Hearing the news of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I was numb. Another shooting at a place that is supposed to be safe and sacred. It was horrifically disgusting and incredibly sad, but it didn’t feel very different from the other shootings at schools, churches, bars and movie theaters. I must be desensitized to mass shootings, but am I supposed to feel different because it happened to my people?
On social media, my friends were all changing their profile pictures and posting articles and statuses about their thoughts, experiences and feelings about the shooting. It wasn’t just my fellow Jewish friends — allies were posting in solidarity. In class, students and professors were discussing the event and making it clear to students that if they needed extensions or a space to talk, they were available. There were vigils on campus and people gathered to mourn.
It was quite beautiful to see everyone come together. People were actively making space for those mourning to heal in all the ways they needed. But I did not entirely feel like I was mourning or needed to find support within my community. I didn’t want to talk about the shooting at all and I was uncomfortable with the amount of coverage it was getting compared to past shootings and recent discrimination toward other marginalized groups that have been happening in our country.
After I reflected on the news, I called my sister to hear how she was feeling. She reacted similarly to me about the devastating event. We reflected on the fact that it could have happened in our temple, to our family and community members and if we were closer to the massacre would be reacting differently. However, by the end of the phone call, we were back to discussing our normal dilemmas of stress and work.
In my day-to-day life, I don’t experience anti-Semitism. I don’t look stereotypically Jewish. I currently don’t wear a Jewish star or a kippah. Visibly, I can hide my Jewish identity until you hear my very Jewish-German last name. I grew up in West Bloomfield, which has a dense Jewish community. Most of my out-of-school activities were Jewish-affiliated, from my reform temple’s youth group to volunteering with fellow Jews in Detroit. Being Jewish was always celebrated, and I felt a large amount of comfort and joy in my Jewish identity.
At the beginning of my college career, I stopped feeling this pride in my Jewish identity. I felt a need to explore outside of my community by joining groups and organizations where being Jewish wasn’t the only identity that brought us together. I decided to stop wearing my Jewish star necklace or opal hamsa so it wasn’t obvious where I came from. I wanted to be able to socialize, learn and grow with people who were different from me.
As I’m approaching the end of my college career, I’m fairly happy with all of my gained experiences, relationships and places I found with people who had shared interests and identities other than being Jewish. But I definitely think this need to leave or hide my Jewish identity was a form of internalized anti-Semitism. This term refers to the unconscious beliefs and behaviors passed down by family members and results from historical trauma and present-day oppression. Now, looking back and reflecting on my previous mindset, I find it extremely upsetting that I thought that being Jewish would impact or limit my ability to connect and learn with new people. But I still feel this need to gloss over my Jewish identity in progressive or social justice circles and thus adding to my uncomfortableness with the current anti-Semitic events.
My experience as a Jewish person has been comfortable and privileged. With my light European skin, I can be like any other privileged white person. Though not all Jews are white, American Jews who were Eastern European immigrants with light skin were only considered white when they assimilated into the mainstream American culture after World War II. Changing their appearance, becoming more secular, speaking English instead of Yiddish and educating their children in American schools allowed them to gain a better lifestyle. But consequently, they lost parts of their heritage and practice.
Also, Jews are often seen as a model minority for being a marginalized group that is particularly successful in America but still very marginalized throughout the world. I often consider whether our model minority status allows recent events like the Pittsburgh shooting or the professor’s rejection of letters of recommendation to become an even more important issue in the news even though there have been many other acts of discrimination or greater shootings for other marginalized communities.
I find myself comparing the experience of my marginalized Jewish community to other marginalized communities. I sometimes find myself thinking that American Jews don’t experience as much oppression because we may have more privilege than other marginalized groups in America. But after revisiting a piece that I have read in so many courses in Audre Lorde’s “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions,” I realized that making this claim takes away from the fact that the experience of anti-Semitism for Jews in America is valid. Comparing oppressions only makes it harder for people to come together and support one another to fight injustice.
During recent news of more anti-Semitic acts happening in our country, like the graffiti in a New York City synagogue, I’ve been feeling nervous to publish this piece knowing that my people have been experiencing more stress, anxiety and fear than usual. But one of the core values of Judaism is to question things and have honest debates. And when we silence voices, especially Jewish voices, we don’t leave room for conversation and dialogue that help us gain a better understanding of our experience as Jewish people. I’m only one Jew with one story, and I hope by sharing my experience others can reflect on their own.
Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at email@example.com.