worthless

For the first time in my life, I am scared to be a Jew.

I don’t want to detract from the severity of Islamophobia, racism, ableism, homophobia, and anti-immigration sentiment. But there is no escaping that this is the first time in my life I am experiencing true antisemitism. And not only that, it is now coupled with anti-Zionism.

I feel worthless. I feel caught in a web of wanting to scream out for justice and safety for me and my people, but also never wanting to talk about us ever again because I have Israel, right? I have Israel and refugees don’t have anyplace safe to go. Immigrants, Muslim-Americans, African Americans – none of them have an ‘Israel’ to escape to when things get bad. The United States was supposed to be their Israel.

But – here’s the thing. I feel utterly and completely abandoned by the Israeli government. Betrayed, abandoned, and just forgotten about. I feel worthless to my own people.

There was an antisemitic incident on my campus, here at McGill, about a week ago. But it wasn’t just antisemitic, it was explicitly anti-Zionist. And in my torn heart of wanting to stand in solidarity with all the people who might not be as fortunate as I am, I was shocked to realize that I might also not be as fortunate as I always assumed. And this is something I don’t want to admit. And I was shocked to realize that this was something I was struggling to admit.

Jews are safe, after all. Jews are strong! Jews are accepted! Maybe Israel isn’t, but Jews definitely are!

I want to believe this; I am white, after all. People can’t tell I’m Jewish. People don’t care that I’m Jewish. This is what I’ve always believed. I don’t wear any obvious religious garb or speak with an accent that singles me out or have a different skin color. There are so many people out there with bigger problems than my fear of antisemitism, right? Antisemitism is something of the past that only shaped my collective history and identity. Right?

Yet, it seems … this isn’t the case anymore.

I am a Zionist.

I will say it loud and clear, and I will never downplay my love for the country and my people. (As if people couldn’t tell this already.)

But, I am a two-state solution Zionist. I am a pro-peace Zionist. Yes. We exist. We are plentiful. We are possible. We are not a contradiction.

I do not support settlements. I do not support all of the policies Israel has taken on.

But I do, and always will, support a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Anyone who says that there should not be a Jewish state in the land of Israel is attacking the Jewish people – So many of whom are themselves out there, on the frontlines, supporting movements all the way from (believe it or not) BDS to grassroots peace organizations.

So when someone says something anti-Zionist, and a debate is opened, I will be one of the first to join. And I will listen to you! And I ask that you listen to me, too. Because I have made it my personal mission in the last few years, and for as long as I live, to achieve as broad an understanding as I can from as many perspectives as I can hear.

But, what happens when I feel completely discredited and estranged as a liberal Jew? As someone supportive of human rights and peace for all?

What happens when I suddenly realize that I am in a position of illegitimacy only because my people are seen – all of us are seen – as the occupier, as the colonizer? And this all happens in seconds, in the moment we chose to speak in support of our right to a safe Jewish homeland

Yeah, this isn’t anything new. We Jews are used to this kind of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, but now we are also being faced with neo-nazis and the like. And we are being shut down when we talk about antisemitism being a factor. We are told “don’t be so sensitive. This is just politics.” We are being attacked online by trolls, we are being accused of manipulating the media and manipulating politics and manipulating the entire freaking election.

“My” president shuts down reporters when asked about the rise of antisemitism. “My” president is denying that there is even an increase in antisemitism at all. “My” president is claiming he is the least antisemitic person there is and in doing so, proving that he might just be my greatest enemy.

Antisemitism is surging alarmingly. This is not an alternative fact. This is the truth. Look it up. Fact-check it if you’re still not convinced.

I don’t feel like I will have a place in America. I don’t know if I will have a place at McGill. And I don’t know if I even want to have my place in Israel if nothing changes. Even though I know my undying love for the country will never diminish.

And, I don’t even know if I should talk about this now, in light of everything else going on.

Because why should my problems as a Jew, be more important or greater than your problems which are so much worse?

Tell me. Please, I am begging you. Answer me this, because I already feel guilty for publishing this post.

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Surprise! I Was Converted Yesterday

I love my kids that I work with (yeah, I call them my kids). A little background: they are about twenty total and come from the Philippines, Eritrea, Congo, Sudan, Ghana, and many more. I am with them in the afternoon two to three days a week and do things like helping the teacher in the class, helping the kids with their homework, planning activities, drawing with and for them (so. much. drawing.) and just playing with them. Almost all of them speak some level of English and I really practice my Hebrew there. Its a challenge, no doubt, but one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. My kids give so much love and attention and us volunteers are more than happy to provide more than that in return.

My class is from the ages of seven to nine and I believe all of them are Christian. A few months ago, one of the girls in my class – lets call her Dox – found out that I was a “yehudit!” This means Jewish in Hebrew. Her and a lot of the other kids in my class were shocked and began asking me why I didn’t believe in Jesus. I pacified them by nodding my head and listening to them talk about Christianity and when the day ended, I assumed they would go home and forget about it – they are little kids after all.

But Dox is the daughter of a pastor from the Congo and it seems that my religious choices were bothering her a lot because this past Wednesday, when I was at the school, Dox pulled me aside and said she really had to talk with me.

(This entire interaction happened in English. The English skills of each individual child depend on what country their family came from. Because Dox is from the Congo, her English is pretty much fluent as that, in addition to French, is what she speaks at home with her mom. And then she learns and speaks Hebrew at school.)

Not knowing what could be wrong, I followed happily. She sat me down and said “Why don’t you believe in Jesus!” Wagging her finger in my face in a very nine year old-like fashion. I just gave her a slightly bemused smile in return.

“Why are you smiling! This is important! You have to believe in Jesus! Because if you don’t … if you don’t then you won’t go to heaven. And then you will be sad and die. And even though you are yehudit, and he doesn’t love you right now, if you just believe in him, you will be safe and you will go to heaven and he will love you!”

Not quite knowing what to say, because it was obviously upsetting her immensely that I wasn’t Christian, I just sat there quietly, nodding my head and smiling. When she finished, she asked me, “Do you see why you need to believe now? Do you believe now?” And again, I simply nodded my head.

In my mind, I was wondering if it was my place to try and teach her about tolerance, after all, that is part of my job with them: to mentor and guide them. My official Hebrew title is called madricha, which directly translates into a guide.

Before I could make a decision, a friend of my from the mechina sat down with us and Dox proceeded to ask him if he believed in Christ. He shook his head no and Dox went at it again. She looked at me and said “I’m testing you now! Tell him why he needs to believe in Christ.”

I tried to be serious about it, I really did, but the irony of the situation was too much for me to handle and, regretfully, I couldn’t get past saying “You need to believe…” without laughing. Multiple “You need to believe…”‘s later, Dox, frustrated with me, took over and explained to my friend why he had to believe in Jesus, saying exactly what she told me, and at the end, asked him, just like she asked me, “Do you believe now?”

And my friend just shook his head no.

Dox became so angry. She started to cry and looked like she wanted to hit my friend so I figured then would be a good time to try to teach about tolerance.

It didn’t go so well. I started, “Dox, sometimes, even though we try to help people make the best choices, they will not make the choice that we want them to make. But we have to be OK with this. We can’t get mad at their choices because that isn’t fair. And it’s great that you want to help people so badly, but we need to respect them (I had my friend translate respect into Hebrew just to be safe). OK?”

Apparently it wasn’t OK… She just responded with “NO! They won’t go to heaven!” And then she ran away. It was rough, but maybe later in life that conversation will come back to her and she can learn from it then.

The beauty of kids is they never stay mad for a very long time and by the final few minutes we were together, she was laughing and playing with me and the other kids again.

So while I wasn’t actually converted to Christianity, I think this story exemplifies a lot of what I am experiencing in my volunteering. The kids are not easy to mentor. They get angry easily and hurt even more so, they don’t like to listen and, particularly for me, their English is not always good. Or they will not even know English at all. But despite all the challenges and them questioning my religion, when I see my kids inside the school and out of it, my heart is so full. I love them and with all my being cannot fathom how I will be able to say good bye to them in four months. I am truly lucky to be able to have the opportunity to work with such amazing children.