Know Your Worth as a Jew
I was born in Israel to Jewish parents, Rachel and Mordecai Paldiel, and never knew my maternal grandfather, because he was killed in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. My mother went into labor in an Israeli bomb shelter during the Six Day War in 1967, while my father fought to liberate the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Born into conflict, I knew there were enemies of Israel, armed and ever-present, who sought to destroy us. I learned to fear them.
Many of those fears were left behind when we moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey five years later. In America, we found a thriving, kindred Jewish community and neighbors with outstretched arms.
After graduating from Cherry Hill High School West, I headed for the New Jersey coast to study communications at Monmouth University. By this time, college campuses were rallying against apartheid, the system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa. Student activism and social justice were never far from my mind, but still my environment was unplagued by concerns about antisemitism in the US.
Antisemitism existed in the world around me, but it was far different than the physical threats from my infancy. The news would note the rising hate crimes against Jewish families in nearby Brooklyn, the occasional desecration of a shul with antisemitic graffiti, or public figures invoking Nazi imagery and words. Unfortunately, antisemitism lurked in the shadows — at least in the United States.
My true call to action came later in life, during season eight of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. In the middle of a dispute about the integrity of a fashion designer, Margaret Josephs, another housewife, turned to me and said: “But Siggy, Hitler would have not killed me. Does that make him a good person?”
Something woke up inside of me with those words. My father, Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, was a Holocaust survivor who went on to become a director of the department for the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. After bringing my frustration to the other housewives and asking them to admit that invoking Hitler outside of the context of the Holocaust was wrong, they remained silent.
So, I resigned.
Antisemitism takes many forms. In my family’s history, antisemites took the form of armed soldiers marching to destroy the Old City — everything sacred and wondrous for Jews, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians in Israel. In reality, and especially in the United States, antisemitism is passive but pervasive still.
Now, just two years after that incident on Housewives, antisemitism is on the rise in America. What’s more, antisemites have found new avenues to influence attitudes in the US, mainly through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, prominent on many college campuses.
The founders of the global BDS movement have made clear that they are not interested in change at the Israeli policy level, but seek to end Israel’s existence altogether. By nature, BDS targets Israeli civilians and business owners — inflicting maximum pressure on individuals — but hardly impacts the Israeli government.
According to a recently released survey by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), 82% of US Jews view the BDS movement’s delegitimization of Israel as fundamentally antisemitic.
American proponents of BDS make significantly more damning declarations against Israel than my classmates did challenging apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid in South Africa viciously enforced laws designed to separate racial groups into distinct social hierarchies. This is not the case in Israel. Israeli Arabs have full civil rights, vote in elections, and even sit on Israel’s highest court.
In hospitals and clinics and in the ambulances of Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical services (EMS) organization, Jewish and Arab doctors, nurses, and EMTs work together to provide outstanding care to all patients. The conditions in occupied zones are also distinct — the delicate result of years of fighting, false promises, and wrongdoing on both sides. Really, BDS is thinly veiled antisemitism calling for the destruction of the only democracy in the Middle East.
All those years when I was growing up, on Shabbat, my father would tell stories. I would say, “Lamah, lamah? Why do we need to hear the same stories?” He would reply, “If we don’t tell stories from the past, we have no future.”
Now more than ever, it’s important to stand up. I challenge you to #KnowYourWorth as a Jew, especially when confronted by ignorance and hate.
And most important, know that we are all survivors.
Sigalit “Siggy” Flicker is an American relationship specialist, matchmaker, TV personality, and author, who is a part-time resident of Boca Raton. She supports many Jewish non-profits, including American Friends of Magen David Adom.