Growing up in Goose Creek, South Carolina I always felt as an outsider due to being of a different faith. Goose Creek is located 17 miles outside of Downtown Charleston and 20 miles away from the synagogue that I attended as a child and teenager. I attended South Carolina public schools and was always the one individual who was not in class on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I was the one child that teachers had to ask for permission in order to have an activity and not hurt my feelings because it had something to do with Christmas. I happened to be the one child that was perfectly fine with being open about who I was as someone of Reform Judaism. I believed, even as a child, that I would rather someone ask me a question in order that they do not assume or think of me differently. It was a learning experience for everyone and how to interact with others regardless of different faiths. In school, many of my friends happen to be minorities: Latino Americans, Black Americans, Muslim Americans, and Asian Americans. I never saw myself as someone of a different ethnicity, only religion yet I respected and still respect everyone’s beliefs and their point of views. As being apart of a minority, where I happen to be the only Jewish kid in the school, I continually saw others through our similarities as human beings, rather than the differences that separated us.
My first experience with discrimination came from high school. In my high school (roughly 2500 students), I was known as being “the Jewish kid” and quickly the term “Jew” was tossed around as though it was a nickname. Even to this day, it strikes a nerve because the term and meaning that calling someone “Jew” carries a negative connotation that the person is: greedy, wealthy, thinks they are superior, and a Zionist. However, I do not fit any of those stereotypes. In my junior year of high school, I was bullied for being the “other” and it got to the point where anti-Semitic statements about the Holocaust, and the 6 million Jews who died, were being thrown at me. As many parents do, they tell their children to just ignore it and that “you only have a short time left,” but the bullying didn’t stop. I came home frequently crying and enraged because of the torment that I got. Rumors quickly filled the halls and people would ask me ridiculous questions that were based on falsehoods. My parents had asked me if I wanted to transfer, only with one year left of my high school experience. I declined, because I knew that it would be giving my tormentors exactly what they wanted, a win. Instead I took my parent’s advice and the next time something happened, I went to the Student Resource Officers, where I reported my complaint. They dealt with the situation seriously and within a week or two, it was a closed case. The officer stopped by my class one day to talk to me and she told me that if anything were to happen again, I was to directly report it to her and that the school would file hate crime charges against the students. I was relieved but at the same time nervous. Rumors again went around the school that I had “snitched” but what could I have done that wouldn’t of gotten my friends or I suspended? So I handled it the way my parents told me to and yet people still called me this awful name, “Jew.”
When I think of, or someone calling me, “Jew” I automatically think of how the German Nazis characterized the Jewish people; a belief that is still prevalent even today. When I hear someone refer to Jews as “powerful”, “greedy”, “super rich”, “stealing money”, these are all what the word “Jew” refers to. It is this stereotype that I want to get rid of in society. So if I am not the typical “Jew” than who am I? The answer is that I am a 23 year old who lives in a city where there are 5-7 families that are recognized as Jewish. I come from two loving parents who are both Reform Jews and are both middle class workers. We are not super rich nor did I get everything I wanted as a child. I have many friends who are Christian as well as many who are minorities within society (due to ethnicity, race, etc.). I am not super smart, in fact I graduated high school with a C+ GPA and finishing College with a C GPA. I am marrying a wonderful woman who happens to be Christian. I do not keep kosher (my favorite foods are Shrimp and BBQ) nor do I attend synagogue. I do believe in God, but I believe he does not intervene in the world. I do support Israel but as a homeland for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; AND I am an outspoken critic of the Israeli government’s discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians. I am a feminist, a global citizen, and supporter of justice and equality of all people under law and within society.
However to shatter the stigma that surrounds “Jew” and other derogatory statements about others, it is critical to educate our children and society about accepting and being open to people who are different. When I hear someone call me “Jew,” I automatically respond the same way a Muslim would when being called a terrorist; a Latino/Latina being called Mexican; or someone who is black being called the n-word. I may not have been born into poverty, or gone through the struggles that many of my friends have gone through in life; but I want people to know that I understand how being discriminated against feels. I understand the feeling of being powerless and doubting your self-worth. I understand the depression that can set in if you let the bigotry affect you. Believe it or not, I even understand the anger and outrage that you may have towards others. Everyday I see the differences, yet I choose to view each and every person as just that, a person. Regardless of the difference, I shall never say that you are inferior or base a judgement on a bigoted idea about what makes you unique. If we want to stop discrimination, then it is important that we teach our children to love one another and accept people for who they are. We can stomp out bigotry in all forms by opening our hearts, listening to others, and standing in solidarity with one another when times get tough.