A couple of weeks ago, I sat in my adviser's office to discuss my options for study abroad next summer. When she mentioned Paris, one of Columbia's main international centers, I felt myself grow tense and quietly answered that I would not consider studying in France. My adviser was surprised at my sudden seriousness and inquired more. With my voice slightly breaking, I explained that, nowadays, France is not quite safe for Jews.
And that’s when I acknowledged a painful reality: that anti-Semitism, the age-old hatred that evolves and changes but never disappears, is still alive to the extent that it impacts my decisions and lifestyle.
France, like other countries in Europe and around the world, is experiencing a rise in expressions of anti-Semitism. I recalled the shooting in a kosher supermarket, the appalling murder of a Holocaust survivor who was stabbed and then burned, and other terrible instances of anti-Semitic attacks that occurred in France in the last three years, and felt confident about my decision not to study there.
When I shared my reasoning with my older brother, he disagreed with me and said, “It’s fine, you can go to France. Just don’t wear your ring with the Star of David,” as he pointed to the ring I always wear. “Just don’t flaunt it.”
In sad disbelief, I answered, “Don’t flaunt it? Don’t flaunt my Jewishness? Is that not a clear-cut sign of anti-Semitism? That I must hide my identity to the naked eye, that I should not flaunt it?” The fact that I would need to hide who I am to feel safe is yet more proof that anti-Semitism is a persistent threat. Hiding one’s identity is oftentimes the standard Jews must abide by to ensure their safety.
I am wholeheartedly thankful for the extent to which some countries (including the U.S. and my homeland Mexico) commit to making their Jewish communities feel truly welcome and safe. Fortunately, they often succeed. Nonetheless, this weekend proves that they too, are not immune to this senseless hatred. Last Saturday, an anti-Semitic terrorist burst into a synagogue, yelled, “All Jews must die,” and brutally killed 11 Jews. The Sabbath, a day of peaceful rest, instantly transformed into a day of mourning; Jewish communities worldwide gathered to express an all-too-familiar grief.
Immediately after the attack in Pittsburgh, Columbia/Barnard Hillel (the center for Jewish life on campus) heartwarmingly offered their support to all affected, and held a vigil for everyone to come together in their grief and thus be strengthened by their unity. This familiarity of suffering from anti-Semitism has been inherent to my people’s history for as long as we have existed. And maybe it always will be. But the least we can do is try and change that. I ask of you, my Columbia and Barnard peers, first to recognize anti-Semitism as an atrocious and real problem that exists in today’s world. And then I ask you to care.
I was very touched to have been reached out to by some non-Jewish friends who told me they stand in solidarity with my pain and fear. However, while my close friends checked in with me, I was truly hurt by our general student body’s lack of significant support and solidarity. I am blessed to belong to a community of students that is passionate about the defense of human rights and the pursuit of social justice—one that believes this is a goal to be fought for by everyone, not only by those affected in specific instances. That is why I expect my peers to incorporate the rejection of anti-Semitism in their strive for social justice.
I have been distraught by the lack of student activists addressing anti-Semitism on the many occasions when such recognition should have been stated (for example, when advocating for minority groups that are at times discriminated against). I believe this obliviousness of anti-Semitism stems not out of intentional malice, but rather a genuine lack of awareness that anti-Semitism still exists, that it did not disappear with the liberation of the Holocaust death camps or the disbandment of the KKK. It is devastating that too many people need to hear of attacks like the one in Pittsburgh to acknowledge the relevance of anti-Semitism—let this tragedy be a reminder.
This senseless hatred targeted towards Jews has evolved throughout history, and whatever form it has taken on at the moment should be treated as legitimate and serious. So when you ponder about the insurmountable number of ways our world needs to change, don’t neglect anti-Semitism as a contemporary and significant fault in our society.
The author is a sophomore in Columbia College studying comparative literature and society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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