It all started with the phone call.
“Josh, did you hear what happened?” my little brother Ben, an eighth grader, asked in a trembling voice.
An anonymous kid had drawn a swastika on a piece of paper and put it into Ben’s backpack earlier that week. He opened that binder and found the drawing in the middle of first period.
“Josh, it has completely ruined my day. Can you come home please?” he asked me timidly.
“Yes, of course. I love you. Hang in there, I’ll be home soon,” I replied.
I was angered by what happened to my brother, but not necessarily surprised. Before getting in the car to drive home, I reflected on my own experiences with this sort of blatant anti-Semitism, such as an instance in eighth grade when I was called a “Jew rat.”
When I arrived home, I rushed upstairs to find Ben lying in his bed, visibly still in shock from what occurred earlier in the day. I spent the rest of the evening with him in his room, consoling him whenever he wanted to talk about it.
I’ve known this person my whole life, yet I still didn’t know how to comfort and support him in this situation. What was the right thing to do? What could I say to him to make it better?
We ended up talking about how all that he can do is to focus on his school work and athletics. But we couldn’t ignore what happened earlier that day. At the end of the night, Ben and I discussed how going forward, he shouldn’t let situations like this bring him down.
Just a few weeks later, anti-Semitism surfaced once again at Hall Middle School. Ben was walking back to the lunch tables after picking up his lunch, when another immature middle schooler walked past my little brother and formed a swastika with his fingers. The kid ended up only being suspended for one day, despite the seriousness of his actions.
Twice in three weeks, at just 13-years-old, Ben had to deal with anti-Semitic encounters. As I solaced my brother once again, I realized that these seemingly isolated anti-Semitic incidents reflected a larger problem within our community—a lack of awareness and understanding in regards to the Holocaust and Judaism in general. One reason these types of behaviors could exist in a middle school is because children may not have been properly educated, and therefore do not understand the magnitude of their jokes and insults.
Following the second incident, Ben called our Rabbi and talked to him about the incidents. The conversation concluded with him deciding to write a letter in response to the hurtful acts.
“…I am extremely sad and disappointed. You may think sad, but more disappointed that this is even going on in our community today,” Ben wrote.
As a proud Jew and a protective brother, I am disappointed too. Anti-Semitism is prevalent not only in our community, but also in our world as a whole. According to a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, 1.09 billion people are anti-Semitic—more than one-seventh of the world.
Anti-Semitism in our community normally occurs in ways of rude humor, commonly known as “Jew jokes.” But if people truly understood the meaning behind their words and the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, they would realize that the suffering that occurred is not something that should be belittled.
The reason these attitudes exist in our community is because there is too little education on the topics. Do we have to educate more? Teach about the Holocaust in more depth? The important thing is to accept that anti-Semitism is present in our community. Ben’s encounters with anti-Semitism were just two of the countless others that occur every day. It’s not only part of our history, but a current issue that needs to be addressed in every circumstance that emerges.