I've spent most of my life in situations where being Jewish makes me a rarity. This has rarely been a problem; I've encountered a lot curiosity, some of it based on quite significant ignorance and some of it bordering on rudeness. But basically curiosity is a good thing, and (unlike many people who find themselves in a minority) I quite like being the go-to person for questions about Judaism. I've often been the first Jewish person someone has ever encountered. I tend to be fairly prominently Jewish too; it's an important part of my identity and it's something people are likely to find out about me fairly quickly when we interact.
My brother and I were the only Jewish kids in my primary school. When I was about six, we had to come up on the stage in assembly so that the headmistress could explain to everybody that we were Jewish, and look, normal children just like you and everybody else! Some children might have been mortified but I enjoyed the attention, and also quite liked the underlying message. A few years later (still the only Jewish kid at school), I ended up with a headmaster who used to give ranty sermons in assembly about how the Jews were evil because they had killed Christ. That led to some slight social awkwardness in the playground, but nothing I couldn't handle. And said headmaster was removed from his post and sectioned a few months after this incident anyway, confirming my solid impression that no reasonable person had a problem with Jews in modern times.
So I grew up thinking that antisemitism was just one of the horrors of history and had no current relevance. Anyone who possibly entertained any doubts on the subject would have given them up when they saw the consequences of prejudice against Jews in the form of Nazism. When I was in my late teens my parents hosted a teaparty for some of my Dad's colleagues, and I happened to be discussing with the sibs some Jewish event that we were planning to run. One of the newer members of Dad's department expressed horror that we could be so open about being Jewish in front of a group of near-strangers. We absolutely couldn't believe that he was even slightly worried about it; these were civilized, respectable people. He wasn't "out" about being Jewish at work?! That seemed like the weirdest thing ever.
In the current century, though, my attitude has shifted. It's certainly not that I live my life in fear; I wouldn't be making this kind of public post if I did! I still think it's far, far easier being Jewish than being gay, or Muslim, or gypsy / Romany, or trans, in this society. I still generally feel that the attitude towards Jews improved a lot over the course of the 20th century.
I would like, though, to make a list of my experiences of antisemitism in the past five years or so. I'm talking about incidents I have personal knowledge of, not on the level of "I read about it on the internet" or "it happened to my cousin's hairdresser's brother-in-law".
- People shouting at me and calling me names in the street
- It's happened when I'm dressed in an identifiably Jewish way, wearing a skullcap for example. It's happened in Oxford a couple of times, and in Dundee several more times. Pretty much, it's just arseholes being drunk or yobbish, but it's going in the list.
I've been called Yid, Jewgirl, Jew (as a perjorative), with various modifying adjectives. Never Kike, but I'm not sure that's something to celebrate.
- Bad personal interactions
- Not much in this category; a bunch of thoughtless remarks which might or might not be innocent. Curiosity, but with more malicious undertones than the stuff I mentioned earlier, such as innuendo about rumoured Jewish sexual practices. A couple of rather incoherent nasty comments on my journal. When I went up to speak to a student anti-war group at Freshers' Fair, I got an unexpected rant, which started
I'm not antisemitic, I just think Jews are scum. I've had similar problems with various student left-wing groups, though that was the most extreme.
- Miscellaneous nastiness
- Someone with a strong Dundonian accent left a message on my ansaphone saying
Why can't you fucking Jews just go home to Israel? Don't you think you've caused enough fucking trouble here already?!Disconcerting, but basically we're talking at the random idiot level here.
Some guy made a crude attempt to googlebomb such that searches for the Dundee synagogue would lead to a website full of nasty antisemitic remarks alongside some names and addresses. The names and addresses were actually incorrect, but the fact that he attempted to publish people's personal details in this context was enough to get a police injunction to alter his website. The website (when I last looked at it) had a bunch of rant about Jewish censorship, which is annoying but fairly harmless.
- Attacks on synagogues I'm connected with
- There was an attempt to firebomb the Edinburgh synagogue a couple of years ago. Nobody was hurt. It was barely reported in the media; I only happened to hear about it because I know people who belong to that community.
Both the Cambridge Orthodox synagogue and the Cambridge Reform community (which doesn't have an actual synagogue building, so someone must have done some research to work out where we were meeting) have had fake bombs left in their entrances, with threatening messages and so on. Could be just a prank, but it's a very poor taste one.
The Jewish part of the Dundee cemetery has been vandalized repeatedly. We don't have enough money to repair the damage, and the council have insisted that we have to cover all the gravestones with bright yellow plastic to warn people they are unsafe. I think this reaction is more about being officious about health and safety than deliberately insulting, but a lot of people are upset to see graves treated with such disrespect.
The Dundee synagogue was defaced in 2001 with swastikas and graffiti saying
Yids fuck off!and
Combat 18. When this was reported to the police, they said they weren't considering it a racially motivated incident and were very obstructive about trying to take action against the vandals. The local newspaper refused to print a report about it on the grounds that the F-word would offend its readers.
- Direct violence
- My brother's friend Jerry got involved in some fairly militant lefty anti-war stuff, like a lot of idealistic students. In 2003, he attended a conference in Germany that was billed as being an anti-war thing. It turned out that he was listening to speech after speech about how evil Jews are and how Jewish influence was responsible for the Iraq war. Jerry stood up and said something to the effect that not all Jews are militant Zionists, as he, for example, was very active in the anti-war movement.
It's very unclear what happened next; he made phonecalls to his mother and girlfriend in which he said he was scared. A few hours later he was dead, having run out into a busy road. The incident was initially described as suicide, but later investigation concluded that the circumstances were suspicious. There isn't sufficient evidence to say whether he was actually pushed into the road, or whether he was being pursued and was so terrified that he ran in front of a car. Either way I call it murder.
I made a post about this when the coroner's report came out in November 2003. If you weren't reading my journal at the time, that post contains links to several newspaper reports etc. So I'm repeating myself here, but I do feel it's important for people to know about this.
I don't think there's a conclusion to this. The statement that
Anti-semitism is a very light sleeperhas become such a cliché that I'm having a hard time finding who originally said it or the exact wording of the quote. But whoever it was summed things up better than I can.
Additional note: part of what I wanted to discuss in this post was a comment, I think by papersky, about how shocking it is to read novels from before WW2 in which sympathetic characters make antisemitic comments. Of course, now I can't find that comment at all; if anyone happens to know where it is I would be most grateful. I think it's either in papersky, rysmiel or lethargic_man's journal, sometime in late March or early April, and either of the latter two might remember the discussion I'm talking about.