It was anti-Semitism week.
It was the week at school where, in my extreme and radical right movements class, we explored why one particular ethno-religious group, MY ethno-religious group, was demonized by nearly every far-right movement around the world.
My professor prepared himself for the shocking revelation he was about to convey. “Who knew that Henry Ford, the Henry Ford, was an active anti-Semite?” Three hands shot into the air. Three hands, belonging to the only three Jews in the class. We knew. We know. But nobody else did.
You’d think that Ford Motor Company, whose executive chairman is the great-grandson of the most prominent anti-Semite in American history, would go to great lengths to make amends for the hate its founder spewed. Instead, its website boasts of how Ford “saw the wisdom in a diverse workforce” and how the company has helped women, as well as black and Hispanic communities. There’s not a single mention of Jews. There was no statement of support following Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh. A Yale friend of mine had attended the Tree of Life synagogue growing up; my concerns centered around her for most of that day. It didn’t sink in that this tragedy was personal until my mom called me to say that she and my dad were going to see a Star is Born. She’d been crying all morning and needed a break from the news.
“Jews. Will Not. Replace Us!” The neo-Nazi chant caught the attention of a hate-filled earworm for the remainder of the weekend, creeping into my mind — “There will always be somebody who wants to hurt you, solely for the ethnic group you were born into.” Somebody had listed my grandfather’s name online as an example of an insidious Jew controlling the media.
Have you ever wondered why the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale has a security guard at the front desk and requires you swipe in to access the building? No Jew has.
While I worked at the Anti-Defamation League — the leading civil rights organization that fights against anti-Semitism and hate — a fellow intern posed a question in a discussion on diversity: Are Jews white? The answer seemed simple. Yes, of course they are white, if they are of Eastern European descent. I am white.
I don’t feel the weight of my race in most social interactions. I’ve always felt comfortable around the police. And there is little doubt in my mind that I, a white Jew who hails from Nassau County, New York — one of the most segregated counties in the United States — and attended an overwhelmingly white private school, have certainly benefited from white privilege. How could I claim to be a person of color when many Jews who are people of color face additional hurdles in life, additional hurdles “white Jews” can somewhat avoid? There must be a reason, after all, that when the News publishes a reflection on diversity in its newsroom, it fails to note the large number of Jewish students who contribute to the organization.
Tennis was one of my favorite sports growing up for G-d’s sake — a predominantly white sport that is only now beginning to diversify. I dreamed each day of playing on all three types of courts: hard, clay and grass. Hard and clay were easy — grass, on the other hand, would prove a challenge. There was only one club, located down the road from my high school, which kept grass courts. My father worked hard to finally find a way around their reputation for rejecting Jews.
To be a Jew in this country is to be wary and aware of the pervasive presence of prejudiced social clubs. The first question relatives asked me about Yale’s secret societies was whether they would accept Jews — I have found no indication that they wouldn’t. To be a Jew is to be the first representative of your religion that a foreign student encounters. To be a Jew is to hold Thanksgiving debates on whether a Jew could ever win the presidency — whether a wealthy Jew in particular could ever win the presidency. To be a Jew is to go on the local news as a kid and question whether you should hide your Star of David necklace in your shirt — what if somebody wanted to hurt you? To be a Jew is to refuse to hide your identity despite deep-seated fears of the moment others discover that you are different. To be a Jew is to listen to your librarian as she tells you how she was once asked if she had horns. To be a Jew is to briefly wonder if all those times you were teased in high school for talking with frequent hand motions had anything to do with the fact that frequent hand motions are seen as a ubiquitous Jewish trait. To be a Jew is for others to assume that you center your politics exclusively on undying support for Israel’s actions even when you’re often critical of them — roughly 70 percent of American Jews vote for the Democratic party. To be a Jew is to never have the complete sense of security that those who are always seen as white are afforded. And to be a Jew is to not receive the same protection that other minorities do.
The. Deadliest. Attack. On. Jews. In. American. History. Happened. Last. Week.
Last Tuesday, I found myself surrounded by a crowd of “progressives,” cheering the electoral victory of a congressional candidate who once called Israel “hypnotic” and “evil” — anti-Semitic trigger phrases. Earlier in the week, I saw countless progressives on Twitter brush aside concerns that Women’s March organizers were tied to an outspoken anti-Semite — or as he calls it, anti-termite — Louis Farrakhan. I also watched as Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, whom approximately 86 percent of British Jews and 39 percent of the general public believe is an anti-Semite, had the audacity to offer his cookie-cutter condolences. And President Donald Trump, who has inspired thousands of white nationalists, has certainly been no better for the Jewish community, even despite being the first president to have Jewish members in the First Family. A little over one week has passed, yet we continue to tolerate and ignore deeply concerning rhetoric towards Jews.
We don’t think about protecting “white” Jews because the color of our skin affords us privilege in some areas. We continue to forget about Slifka when listing the cultural houses — unless it’s time for Bagel Brunch.
And Ford? Well, they get to continue whitewashing their founders’ legacy.
Jacob Hutt is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .