From Russia With Anti-Semitism
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes posting on Facebook takes guts.
I grew up in Moscow, USSR, where during a regular school day, I learned how to take apart the Kalashnikov, how to find the closest metro station with a nuclear fallout shelter and how to hide my Jewish identity. At age 10, when a classmate called me a kike for the first time (within earshot of the teacher, who said nothing), I ran home in tears. At 12, I lowered my gaze. And by 14, as the rest of my friends were flirting with boys, I decided I was safer staying in the shadows.
Throughout my youth, the Soviet propaganda machine portrayed Israel as evil incarnated. There were articles condemning it and questioning its right to exist, of course, but the press also treated us to a steady stream of cartoons featuring men with large noses, long sidelocks and Stars of David on their clothing — who either grabbed at bags of money, threatened their victims with bloody knives or conspired to take over the world, aided by the American capitalists with dollar signs on their bulbous stomachs.
Eventually, my fear of anti-Semites shrank as small as my old Moscow apartment.
The government-generated hate thrived in the fertile soil of centuries-old Russian anti-Semitism. I was the only Jewish kid in my class, and concealing my identity to fit in became my de facto mode of existence. I didn’t have what the average Russian considered a “Jewish look,” and I got so good at hiding that people had no qualms engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric with me. I never stopped them. I never spoke up. My fear owned me.
In 1989, when I turned 20, I left the USSR for the USA. I spent the next 20 years learning to acknowledge being a Jew. But it wasn’t my religion my Soviet atheist upbringing had robbed me of that I struggled to reclaim. It was the ability to reveal my Jewishness in conversations with people who were not Jewish. Every time I did, my insides shook.
As the years went by, and as I traveled the world on expatriate assignments and accumulated passport stamps, my fear of anti-Semites began to dissipate. Eventually, it shrank as small as my old Moscow apartment. Now my social circle hailed from different countries, different religions, different beliefs, and unless I happened to be conversing with a bunch of Cossacks, I mostly claimed to be Jewish.
I looked at her post for an hour before I gathered the courage — after four decades of keeping quiet — to speak up.
Until the recent offensive in Gaza started — and anti-Semitism began to rise with the speed of a Hamas rocket. My Facebook feed filled with posts from liberal media outlets with anti-Israel bias and groups calling for the destruction of Israel and death to the Jews. I saw posts branding Israel’s actions genocide while ignoring Assad’s killings in Syria. And I read about Europe engaging in Jew hatred so passionate Goebbels would’ve been proud.
Suddenly, my old desire to hide returned with tsunami force. How long before my friends joined the chorus calling Israel a Nazi state? How long before they liked a post condemning all Jews? When it finally happened, and someone I knew compared Israelis to fascists, I looked at her post for an hour before I gathered the courage — after four decades of keeping quiet — to speak up. Virtually, at least.
I wrote a comment. I said it’s one-sided posts like these — posts that denounce Israel but ignore the actions of Hamas — that contribute to the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world. And then I posted on my own page. I proclaimed my Jewishness. I asked people to please be careful about inciting hate against Jews. I said de-friend me if you disagree. For hours following my CAPS-lock rant, I checked my page with shaking hands, afraid of what I might read. While my old self dreaded the exposure, my new self felt a surge of freedom. The apologetic Jew in me was no more.
My Facebook feed moved on … to Ebola and ISIS and Iran’s nuclear program. And now this, the massacres in Paris, killing cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo and Jews at the kosher market. On Sunday, my 14-year-old daughter and I watched the peace rally on the streets of Paris. Signs Je Suis Charlie and Je Suis Juif were everywhere, yet still, the French Jews speak of growing anti-Semitism in France and across Europe. We live in Madrid. My daughter goes to a school where she is the only Jew among 1,200 students. I worry not if, but when, Semitic hatred will invade her world. At least now I know I can help her fight it.
Photography by Shutterstock.