February 26, 2015

If I do not speak up, who will?

Anonymous anti-Semitic online comments not only impact Jewish individuals, but also reflects the nature of our campus.

I grew up in an area of the United States predominantly populated by Jews. Living in Brookline, MA—affectionately known as Baruch-line—there were multiple synagogues in walking distance of my house. I went to a Jewish preschool and elementary school. My best friend was Jewish. My neighbors were Jewish. Being Jewish was something that the majority of our community had in common, and that made us all feel comfortable, like we belonged there because of our identity and not by chance. Because of this, bigotry toward Jewish people seemed like a far-off possibility to me as I grew up.

In the past few weeks, anti-Semitism on campus has escalated exponentially. While I consider myself lucky that I have never been personally targeted because of my ethnicity, I know many who have. Schools set on fire and lockers painted with swastikas only prove that hatered of Jewish people is alive and well in the United States. Until recently, my time at this University had been marked by relatively harmless anti-Semitism—a friend saying “that’s so Jewish” when I found a quarter underneath a couch cushion, stupid jokes on anonymous platforms —and though these actions have the possibility to hurt people, too, they are nothing compared to now.

Last night I read through the past few days on UChicago Secrets and experienced post after post condemning Jews on campus, generalizing about their opinions and experiences, and minimizing the impact of the Holocaust.

“People are hypocrites,” one read. “This is a fact. One example? The Jews at UChicago. Why? They all have grandparents who survived the Holocaust. This doesn’t stop them from denying the Holocaust in Palestine right now.”

Another read, “I’m laughing hard at these people who are like ‘They Made Me Take Off My Star Of David, I Am So Oppressed.’ Try having soldiers come in and force you out of your home.”

These are only two examples of many. Clearly motivated by anger about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, these posts expressed vitriol not toward only Zionists but also toward everybody of the Jewish faith, toward all Jews on this campus, toward me. I am not ashamed to say that this hatred moved me to tears. How can I continue to walk around this campus knowing that is so easy for bigots to see that I am Jewish and hate me, but that it is impossible for me to know who they are? How can I wonder, as I work on a group project for a class, as I talk to coworkers, as I share a table with someone silently at the library, if my colleagues will judge me once they notice the mezuzah hanging around my neck?

I am not the most dedicated when it comes to my Jewish faith. I do not always make it to synagogue on Fridays. I no longer keep Kosher. I never had a bat mitzvah. But I am Jewish. I am one of “the Jews.” I am proud of that. As I watch Jewish students who I have seen occasionally at Hillel or at Chabad vigorously defend themselves against these attacks, I feel grateful for their eloquence and bravery. It is so tempting to put my head down and ignore this behavior, but I know that if I resort to that kind of silence then this type of hatred will continue. If I do not speak up, how can I expect others to speak up for me? It feels impossible to combat this type of bigotry, especially since the response from non-Jewish people has been overwhelmingly silent.

And, in some ways, this silence hurts most of all. It is the realization that nobody on campus actually cares about anti-Semitism. Out of all of my friends who read UChicago Secrets and have seen these comments, only one of them has reached out to me with concern for my feelings. Many of my other friends have either barely given it any thought or have written off the situation as a crazy thing that’s happening now and will soon be over. In reality this hatred is growing, and with no one trying to extinguish it, it will continue to grow. I know that this campus is capable of standing up against hate crimes and hate speech. I have seen it happen time and time again in my three years at this University. So why not now?

To those of you with Jewish friends, take a moment to let them know that you care. Though it may be comforting to pretend that none of this is happening, I encourage Jewish students to reach out and remind each other that they are not alone. Most of all, though it is frightening, speak up, so that the people spewing this hatred know that their words cannot diminish our identities.

Shoshanah Spurlock is a third-year in the College majoring in art history.