My grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, occasionally voices her concern that the Jewish people will once again be targeted. That her grandchildren and great grandchildren will end up in camps like those in which she worked as a slave for 6 years and where most of her family perished. I always thought she was being ridiculous. I grew up in New York City, surrounded by Jews. Jews are CEOs, celebrities, doctors, and lawyers. "Antisemitism is a thing of the past," I dismissed her, "you're worrying for nothing. Let's make cole slaw."
When I was 18, I left New York City and it turned out that, outside of the major cities and religious enclaves, America is not all that accepting of Jews. Even so, there was very little active violence, more a kind of simmering dislike and discrimination. I held fast to the idea that she was overreacting. Then I read pieces like this one in the NY Times, opening my eyes to antisemitism throughout the world. I still don't think we will ever face another Holocaust (against the Jews that is, they still happen worldwide), but her concerns about the danger of being Jewish seem less far fetched.
Less than 70 years ago, the Jewish people were torn from their homes, and forced to work as slaves either until death or until liberation finally came in 1945. Others were murdered like animals, shot, tortured, or gassed. They were viewed as less than human. Many were turned back from entering the United States as immigrants because the country had reached quota. That's to say nothing of the millennia of persecution. The sentiments that lead to these actions are still pervasive today. The movement doesn't have a Hitler figure leading it, but antisemitism is alive and well in the world.
So why is it so frequently dismissed in discussions about discrimination? There are a few theories. Perhaps it is because there is a sense that the group overcame oppression and now appear to be thriving. Jewish people represent the quintessential model minority. "You've made it, now stop complaining, others have it worse." In the Oppression Olympics, they don't rank. Was the murder of 6 million far too long ago, something for the history books?
Part of it is probably the atrocities happening in Israel (from both sides) dividing public sentiment. People struggle to separate anti-zionist and antisemitic ideas (#notalljews). I imagine unconfronted Antisemitism plays a role as well – much like white people deny racism in this country, Christians deny anti semitism. And yet, it was less than a decade ago that someone asked me in earnest if I had horns on my head. Just last week someone held me personally responsible for killing Jesus.
I just want to make clear that I identify as culturally Jewish but am not at all religious. I would go so far as to say that I actively scoff at organized religion, even as I gobble down challah and kugel. But if there was another Holocaust, my appearance, family history, and name would put me behind the barbed wire fences in an instant. I can distance myself from the religion, but there is no denying my heritage. I wouldn't want to.