Parlez-Vous Jewish?

MARCH 4, 2015

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Anti-semitism in Europe is so last century. I mean we’re totally all holding hands and singing Kumbaya, right?

If you’ve seen the recent pictures of tombstone desecration in a Jewish cemetery, you know that’s not quite true. And if you’ve watched Zvika Klein’s video of himself being harassed while walking through Paris in Jewish garb, this problem seems very real. My first thought upon seeing these images was “Huh, how strange…I never experienced anything like that when I lived in France. This must be blown out of proportion.” But then I remembered why I didn’t experience any bigotry during my time in France: I lied about my heritage.

As I prepared to embark on my study abroad program, I sat with my parents to fill out a large questionnaire. The forms asked questions like “Are you a vegetarian?” and “Do you consider yourself a night owl?” to best match us with a host family. When I got to the question asking what my religion was, my parents looked at each other and then said they had decided I should probably write Christian. They thought France had a sketchy history with antisemitism and didn’t want to chance anything. I agreed. Perhaps we were being extra sensitive, but having grown up as Jews in the Deep South, we figured there was no point in putting a target on my back. Better to fly under the radar, we figured.

I went on my trip and loved every moment of it. My religion never came up in conversation, but I wonder: if it had, and if I told the truth, would things have been different? I was too scared to find out. In the ten years since I lived abroad, the situation has only gotten worse and I fear it is due, in part, to people like myself being too afraid to proclaim their own religion, thereby propagating the problem. I did what I believed was right and safe at the time and don’t regret doing so. But at the same time, I feel ashamed. I should have been proud of my background.

I am a member of a beautiful religion – that’s a reason to be proud. I have spent a lot of time saying I am more than just my religion. I think that’s why I was happy to hide that piece of my identity when I went abroad. I didn’t like being defined by my religion instead of my personality. But my religion has helped shape that personality so I should be as comfortable being honest about that part of myself as I am my talkative nature or flat chest.

I am a busy woman. I simply don’t have time to live in fear.

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