For as long as Judaism has been a separate religion from Christianity, Jews have been blamed for pandemics and worldwide shortfalls. Jews have been ostracized, separated, scapegoated and treated as the enemy, and the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing new in the long Jewish tradition of being blamed. Even though the anti-Semitism currently experienced by Jews all over the country has been placed on the collective ‘backburner’ of our society, and the focus has been projected onto the hatred and xenophobia being experienced by the Asian communities of America, the tradition of scapegoating the Jewish community has reared its ugly head again.
On April 18, protesters of the lockdown order of Gov. Mike DeWine showed up at the Ohio Statehouse, some eager to end the lockdown and return to work, others on the more extreme end, calling coronavirus a hoax. But there was a sign floating around, with the image of a blue rodent with a long protruding nose and a Magen David (Star of David) on its side. In blue letters, the words: “THE REAL PLAGUE.” Seeing the sign, plastered large on Representative Casey Weinstein’s Twitter feed, outright angered me. Seeing the sign hit too close to home.
It hit too close to home for anyone who’s experienced anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish sentiment.
A few days after the protest and first seeing the sign, I participated in a call with my Jewish youth group to commemorate Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. This call was to commemorate and discuss the after-effects of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and how I, as a Jewish teen, can help stop hatred in our country. My group of about 30 teenagers and adults ended up on the topic of the sign and the protesters spreading this message. The leader of the program asked us “What would be your first instinct if you saw those protesters in person?” and my friend Eliana said something that made me think about the situation in a new light. She said, “The first thing I would do is tuck in my Star of David [necklace], since I wear it every day and I wouldn’t know what they would do to me if they saw it.” Another student recounted an anecdote about his parents telling him to tuck his Star in public, to ensure his safety and to make sure he wouldn’t be attacked or verbally assaulted.
What Eliana said got me thinking, How could I make myself known and heard when standing up to hateful people? I can’t run and hide from the men and women who don’t like me, because I would hate to live my life sheltered because of bigotry and intolerance. I also can’t directly stand up to these protesters, because of the current rules that are in place to keep ourselves and others safe. The best solution was writing this, because I get the chance to speak for many boys and girls who also experienced being hated for their religion.
Cleveland Jews live in a bubble of relative tolerance and acceptance from the greater community at large, and what many of us experience is unlike many places in America. Experiencing anti-Semitism, at least from my experiences, are quite few and far between. Other Jews do not have the same luxury, and many work toward the goal of acceptance of all religions, races, creeds and orientations. People who are hateful were taught their current process of thinking, through biases and prejudices, from a young age. The sign reminds us that there are people in the world who hate others based on how they practice religion. It reminds us, people who experience little religious-centered hatred, that there are people in our world, our country, even our state who would attack a woman wearing a hijab, call her a terrorist and tell her she’s in the “Land of the Free” now. It reminds us that there are still branches of the Ku Klux Klan and the Neo-Nazi movement operating in our state and city. It reminds us that there are people who hate solely based on the type of necklace someone may wear, whether it be a cross or Star of David. It reminds us that there are people who hate based on the religious book one reads to worship. It reminds us of the uneducated and hateful people in America who bank on the conspiracy of a Jewish-run state, the people who carry out religious massacres like the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, the Poway synagogue shooting in San Diego, the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the many pogroms and killings that fill the history of the world with the blood of religious minorities.
Jews are not the real plague; people who hate are. And as a society, we should pledge and work to eradicate their intolerance and xenophobia.