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My #JewishPrivilege and the Story of My Family Coming to America

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A black and white photo of a jewish man wearing a white shirt and dark pants holding hands with a small jewish girl wearing a dress

One day in middle school, when I was about 13 years old, I was walking up to school on a weekend for a special band practice session. I was running late, as usual, as my parents and I are a famously non-punctual family.

The sky was cloudy and overcast; as I approached the front door of the school, I thought I started to hear the dinging of raindrops on the metal roof. But as a dime hit the pavement in front of me, I realized that the sound was not from rain.

From a balcony above the front door, two boys from band class laughed as they continued to shower me with loose change. Mortified, I rushed through the front door and urged myself to forget what had happened. This was my first experience of religious discrimination

There was a time in my childhood when I was incredibly embarrassed to be Jewish. I am sure that many of us remember what middle school was like, how uncomfortable it was to be different, and how much we all desperately wanted to fit in.

Being Jewish was far from the only thing that made me unique; however, to grow up in the South as a Jew puts a target on your back and makes it difficult to feel pride in your cultural heritage.

I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. Otherwise known as the Holy City, Charleston is a historic place with a skyline dotted with steeple after steeple. The Jewish community there is small, yet nowhere near nonexistent.

In fact, the synagogue where I was bat mitzvah-ed and later confirmed, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, is one of the oldest congregations in America and contains the oldest continuously-used sanctuary in the country.

My journey to accepting my Jewish identity was tumultuous. As aforementioned, I resented my given religion for making me different. The way eyes always fell on me whenever the Holocaust was brought up in school.

I was sometimes expected to join hands and pray to Jesus when I would be invited to friends’ birthday parties, and I would be harassed for trying to embrace my Jewish identity. All of it, made me feel like an outsider, isolated and unforgivably different.

Recently, #JewishPrivilege started trending on Twitter. I am unsure whether this was started by a group of antisemites or as an ironic twist on the stereotype that Jews run the world. However, it made me reflect on how lucky I am that the worst antisemitism I have ever endured were threats of being sent to Hell by classmates claiming to be concerned for the fate of my soul. In the past, my family has seen much worse.

My great-grandfather on my dad’s side was named Leo Blau. Until the year 1933, he was a refrigeration engineer in Eastern Germany, where he lived close to his family and drove around the city smoking cigarettes and chatting with young women when he was not working.

Blau was successful, bringing the new technology of refrigeration to his hometown in Germany. Tragically, however, a feeling of uneasiness began to pervade his work life; when his manager joined the National Socialist Party, his sense of security decreased exponentially.

Blau was fortunate to have a supervisor that cared about him enough to help him get a transfer to Turkey. He left his entire family behind; only one of his siblings out of five brothers and sisters was able to escape Germany before the Holocaust began. Everyone in our family that remained in Germany was murdered by the end of the war.

In Turkey, Blau met a Jewish woman. They got married and had my grandmother Fanita, who I am named after. As the situation in Europe worsened, they feared they would have to flee the country to protect themselves.

My great-grandmother got pregnant again but was forced to have an abortion so that they could protect Fanita and be ready to flee Turkey at a moment’s notice. The three of them made it through the war alive and lived on to pass the story to my dad and his siblings.

He has since told me that Blau hardly ever spoke about his family that was murdered by the Nazis, just like many others who managed to survive the Holocaust. I mourn the family that I was supposed to have and who never got the chance to exist today.

My grandmother Fanita spent a few years working for a number of airlines in Turkey and then immigrated to the United States when she was about 25. While it is difficult to say what her experiences with antisemitism in the U.S. may have been like, my dad does know how in awe of America’s freedoms she was. Freedom of speech was something that she never had before in Turkey, and she reveled in it, according to my father.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), antisemitism in America is on the rise. 1,879 acts of hostility against Jewish people and organizations were reported to their database in 2018. The audit shows a marked increase in physical attacks and incidents in states all over the country.

Historians say that when we forget history, we are destined to repeat it. Bigots say that Jews bring up the Holocaust too much, that we embellish and exaggerate six million murdered and ignore the genocides happening today.

The situation that has arisen in cities like Portland has stopped those who remember history dead in their tracks; we seem to have forgotten what it took to kill the democracy in Germany in the mid-20th century.

The fights against antisemitism, racism, and police brutality in America are inextricably linked. Even as two distinct groups of people with different prominent stereotypes, Jews and Black Americans have joined together for decades to fight for equality for all.

We, as Americans, find ourselves at a critical turning point in history. If Jewish peoples chose apathy over action in regards to police brutality and protesters being kidnapped in unmarked vans, then we can expect injustices to be made against our communities for the rest of time.

I fear that there is a significant threat to democracy lurking in our country as President Trump threatens to delay the election in November and continues his experimentation with the secret police, signaling a potentially detrimental grab for power.

The only institutions that benefit from pitting minority groups against each other are ones that are built on and rely on the supremacy of the ruling class.

My #JewishPrivilege is that, hopefully, I will not be murdered for being Jewish like so many of my family members that I will never get to know. However, my fight as a Jew, as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and as a woman is not over.

Popular stereotypes contort the success of Jews in America and turn us into scapegoats for problems that are completely out of our control. To say that Jews control the media and all of the country’s money only serves to shift the blame away from those who truly wield too much power.

It is not a crime to be privileged; it is only an injustice to have privilege and refuse to use it to benefit the less fortunate. We, as communities that have been discriminated against for centuries, cannot waste time fighting each other when we share common challenges and a common goal.

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