As Christmas nears, all the girls in my hall are putting up their Christmas lights. Meanwhile, I am setting up the menorah in my room with candles even if I can’t light them because the fire alarm would go off in my dorm room. I’m one of only eight freshmen Jews on campus so I’m not surprised when people ask if the Hanukkah present I received in the mail is an early Christmas present.
Ever since kindergarten, I’ve been the only Jew in my school. A few times a year, my mother would come to school with treats and stories about a different Jewish holiday and I would get to stand up in front of my class with her and write my name in Hebrew on the blackboard. I loved those days. Everyone would listen attentively and ask me questions about things that I thought were so obvious but were foreign to them. I’ve been the token Jew for as long as I can remember. For a long time, it was just something that made me special.
In seventh grade, I ran into Anti-Semitism. We were playing a game in gym class where we sat on the floor in teams and kicked a giant ball around. A boy near me was taunting the other team as thirteen year old boys do when his insults of “jerk” and “loser” changed to one I’d never heard before: “Stupid Jew.” He was not yelling at me and I knew that the people he was yelling at were not Jews, seeing as I was still the only one in our grade. He was using “Jew” as an insult. He was using my religion as an insult. He was using my beliefs, my culture, my family as an insult. At thirteen years old, I was completely in shock. I felt attacked and the attacker didn’t even know it.
It took every thing in me not to burst out into tears. I mustered the strength to tell him, “shut up.” It took a few times for him to hear me I was so quiet. When he finally looked at me he asked, “Why? Are you Jewish?” I bravely told him that I was but that was not the point and he needed to stop. He simply replied, “Oh. That sucks” and went about his business.
The words of some ignorant boy still stick out in my mind. I know his voice, his inflection, like a recording. I started to notice that other people used the term “Jew” as an insult. I don’t know if I had just never been aware before or if it was some new trend. It always hurt, but every time I heard it, I became more and more defiant in my responses and sadly, less surprised.
I don’t know that I believe in Torah. I don’t know that I believe in God. But I know that the ignorant words of children still hurt me. I believe in respect.
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