We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.~ Martin Luther King Jr.
AS A JEWISH PERSON LIVING HERE IN THE UNITED STATES, ARE THERE ANY AREAS WHERE YOU PERCEIVE INEQUALITIES BASED ON YOUR FAITH (COMPARED TO YOUR PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS)?
“ I think that growing up Jewish, anti-semitism was something that I definitely had experience with as a kid. I grew up in a neighborhood with a pretty decent sized Jewish population and yet there were still instances of anti-semitism present. While I was growing up there were swastikas painted around my neighborhood at one point, there was a (Jewish owned) bakery that was targeted at one point, so I definitely saw anti-semitism growing up. In terms of my day to day experience, I think we as Jews have done a pretty good job of integrating into American society and so while I wouldn't say we are immune to discrimination or inequality, I do think it’s far less prevalent here than it has been throughout our history in other places.”
SOME MIGHT SAY THAT AS A JEW YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE TO FACE THE SAME KIND OF DISCRIMINATION THAT SAY AN AFRICAN AMERICAN OR A LATINO WOULD BECAUSE YOU CAN MORE EASILY INTEGRATE YOURSELVES INTO A WHITE MAINSTREAM SOCIETY. PEOPLE CAN’T SIMPLY LOOK AT SOMEONE AND SEE THAT THEY’RE JEWISH AN THEREFORE DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THEM ON SIGHT. DO YOU THINK THAT’S A FAIR STATEMENT?
“It’s a fair statement but I guess it kind of cuts both ways. You may have people who are closeted racists. They may not, by virtue of seeing that someone is black, make certain statements or remarks around someone whom they see as black. Conversely, if your Jewish, and maybe someone doesn’t realize you’re Jewish or you don’t have a last name that sounds Jewish, people may make a comment that is offensive and not even realize who they are offending when they said it."
HAS THAT HAPPENED TO YOU?
“I’ve experienced that. I’ve been around people and had them say “oh, he Jewed me down”, or “that Jew over there...” in my presence. And I have had to kind of step back and say something a long the lines of, “oh you never know who you’re offending when you say things like that.”
DO YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT JEWISH PEOPLE FEEL THAT THEY ARE TREATED UNEQUALLY IN SOME CASES, THAT THERE ARE STILL JEWS WHO FEEL DISCRIMINATED AGAINST OR FEEL THAT THEY ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE SIMPLY BY BEING JEWISH HERE IN THE UNITED STATES IN 2015?
“I think it goes without saying that discrimination still exists in the United States. It may not be as prevalent as it was in the past. I don’t want to speak for the entire Jewish population of course, but I wouldn’t say that we feel we are at a disadvantage per se, but I think that when we go outside of the few pockets where we live in the United States that it is definitely evident that we are a minority, and we feel like a minority."
THERE’S A PERCEPTION, A THEORY AMONG MANY IN OUR SOCIETY, THAT ALL JEWS ARE DOCTORS, OR LAWYERS, OR BANKERS- THAT JEWISH PEOPLE RUN HOLLYWOOD, THAT THEY CONTROL ALL OF THE MAJOR MEDIA OUTLETS. WITH THAT COMES THE PERCEPTION THAT ALL JEWS MUST BE DOING VERY WELL. SO HOW CAN THEY CLAIM THEY ARE UNFAIRLY TREATED OR DISCRIMINATED AGAINST? CAN YOU SPEAK TO THAT AT ALL?
“Well I think along those lines something people may be surprised to hear is that there is a lot of poverty within the Jewish community. In fact an organization that I volunteer for called The Mitzvah Food Project provides food to people that are insecure around the holidays. You can look them up and actually see what they do (visit them here), but one of the holidays they provide food for is Passover. There are plenty of Jews in and around Philadelphia who are actually food insecure, and they may surprise a lot of people.”
“I think we’ve been able to find a great amount of success as a people, as a whole, but I think it’s also important to note that I don’t think Jews have ever forgotten where they have come from. Our history of oppression, I think, has given us a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning in terms of wanting to help others who are disenfranchised. I think that has always been a part of our history. Whether we are talking about the civil rights movement, or fighting for equality with gay marriage, I think you will always find Jews who, in some capacity, are participating in the fight or the struggle for equality. I think it’s engrained in who we are."
AS AN ADULT I CAME TO DISCOVER THAT THERE WERE A LOT OF VERY STRANGE STEREOTYPES ABOUT JEWS THAT I HAD NO IDEA EXISTED IN THIS DAY AND AGE (JEWS HAVING HORNS UNDER THEIR HAIR BEING ONE). HAVING GROWN UP IN A NEIGHBORHOOD WITH A LARGE JEWISH POPULATION I WAS COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS TO THESE. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST INACCURATE OR STRANGEST STEREOTYPE YOU HAVE EVER HEARD OR FACED AS A JEWISH PERSON?
“There are all types of negative stereotypes out there that exist for every single group of people. I think that the craziest one personally is that Jews have horns, of course, or that the Jews were behind 9/11. That one was being perpetuated a lot right after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Your first reaction is to cringe and then your second reaction is “oh boy I really hope this doesn’t catch on”. And I think your third reaction is to find out how prevalent is this idea, because I think there is also an inherent paranoia that whenever you hear of an act of anti-semitism, you want to get a sense of just how wide spread it is. Then you think, what can I do to combat this right away? Jews, if they have one phrase they are associated with saying, and this pertains to the Holocaust, it is “never again”. We are never going to allow what happened to us during World War II to ever happen again. So I think immediately when we hear an act of anti-semitism taking place, our radar is alerted. I think we try right away to kind of take note and ascertain how serious it actually is."
DO YOU THINK THAT THERE IS ANY REALISTIC AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO RID OUR SOCIETY OF THESE STEREOTYPES AND PREJUDICES ONCE AND FOR ALL (NOT JUST WITH JEWS BUT WITH ALL GROUPS OF PEOPLE)?
“I think that stereotypes and prejudices unfortunately will be around no matter what. Though there definitely is more that can be done to try and combat these different stereotypes and hatred around the world. There’s something in Judaism called tikkun olam which in Hebrew literally translates to ‘healing and repairing the world’. I think a lot of Jews take tikkun olam very seriously and try to engage in activities that help make the world a better place. Whether it’s environmental consciousness, helping the homeless, helping the disenfranchised, the less fortunate, by conducting acts that are considered to be virtuous, not only are you helping someone else but maybe along the way by virtue of the fact that we are such a small portion of the population, someone who may have had a negative impression of Jews before may see them engaging in a positive role or activity and it may help combat that negativity. So I think that this healing or repairing the world, for Jews specifically, can not only be an example of where we can give, but it can also be a place where we can get back. By being perceived as doing these wonderful acts, maybe some people’s perceptions can change."