I’m from Bedford, NH, which is one of the whitest, most Christian places I’ve ever been to with little economic hardship and very little racial diversity. I was one of probably less than 10 Jews in my high school, including my younger brother and a set of triplets. In Bedford, I faced some anti-Semitism, though it was always pretty benign. For example, in elementary school, when I was riding the bus on the way to school, I was once made fun of for wearing a Jewish star necklace, and the kids doing it intentionally sang Christmas songs in my face for the rest of the ride just to make sure I knew which religion and culture was dominant. I remember going home that day and crying to my mom, asking her why these kids didn’t seem to like Jewish people. I couldn’t understand why my religion had to influence their perception of and actions towards me. She replied by telling me that some people were anti-Semitic and “for whatever reason” didn’t like Jews.
She said that a lot of times.
These kids had parents who were anti-Semitic too, and that because they were raised around these beliefs, they just didn’t know better. Her advice was to ignore them; they simply did not and would not understand.
As I grew up, I encountered less blatant anti-Semitism, though I could still sense when people didn’t like Jews. Whether it be in the hallway overhearing comments about how we should just “burn all the Jews” like what happened in the Holocaust or in class discussions about the Middle East, I could tell that anti-Semitism was a problem that was far from over, even if people weren’t picking on me specifically for being Jewish.
College has been such a blessing because, for the first time in my life, I am constantly surrounded by Jews. Around 25% of students at WashU are Jewish. However, that doesn’t deny the existence of anti-Semitism on campus; it is most definitely still there. Yet college is a bit of a bubble, for there have been no violent hate crimes against Jews on campus. I can’t say the same for the Greater St. Louis area.
This Monday, February 20, authorities discovered that over 150 headstones were toppled or damaged at Chesed Shel Emeth, a Jewish cemetery in University City, MO. It is suspected that there is an organization behind this crime, rather than a lone vandal. Some of the headstones were for people who survived the Holocaust, though regardless of the people’s locations and lives, “it’s never okay to desecrate the dead,” remarked Golda Burke, a woman whose grandparents are buried in the cemetery. This is frightening, and it is even scarier that this potential hate crime comes at a time when Jewish community centers across the nation are facing bomb threats.
Yet I am also terrified that when my friend shared the link to the article detailing the crime on Facebook, multiple people replied that she’s just blaming Trump for the event. These kids made some unintelligent comments about how they “r having some fun” and how “lefties [Democrats]” don’t understand their views. They then proceeded to have a conversation about finger painting and hanging out and “deez nuts,” which does not at all change one of the world’s most controversial and persistent problems.
Acts of hate are acts of cowardice because the people who commit them (whether it be desecrating Jewish gravestones or attempting to delegitimize the situation through Facebook comments) can’t articulate their beliefs and confront diversity through productive conversation. Instead, they resort to anonymous crimes and hateful social media comments. In a sense, the social media comments are just as bad as the physical crime because both perpetuate an extremely unjust situation that plagues our world.
The day after the desecration was discovered, I visited the cemetery. As I walked along the rocky ridge that lined the cemetery, I was able to peer over the gate and see stones that were certainly not as intact as the ones I was standing on, for dozens of these 1000 pound physical representations of the weighty memories of so many incredible people were lying on the ground. After I had hopped down from the ridge, a news reporter asked me what my perspective was on the uncertain origin of the incident, for authorities' investigation is still continuing. She was wondering if I would've been more upset if it was a trashy and thoughtless action by some kids who had nothing better to do or if it really was a hate crime. To be honest, I do not know which I think is worse, but there is some strange comfort in knowing that there at least was an intention behind the action, however horrid it may be.
I met one lady who said that her whole family is buried in the cemetery. She was glad that their gravestones were, fortunately, untouched, but she was deeply saddened by the destruction of stones from the oldest part of the cemetery. Many of these stones, she said, were really beautiful, with faces carved into them and meaningful words engraved. If the people who committed this crime knew this and understood at least a little bit of Jewish history and fully valued the life of each person on this earth, I don't think that this tragedy would've happened.
I know that this is just a shot in the dark, a single article in a stream of hundreds, of thousands, of millions of articles out there, anti-Semitic or otherwise. Yet I write because it’s important to me that people read and learn and converse about these major global issues. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that it is a legitimate problem, and the second is conversation. It is my hope that this article will provoke more conversation so that we can create some real change.So stop thoughtlessly commenting on social media; really think through anything that you put online. Stop sitting back and letting anti-Semitism happen. Take action, so that anti-Semitic crimes, from the Holocaust to Facebook comments to vandalizing Jewish cemeteries, don’t happen anymore. And have a conversation. #ifnotnowwhen