Are Jews people?
I wish I could say that that wasn't a question asked in the modern day. Increased international liberalization, particularly in the US over the last few years, has made me hope that people would be more sensitive to others who are of different religions, races, and cultural backgrounds. Alas, that is not the case.
I'm part of an organization on campus entitled WIPAC, Washington University Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is a pro-Israel political advocacy organization. At the airport on the way home for Thanksgiving, I opened my WIPAC Exec GroupMe chat hoping to find something else to be thankful for, but instead finding an extremely troubling message. My friend shared in our GroupMe the following image of a CNN broadcast on Monday, November 21 about the transition to Trump's America.
The headline of the picture above reads “Alt-Right Founder Questions If Jews Are People." The CNN segment is part of their analysis on “The Trump Transition."
Maybe it's just an example of an ultra-conservative mentality that won't really affect the way that the world sees Jews. But I know that's just naive and wishful thinking. Because now, with Donald Trump's election alarmingly spurring alt-right and racist movements, I have a mounting fear of possible actions that could be taken against Jews like me in the country I call home. And in the so-called "land of the free," I know this shouldn't be a concern.
To those who are questioning, yes, Jews are people. It's crazy, I know. And as it turns out, I am a Jew, too. Just like any other people, we live in this country, voted for the president, and deserve to be represented appropriately by our government. But because we have fears for our country and for Israel, which is a second home to many of us, our WIPAC GroupMe exists. It exists so that we can spread the word of the mutual benefits of the US-Israel relationship and assert that Jews aren't just people; we're a strong people. We're survivors of thousands of years of twisted history. We're survivors of the brutal Holocaust, and I can guarantee we'll be survivors of Trump's America and of whatever racist, anti-Semitic notions it cultivates.
As a child, I used to think that blatant and prevalent anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. At least in America. I'll be the first to admit I was wrong, and in the last decade, my Jewish identity has been confronted with too much anti-Semitism. Any anti-Semitism is too much anti-Semitism.
Thanksgiving Day this year explicitly proved my childhood self-wrong. I woke up on Thanksgiving morning to a Facebook notification that many of my friends had "marked themselves safe during The Fires in Haifa, Israel." These fires had forced over 60,000 people to evacuate its 3rd largest city, Haifa. They blazed through headlines and homes, tearing through the country. I was devastated to hear the news, for I stayed with a family in Haifa just a few years ago who made me feel like Israel was my second home. The thought of flames lapping at our Promised Land, tearing through forests and buildings and hospitalizing hundreds, was enough to make my blood curdle. I was partially consoled by the fact that many of my friends were safe, at least according to Facebook, but as I went to eat Thanksgiving "linner" at 1pm, I couldn't press the images of my friends fleeing Haifa out of my mind. How could I be thankful for a day when Israel was threatened by anti-Semitism and suspected arson? I was grateful, however, for the international community's aid to Israel and it's my hope that nations such as Turkey, Russia, and Greece, all of whom provided aid to Israel during this tragedy, will continue to support the Holy Land in the future. Of course, it’s my hope that Israel will never again be eaten by flames, but from international anti-Semitism expressed in the suspected arson, in the alt-right founder’s comments, and in the words and actions of many others, I know this will likely not be the case.
My Hebrew name is יהודית (Yehudit), which translates to English as, quite simply, “Jew." I must thank my parents and the Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) tradition of naming Jewish children after their deceased family members for the “ultimate Jewish name," as I like to call it. But I'm proud of it. Yehudit doesn't just come from my grandmother; it extends from thousands of years of Yehudim (Jews). Of their stories and history, and of their cultures and customs. And if my super-Jewish name, "Jew nose" that curves like a pitcher's mound, brown curly hair, and short height don't answer the lady's question, then I don't know what does.
In all seriousness, however, questions like hers aren't meant to be taken lightly because they shock the world into realizing that xenophobia and anti-semitism are alive and rife even within supposedly forward-thinking countries like America. The alt-right founder who voiced her opinions on CNN is a product of a movement that penetrates right through the heart of the Jewish people, a people who have been through so much and who have just as much a right as any to exist and to be considered people.
I'm confused. I'm confused about why people in our country and our world are questioning the existence of actual, real, people who have a right to exist. I'm confused about why people in this world are denying Jews the right to exist. And I'm confused about why there is STILL such a hatred of Jews after all of this time. But I am not confused about the fact that this is a call to action for me. And for you.
This image in a GroupMe seen by 13 people of a program on a TV screen seen by millions of people says something about our country and our world: anti-Semitism is alive and well. But our GroupMe and this piece say something else: anti-Semitism must be stopped, and I know that Jews and non-Jews alike will continue to assert that Jews are people even if history contorts itself at Jews’ expense again. And the world will hear our cry.