Yesterday, a student asked me this question: “Are Jews and white people the same thing?”
I started with a no, because there are black Jews, there are brown Jews. But there are a lot of white Jews.
“So, is it just their religion that makes them different from white people?”
I thought…and said, maybe. A lot of people don’t like what is different from them. There is actually a word for when people really don’t like Jews, it’s called Anti-Semitism.
He summed up our conversation with, “Racism sucks”.
And then this morning, I read this article in the New York Times:
Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools: Pine Bush, N.Y., School District Faces Accusations of Anti-Semitism
A high school graduate remembers:
“He recalled that around the time of the Jewish holidays, teachers would ask if there were Jewish students in the class. “I learned very, very quickly not to raise my hand,” he said.”
I have a vivid memory from my own childhood of a friend, in a burst of anger, telling me that us dirty Jews were all alike. We must have been 9 or 10.
Just as vividly, I remember glimpses of indigo numbers sliding back and forth under my great-aunt’s sleeve as she raised her wine glass at Passover each year.
Now, we do the Passover seder in our family, and we gather for Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah, and we respect Yom Kipur, but we don’t go to synagogue, we aren’t kosher, and we don’t focus on Israel. But we are definitely Jewish.
As a young child, I remember asking my mother a similar question. A question about what makes us Jewish. Her response had something to do with how Hitler wouldn’t have cared how religious we were. We’d still have gone to the camps.
So, were Jews involved in the atrocities that have rained down on Native peoples since (in this part of the world) roughly the 16th century? (Because I think that is where that question came from)
I don’t know.
But this question has me thinking about identity, hate, care, history, and my students.
They still keep me thinking and questioning.