. But every time someone throws a coin at me and expects me to dive for it like a starved animal, tells me that they can’t be friends with me because my people killed Jesus, tells me to jump in an oven.

The problem is so endemic that I think most Jewish students either isolate themselves from it or just internalize it. But it’s not okay. This should not be happening.

Here’s an example of appropriation. How many non-Jews in America can name a Jewish holiday? If they can, is it Chanukah? Chanukah is one of the least important Jewish holidays. It pales in comparison to Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

Name a country in Europe, I know people who died in the Holocaust there. Go on, my family tree stops after my grandparents’ generation. There is nothing there.  These are the ghosts that almost every Jewish family bears with them. 33% of the Jewish population was annihilated in the Holocaust. 6 million is just a faceless number, but one in three? I ask people to think about that the next time they draw a swastika on the wall? No one draws Y. pestis and thinks it’s funny.

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Erin L. McCormack
Erin L. McCormack
8 years ago

Glad to hear your voice, Alec – articulate, informed and passionate. Sometimes it does take adversity for people to finally speak up.

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