A Teenage View of Antisemitism in America
The middle school cafeteria is often a place of freedom and autonomy. I distinctly remember, however, the Tuesday in 8th grade when I experienced the pitfall of this independence.
When I mentioned a famous Israeli to my friends in the cafeteria at lunch, Yassi, a boy sitting nearby, stood up and made a statement that has remained fresh in my mind: “Jews have no claim to Israel.”
While criticism of Israel, like any other country, is valid, there is a line that must not be crossed when someone states that Israel has no right to exist. Yassi had crossed that line.
While he may not have realized the impact of his words, his behavior reflected a larger trend in our society. Many non-Jews think antisemitism has disappeared. But like almost all Jews, I have experienced enough instances to personally know that it is still far too prevalent in our society.
According to the ADL, deep-seated antisemitism still exists in America. One form of this hatred that Jews regularly experience is microaggressions. For many Jewish people, including myself, microaggressions are a regular part of daily life. I am often asked — in all seriousness — by friends and acquaintances if I am rich, or if I can help them with loans. In a 2018 survey of over 1,100 Jewish college students, over 54% of respondents reported being subjected to antisemitic microaggressions.
In addition to verbal antisemitism, physical violence against Jewish people is rising, especially in the US. According to the ADL, hate crimes against American Jews were at record levels in 2020, and the number has tripled in the past seven years.
Violence against Jews isn’t only something I’ve heard about in the media; I’ve experienced it personally. In 8th grade gym class, I was chosen last for the soccer team because my peers assumed that, as a small Jewish student, I would be unathletic. Little did they know that, thanks to my Brazilian background, I had grown up with the sport.
When I began playing well and scoring goals, members of the other team started yelling that I was Jewish, and therefore unathletic, so I must have been cheating. Then Yassi, the same student from the cafeteria incident, pushed me down and attempted to beat me up.
Stories like these are far too common in my community, and we must act. One way to improve the situation is by encouraging open-mindedness and engaging with non-Jews, so they understand us better, and make personal connections with us. Another way is for non-Jews to read books or watch movies about Jewish people. According to a 2014 study, this can generate empathy for people who are perceived as different.
Education is a crucial part of the solution. Learning to identify and stop antisemitic behavior is important for all people, not only those of us within the Jewish community. When one group is targeted in America, we all are. Ignoring antisemitism won’t stop it from spreading. We must confront it boldly and prominently — and make our voices heard, whether at school, college campuses, the workplace, or our own community.
Maurice Kolodny is a high school student and Hasbara Fellowships Canada intern.