When I learned about the Holocaust in second grade, and realized for the first time how dangerous it is to be Jewish, all I remember was thinking that I should learn how to make matzah. I didn’t want to go hungry if my family had to flee our home in a hurry.
I have packed backpacks and stowed them away underneath my bed many times since then. Being in high school and living at home, I still look for new hiding spots (I don’t fit under my bed anymore, and my parents always found me there anyway). These are for when I get into particularly bad fights with my parents, like any kid.
These are also for hiding and running from Nazis, a fear that isn’t unjustified and that has lingered in the back of my mind for years.
It’s a plain fact that white supremacy is based in antisemitism as well as racism. I live in Utah, a red state where Proud Boys, an extremist white supremacist group, are active and the international headquarters of the LDS church is one of our main tourist attractions. Jewish pride can be hard and tiring to practice here. I couldn’t find the energy for it yesterday, as 400 pro-Trump supporters, including Proud Boys — some of them wielding firearms — gathered in front of the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, a drive less than 10 minutes from my home.
Calling my friend in tears as a plane illegally flew close over the valley, I had the urge to hide under my bed and update my escape bag.
“I’m so terrified right now,” I texted some friends. “There are Proud Boys with guns. My family is Jewish, I wear a headscarf. This is not my country.”
It isn’t. I barely call myself Jewish American, identifying much more with “Judean” or simply “Jewish” instead. My family hasn’t been “American” for very long. My grandfather was an immigrant, and my great-grandparents were Jewish refugees from Europe, fleeing the World Wars and antisemitism. As an effect of the shame and need for secrecy about our people that they had, my family is somewhat detached from Jewish culture to this day.
I’ve resented this lack of Jewishness in my family for a long time. These past couple of years I started to speak out against antisemitism on social media and try to reclaim my heritage: wearing a tichel and a Magen David, fasting on even minor holidays.
I have understood, to some degree, the fear that my great-grandparents had about their Jewishness. I only talk intimately about being Jewish and fearing antisemitism to my closest friends, most of whom are not Jewish, and even then I’m hesitant, because even they have internalized antisemitism and a general ignorance of Judaism. Living in a Christianized and inherently antisemitic society, can I blame them for it? Not really. I don’t.
But yesterday, during the attempted coup by white supremacists, I got it. I got why my great-grandparents assimilated so effectively — and wanted to, to an extent. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand, or know, but I got it.
I got it when I saw Trump flags amassing in D.C., and confederate flags paraded through the Capitol building. I got it when the Trump supporters in Salt Lake City pepper sprayed a photographer of a local magazine and called journalists “operatives of the Communist Party [who should be] hung on the spot”.
I got it when government employees and people who hold office in my state publicly expressed their lack of concern over the white supremacists in the same breath as noting the presence of firearms.
I got it when I didn’t go outside for a run because I was wearing tichel, and when my dad told me to get inside to avoid being a target when the unidentified plane flew near the Capitol.
I’ll never really understand what my great-grandparents went through, of course. I am in a position of immense privilege. But these days, my resentment is less directed at my family for the absence of Judaism — or the type and level of Judaism, anyway, that most of my Jewish friends have — and more directed where it should have been in the first place: the kind of people who caused my great-grandparents to initially assimilate and who my Bubbe and father were largely protected from due to that assimilation.
Those people — of my same species, living in a place that we both call home — prove that they want me dead, time and time again.
Looking at the events of yesterday, it makes me think, what was the point? What was the point of my great-grandparents’ long and awful journey, from childhood until their deathbed, if I am threatened, albeit indirectly, by the same sort of people that they were?
I have heard the argument to just take off my tichel or hide my Magen David. I am able to do what many people cannot: hide my ethnicity, my culture, my heritage, my identity.
I will not do that. I will not hide my belonging to a resilient and beautiful tribe like my great-grandparents needed to.
I’m going on a run outside today. I’ll wear my tichel. And I am never going to stop bringing attention to the danger that I am in, from being Jewish. In 2021, I am in danger of the same people my dad, my Bubbe, and my great-grandparents were in danger of throughout their lives.
The point of their immigration was that they were safer in North America. The point was that my great-grandfather was able to become one of the world’s foremost hematologists. The point was that my great-grandparents were able to raise my Bubbe and she didn’t grow up in danger. The point was that my dad experienced minimal antisemitism, nothing of which was directed at him.
The point was that I am able to be proudly Jewish today, even if it’s hard and even if it’s scary.
And the point is, present tense, that I am going to stay proud.