Okay folks, it’s time for some real talk. And this ain’t going to be the nicest talk either. It started out as a rant on Facebook and I’m transferring it here to capture a sentiment that’s been burning inside me now for months. So here we are, folks. Real talk, from one New York Jew to the rest of the world.
I recently read a fantastic article put up on Medium entitled Dear Non-Jews: We Need To Talk and I felt like I could raise my hand and sing praises to a higher power. Here was someone else as angry and as pissed off as me about the current state of affairs for Jews. And the article coincided with a confluence of memes I’ve been seeing online. In the face of the horror show that’s been the Trump administration, some folks have been using pictures from the Holocaust for just about everything. Concerned about the Muslim registration? Put up a picture of people with numbers on their arms. Worried about internment camps for refugees and immigrants? Slap some clever words on an image of Jews behind barb wire fences in Auschwitz. Warning about the Nazis? Use pictures of emaciated Jews staring out of concentration camp bunks, barely recognizable as human in their extreme malnutrition.
It seems in the face of the nightmare of Trump’s America and the rise of things like the alt-right and blatant white supremacy in the White House, we Jews have become a watch word for the current injustice. But you know what never gets mentioned when people toss up those memes?
Actual Jews. Or anything about the current plight of Jews in America, in Israel, or around the world. We’ve become a convenient meme, a historic warning to others. We have become the haunting photos of people whose deaths were so horrific and needless, so tortured, they chill anyone with a soul to the bone. They are the faces of what true hatred can wrought on this earth. Yet when their descendants, the survivors’ children, are in peril from the very hatred given form once more, there’s a disturbing lack of concern going around. And it’s been bugging the hell out of me enough that I may have finally lost my temper.
So here’s what I have to say about all this. And like I said, it ain’t going to be pretty. There will be foul language. You are warned.
Dear The Rest Of The World:
It’s been a rough few weeks, hasn’t it? Since the inauguration of President Nightmare-Given-Form Trump, we have seen what amounts to the beginning of America’s slide into fascism. With a flurry of rapid executive orders, backing from cowardly Republicans and ineffective action by the Democratic Party, we the people have seen an unprecedented targeting of safety, liberty, and justice for some of the most vulnerable populations around.
It’s a terrifying time to be any minority group, from Muslims to refugees, queer folks to latinos, the disabled and the poor, people of color and native populations. Out of the woodwork we’ve seen white supremacists raising to power, with the most prominent being Steve Bannon as second-in-command to the president himself. People are literally having conversations now about whether it’s okay or not to punch Nazis. This is the world we live in. And if you think it’s getting any better elsewhere, you’ve got no idea what kind of right wing fascist bullshit is on the rise in countries like Britain, France, Sweden, and more. Hatred is taking root all over.
And in response, the resistance has arisen. People who are not willing to see this country and this world slide into darkness. I’m one of those people. I’m proud to say it. I’m all about rallies and political action. I’m doing what I can to contribute. But while I’ve been doing that, I’ve noticed something odd. In conversations about the rise of the alt-right, about populations targeted by their hate, I’ve seen support for a lot of groups except for one in specific. I’m talking of course about my people. Jews. And it’s starting to piss me the fuck off.
In the same week that I’ve seen people using memes about the Holocaust to talk about refugees, I’ve seen articles denying the right of Jews to have our own identity, to practice our religion, to have our own homeland. Denying Jews their heritage and pushing us aside as if we came from nowhere, sprung whole from cloth and denied our right to exist as a sovereign people while those same articles spout so-called progressive ideas.
These articles not only go so far as to gloss over the rights of Jews to have our own identity that is respected and accepted like other religious and cultural groups, we as Jews must suffer the ignobility of having our identity maligned because of the difficulties going on in Israel. It’s a constant refrain: bring up anti-semetism, and someone will point to the political and military issues in Israel. Point out that Jews deserve a homeland in the land of their forefathers, just like anyone else, and you’re called a bigot against Palestinians.
People point to the awful situation in Israel that the majority of us Jews have NO CONTROL OVER – a situation MANY of us hate and stand against too – and use it as a reason to deny our heritage. More than that, they use it as a reason to demonize all Jews, no matter our connection to Israel, and ignore the staggering vulnerability our population has in the current hostile environment. Our names are a watchword for other people’s suffering now, while speeches about the current political climate time and again leave out the growing horrible anti-semetism going on around the country.
How many articles talked about the bomb scares at Jewish community centers and schools nation wide that have happened THREE TIMES since the inauguration? Swastikas painted on buildings? Attacks are happening on campuses. Letters left in student dorms telling kids they’re going to be sent to the ovens under Trump’s regime. Media outlets outside of Jewish newspapers and blog sites have been strangely silent. Go to rallies and protests lately and there’s no mentions of Jews as people also being targeted by the rising neo-Nazi hatred in this country. In the same breath as using pictures of Jews in concentration camps as fucking memes on Facebook, modern Jews are pushed into silence.
Everyone’s supposed to be supporting one another in this resistance. That’s the purpose of intersectional movements, right? So here’s my question: why am I hearing fucking crickets whenever anti-semetism is mentioned. People are quick to use pictures of the most horrible instance of anti-semetic genocide in history, but talk about modern hatred against Jews and suddenly everyone’s got a bad case of ghosting.
Well, let’s get one thing straight: We Jews are not your fucking memes. We’re people. And in Trump’s America, we’re on the chopping block here too.
Progressives, if you supposedly stand against Nazis, think about the people they were fucking murdering. Don’t All Lives Matter us about the Holocaust by saying so many other people died. We know. Our people were there, among them, getting shoved into damn ovens. We heard the stories constantly growing up as the descendants of those who barely escaped with their lives. We lost so many people our nation is still recovering. So don’t think you can sweep that shit under the rug by changing the narrative, reframing it to remind everyone of the other people who died every damn time we bring up Jews being slaughtered. We don’t put up with that crap when people try to reframe away from violence against people of color in America, where do you get off trying to do that to the history of my nation?
And make no mistake, by the way, we are a nation, not just a religion. We are a culture and an ethnicity and a nation, and we are never treated as such. We don’t forget the horrors done to people in Russia during the soviet cleanses, or the Romani people who were murdered alongside us during WWII. We don’t forget the hatred Muslims get in places like France today alongside Jews. Yet we get painted with the broad strokes of the awful decisions made against the Palestinian people in Israel, as if to reframe the entire narrative of Jewish life as that of child-killing soldiers. How is that any better than perpetuating the stereotype of every Muslim being a terrorist?
Broad strokes make it easier to simplify a narrative, and when the chips are down, it’s easier to see Jews as baby killers than victims of systematic violence. People will raise their hands and point to atrocities against Palestinians, but stay mum when men storm synagogues in Israel and hack up Jews at prayer with meat cleavers. When neo-Nazis attack an old Jewish woman and nearly beat her to death on the streets of Brooklyn.
So many of us who care about Israel also hate and revile the disgusting decisions being made there to marginalize and harm Palestinians. So many stand up to be counted for reform, for peaceful co-existence, for a shared future. One can support the right for Israel to exist and still demand reform in its treatment of Palestinians. But we’re talking about Jews here, not Israel. And the realities of the Jewish people are NOT just about Israel. Just like not every criticism about Israel is inherently anti-semetic. Ours is NOT just a narrative of shared oppression and destruction, but a story of self-determination in a land to which we also have claim, and a history of murder of our people which is ignored in the face of making the whole thing less complex for outsiders with very little personal skin in the game.
And it’s not better from those who supposedly stand up for Israel and Jews either, by the way. Many are incredibly well meaning, and actual real honest to god allies. They are jewels, gems, the absolute best. But then we have bullshit allies like the Republican right. The religious right uses Jews for their own Christian religious and political gain. And on the other side, the left demonizes us while pretending to be progressive and all inclusive. Where then do we belong? Where do we stand? Among the well-meaning and the secretly hateful. Among the manipulative and those who will just sweep us under the rug. Among the true friends and allies whose voices are swept under by a tide of bullshit that is predominant in the narrative of Jews today.
This afternoon, there’s a rally in New York City organized by Jews who are standing with all those in the resistance to say refugees should be protected, immigrants protected. Jews have been a part of standing against inequality in America and the world over for generations. Yet the one-sidedness of that fight isn’t lost on me. Jewish support is taken for granted, useful when it’s needed, and forgotten by fair-weather friends when it’s convenient. We stand, we fight, for people who regularly and casually throw us under the bus whenever it’s politically convenient.
We stand for what’s right: who will stand with us? Who speaks up for us?
I’m tired of standing up for the right of others to hold their heads high in regards to their identity while being pushed down at the same time for my own. I stand up and walk proudly as a Jew and defy anyone to tell me I don’t have that right. Yet where is that right anything but a target? Nowhere. Not even in the most progressive circles. Not even in supposed safe spaces we help fight for.
Oh, and to those among my own people who have forgotten that we have struggled, we do struggle, and we should stand up for others who struggle? Who think isolation and hatred are the answer? Yeah, fuck you. Seriously, fuck you. You’re one of the reasons hate against us lives on. You are part of the reason we are still reviled. I’m disgusted by your inability to see the similarity of struggles in the face of the difficulties we face. I understand your rage, but we need to be better. We have to be. And if you can’t see that, if you spread hatred just like the people who revile us? Then fuck you indeed. I have got no time for you Trump supporting Jews, the I-got-mine Jews, those Muslim-hating Jews. Fuck you. You are part of the problem.
With the current political climate, being a Jew in America – in the world – does not feel safe. It never truly did. There was always that feeling the other shoe would drop, the neo-nazis would climb out of the woodwork. While friends denied Nazis were a problem, I saw people in Brooklyn get hate-bashed by guys wearing swastikas when I was a kid. I was called a dirty kike on the train by a guy who threatened to rape me to death. I watched a young Chassidic man surrounded by a bunch of guys who spat on him, knocked his prayer book to the floor. They weren’t white supremacists. The hate comes from all sides.
I never had any presumption Nazis were gone. They never went away. They were just never YOUR problem before. You spent years punching them in video games and watching Indiana Jones battle them on the big screen. You made Hitler jokes. It wasn’t a big deal to you. It wasn’t real. But it was to us. It was never a joke to us. Now with them on the rise out in the open and more brazen, no place feels safe. And with people slamming Israel, the only place in the world that wants Jews, that determines we have a place where we belong, it seems to me we’re expected to have no place at all. We can’t have our own homeland, people say. And no nation is safe or truly welcoming. So where do we go? Where do we belong? The answer, seemingly, is nowhere.
Lately, I’ve had to say this line too often, and with no small degree of bitterness. To the right, and the left: Jewish blood is cheap. Until they need us to justify their political agenda. Or to be a meme. Then pictures of our emaciated dead people stare out at me from Facebook with haunted eyes. And I realize intersectionality has forgotten Jews, transformed our story thru the lens of external forces the way it has for generations, turning us into Shylocks and blood libelers and money-grubbers, rather than people with our own story, our own right to a cultural identity.
There is rage in me, rage in this article, and a sadness that I’ve heard this story for my entire life. That I keep asking why Jews can’t be seen as equals, can’t determine our future, and people point to us and use the same language they have for millennia, casting us as the perpetual bad-guys, scapegoats, unwanted. I said I’d grow up and people would see, we’d have equality, that’s the American way. And my parents and my relatives and my grandmother would shake their head sadly at my naiveté. I didn’t believe that sad head shake. I believed we could help build a better world.
But lately? I look around and realize with a sad head shake myself that maybe, just maybe, the world doesn’t want us after all and never will.
So until you guys can find a way to fight for us alongside other groups, to remember us on the podiums and during speeches, in your news coverage over hate crimes and intersectional safe space creation, get the faces of my dead relatives off your Facebook page. You haven’t earned using their faces for your memes.