A few weekends ago, my local JCC was vandalized with 19 swastikas. This was the second such incident that occurred in 18 months. Despite living in an area that is largely liberal and progressive (92.8% of D.C. residents voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election), anti-Semitism is alive and well.
When I came to college in Washington, D.C., I was able to explore Judaism in a meaningful way and find my place as a Jewish woman in this city, regularly attending services and hanging out with other young Jewish people. I never once felt out of place in this city, until recently.
After the 2016 election, I took to wearing my Star of David full-time, as a conscious decision to prove to others (anti-Semites) that I am unapologetically Jewish. Many of my friends had similar trains of thought, now wearing Jewish jewelry and kippot full time. Two years later, we still wear the symbols of our identity, but now there is doubt — and fear.
Anti-Semitic hate crimes have increased unquestionably in the past year, with another increase expected for 2018. The infamous Neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally took place in my backyard. A member of the D.C. Council made several anti-Semitic comments with little to no consequences. Racists and anti-Semites are emboldened, and I fear not only for me, but my friends and family.
So I have taken to hiding my Star of David when I get into ride-shares, public transport (where I have been proselytized too many a time), and in busy, public areas. Before I enter my synagogue, I look over my shoulder, just in case. During services, I can’t help but be painfully aware of every person entering and exiting. Even now, I am enrolled in Adult B’nai Mitzvah classes, but I take pains to avoid taking out any of my Jewish religious texts out in public settings.
And then the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue happened. My significant other is a Jewish man who has recently moved to Pittsburgh. My heart is broken for the Pittsburgh community, and for all Jews in the world.
The fear of being a Jewish person today is significantly heightened. The D.C. Mayor has ordered the Metropolitan Police Department to maintain a presence at all Jewish places of worship, with many other cities echoing her actions. There are vigils occurring all over the city, country, and world for the next few days. I am reluctant to go, not because I don’t long for my community (I do desperately), but because I’m afraid to be in a place where there are a lot of Jewish people right now.
I’ve gotten to the place where I’m considering taking off the Star of David off my neck. The thought of doing so makes me sick and ashamed. I started wearing it full-time for a reason. To take it off is to deny who I am, to tell others that I am afraid, and to ignore the struggles for all the other Jews before me, who have struggled to survive and be accepted. But at the same time, it has the potential to compromise my safety. I struggle to reconcile what it would mean to take it off, even if I am still involved with Jewish life otherwise.
In some ways, I am even more emboldened to wear my Star of David, to prove that I am a proud Jewish person and you can’t force me, or anyway else, to deny or hide who we are. I am a proud Jewish woman, there is no doubt about that.
But I am also a scared Jewish woman, one who worries about all my friends as they go to teach Sunday school, attend Friday night services, who might be wearing symbols of their Judaism. So I’m left conflicted. I refuse to deny who I am. But the fear and doubt will nonetheless linger in the back of my mind.