Monday, July 13, 2020

My Jewish Privilege

Yesterday, antisemites on Twitter started a hashtag called #JewishPrivilege about how Jews have it made. Jews (including myself) responded with stories of awful things that have happened to them or their families as a result of being Jewish.

My parents survived the Holocaust. I’m religious. I grew up not expecting to be treated like everyone else. So while I encountered a fair share of antisemitism, I didn’t let it bother me.

Kids threw my yarmulke in the mud. Teens threw pennies at me.  People pretended to sneeze near me saying “a-Jew!”  I built a sukkah for my Hillel in college and it was destroyed. I’ve been called a Christ killer while walking my son to shul. Others scream stuff from their cars I can’t quite catch.

I have to worry when I take public transportation – should I wear my kippah or cover it with the ubiquitous cap that all but screams “KIPPAH UNDER HERE.” Will today be the day a crazy person comes at me?

Personally, I think it is important to wear a kippah in public, to help normalize the idea and help make it easier for other Jews in years to come. But my wife is more frightened than I am and I have to worry about not only my safety but that of my family. I usually wear the cap.

Job interviews – do I wear the yarmulka then? Is it better to be up front and risk losing the job, or to get the job  and then let them know I cannot work late Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays? Will they think I tried to fool them and will they resent it?

There is a constant low level of discomfort, or being on edge, of always being reminded that I am different.

People say that I can pass as white, so I have white privilege. It is true that when I wear a cap  I am not as recognizably Jewish as a Black person is as a person of color. A cop is not likely to treat me badly. I would never in a million years claim that the antisemitism I have experienced is as bad as the racism a typical Black person has experienced.  On the other hand, the worry that I need to hide who I am, to look around to make sure it’s safe, to worry about the person who will choose the Jew as the easy target is its own kind of tension.

The only time I feel completely comfortable is when visiting Israel.  I am far less worried about being a terror attack victim there than a victim of an antisemitic hate crime in the US.

Some of the things I have experienced may seem awful or unfair to you. I’m used to it.  To me, it is part of the deal. I am not complaining about these things – it is what I expect and it’s OK. America is a great country. I have a good job, a great family, a nice life.

When there is an event at work and they go out of their way to get me kosher food, or even to hold the event in a kosher restaurant, I am always astonished and most appreciative. I would have happily brown-bagged something. I don’t want nor expect any special accommodation outside what it required by law. 

What good is it to play a game of “who’s the bigger victim?” What does it gain you? If you want to play, then Jews will win. 2000 years of homelessness, of pogroms and Crusades, of blood libels and an Inquisition and a Holocaust and a Farhud.

Even in the US it wasn’t that long ago that we were banned from certain clubs, restricted  from certain colleges, blocked from many professions. What did we do? We made our own colleges, built our own businesses, created our own imprint on America. We did all right.

The Victimhood Olympics is easy to win and thoroughly pointless – it doesn’t gain us a damn thing.  Better to  live our lives than to dwell on the past. We remember our past, of course, and we try to ensure the bad parts are not repeated, but we want to move forward, to live today, to make a better life for our kids and grandkids. 

Perhaps “Jewish privilege” in the Diaspora is the ability to appreciate what you have, know that things could be much worse, and try to make things better for you and for future generations.