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Opinion

Stand with Me

July 13, 2020

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

June 18th, 1984 in Denver, CO: members of the white nationalist group called “The Order” murdered Alan Berg, a Jewish talk radio host. August 19th-21st, 1991 in New York, NY: during the Crown Heights riot, residents turned against Orthodox Jewish Chabad residents.  March 1, 1994 in New York, NY: Rashid Baz shot at a van holding 15 Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish students, killing one and injuring three others.  August 10th, 1999 in Los Angeles, CA: a white supremacist, Buford O. Furrow, Jr., opened fire in the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, wounding five people. July 28th, 2006 in Seattle, WA: Naveed Afzal Haq shot six women as he entered the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building, killing one. June 10th, 2009 in Washington, D.C.: a white supremacist, James Wenneker von Brunn, opened fire in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. April 13th, 2014 in Overland Park, KS: a neo-Nazi, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., shot and killed a total of three people when he opened fire at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City as well as Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community. October 27th, 2018, at the heart of my personal Jewish Community, Pittsburgh, PA: Robert Gregory Bowers, a white male and white supremacist shot and killed 11 people and wounded six others in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, marking the day of the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

You may have read all of that and wondered why I used half of a page just to bullet point different events. What you don’t know is there is so much more where that came from. I could have filled pages and pages just listing anti-semitic hate crimes. The question is, why do I have to?  Why don’t you already know?  Why don’t you already care?  Why do I have to be the one to bring this to your attention? Why is it not the big news sources, or by some miracle, the president, who is bringing this to your attention?  These are all questions I cannot answer, but what I can do is try my hardest to change these norms and spread the word.

Anti-Semitism is defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as the “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”  It seems lately that many need a reminder that anti-Semitism did not end with the Holocaust. Jews and the Jewish community continue to be victims of hatred and blame. The Holocaust ended in 1945, but at no point has there been a news headline saying “Hey, everyone! Anti-Semitism is over! Now you can make jokes about the six million Jews killed in the concentration camps, and while you’re at it, you can make anti-Semitic slurs at your leisure.” So why is it, that as Jewish teens walk down the hall, they hear jokes about “burning in gas chambers,” and words like “k*ke” thrown in their direction?  Why is it that as Jewish teens walk into gym class in the morning, they see that someone has spray-painted a swastika on the locker room wall? And finally, why is it that as Jewish teens suffer through this, nobody is there to lean on and they must fight through this alone?

My name is Rachel Bashe.  I am 16 years old, and I am a rising junior at a high school in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. I was born in Denver, Colorado, to a mixed religion family. My mom was born and raised Catholic, while my dad was born and raised Jewish. As I was growing up, we celebrated and practiced traditions from both religions. When I was six, my family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  When I was about 11 years old, my parents suggested that I consider which path I wanted to take in terms of my religion.  After going to one temple service and one Hebrew school class, I knew that the Jewish community was right for me. When I told my parents that this is what I wanted to do, my mom told me that she wanted to take the journey with me, and that she would be converting to Judaism as soon as she could. Around the same time, my older brother decided that he also wanted to begin the journey to become a Bat Mitzvah. Though my brother and I were more than excited about our decision, our parents realized that they had to sit us down for a tough conversation.  

I remember so clearly the moment that I sat in the passenger seat of my mom’s old mini van, as my mom emphasized to me that though we wish it not to be, our world is full of hate.  My smile faded as she told me that I must be prepared for anti-Semites who might mistreat me because of my faith. I asked her why people would hate me solely because of my religion, because I could not understand this. She told me that she didn’t know, that this world is full of the unknown. Her eyes filled with tears as I told her that I would be okay, but that I didn’t really think it would be an issue for me. What I didn’t know as I sat there, but what I have come to understand, was that the reason her eyes filled with tears was because she knew that the innocence that every child holds was still there, and she felt happiness that I had not yet experienced the hatred that the world holds.  

That innocence and shield from the hatred of this world may have faded, which makes it even more important and valuable that my courage and my passion for my Jewish community will never waver.  In the past few months, the United States and the rest of the world has been engulfed in a fight for Black lives. I have seen articles posted and petitions signed by every ethnicity, every race, and every religion. I do not want to undermine the importance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement when I say this, because BLM has been a number one priority for me these past few months, and it deserves just as much and more than the attention that it has been getting. However, I would be willing to bet that 90% of you who read this now have skipped past the post on Instagram or Facebook, or any other form of social media that was posted by your Jewish colleague, friend, or family member, which spoke out against anti-Semitism. You, who passionately posted and signed petitions fighting for Black lives, but who has fallen silent in the face of anti-Semitism. You, who claim to be an activist, but say nothing when your Jewish brothers and sisters are suffering. You, who can make a difference. You, who can use your platform to help. But in the end, it is you who picks and chooses the types of hate you speak out against. We notice. You don’t think we do, but we notice. We swipe through the hundreds of people who view our post about anti-Semitism, and our smile fades when we see that we can count the number of people who have reposted it on their own pages using the fingers of just one of our hands. Our faded smile turns to anger when we realize that little to none of those people are non-Jews. This anger stems from a place of suffering. You don’t think we feel it at every second of every day that we have to fight anti-semitism alone.  But we do.  You think that just one more person caring about this won’t matter.  But it does.  

People also tend to forget that the Jewish community is very diverse. As I speak about anti-Semitism, it is important to remember that there are Jews of all races, ethnicities, and various other identities including the LGBTQ+ community. Desmund Tutu, a South African Anglican cleric and theologian known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist, once said, “If you are neutral in situations in injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This is how we as a Jewish community feel when most of our non-Jewish friends, family, and acquaintances stay silent about anti-semitism. This is how we feel when we try so hard for you to notice us and to help us, but you don’t. You matter. No matter who you are, you matter.  Your voice matters.

Following the discovery that an online clothing store, Shein, was selling a necklace with a swastika on it, we as a Jewish community have felt alone, as so many of our non-Jewish friends have stayed silent.  I am aware that the necklace that Shein was selling was meant to be the Buddhist swastika, a symbol of peace.  However, it was advertised poorly, and this symbol that had previously been a symbol of peace was corrupted by Hitler and the Nazi party. As Jews, it is hard to see this symbol and think of peace when it has been used as propaganda to wipe out our religious community as a whole.  We as a Jewish community work hard to support our brothers and sisters who are of different identities, cultures, races, and religions. We call these actions tikkun olam, meaning “repair the world.”  But when we need it most, we are left to suffer through and fight against anti-semitism alone.  

I want you to understand that it is never too late. It is okay to realize your mistakes. It is okay to change your mind. It is okay to change your ways because you realized you are wrong.  It is okay to have the tough conversations. In fact, it is needed.

Recently, I had a friend tell me that she was sorry. She was sorry that she had not done enough to fight against anti-Semitism when she had the voice to do so. I responded by giving her my love and telling her that it is not too late to realize this, that it is never too late to realize this. It takes strength to admit to your mistakes, and though it is not always easy, it is necessary in this world.  For just a moment as you read this, don’t listen to the part of yourself that says you need to be perfect.  Don’t listen to the part of yourself that says if you admit to your mistakes people will judge you and you will lose your pride.  Instead, listen to the part of yourself that knows what is right. Listen to the part of yourself that knows the Jewish community will welcome your change of heart and we will not judge you on your lack of participation in the past.  We will never judge you for realizing when you are wrong, because we have done it too.  We have all had to make a change because we have realized we are wrong in some aspect of life.  One of my mom’s favorite quotes is “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong” (Charles Kettering).  Know that by admitting to your past mistakes, you are opening yourself up to love, compassion, and hope for the future of our country and the rest of the world.

We must be heard. We will not stop until we are heard. We will fight until people speak with us rather than against us. We will pay attention. We will see who is helping and we will see who stays silent. We will never stop loving. We will not hate. We will help others who need help. We will not wait to be helped in silence. We will not be threatened into silence. We will not be scared to speak out against all types of hate, spanning far outside of anti-Semitism. We will never pick and choose which types of hate we speak out against. We will not let our passion for our community or other communities fade. We make these promises to you today and every day, and we won’t let you down. Our request to you is that you use your voice and you don’t let us down. Don’t let your pride get in the way of helping. Don’t make us fight alone (though we will if we have to).

You matter, your voice matters, and you can make a difference.

Rachel Bashe is a BBG living in Pittsburgh, PA. She is very involved in her Jewish community and is currently serving on the Social Justice Task Force for her synagogue. Rachel enjoys competitive soccer, as well as traveling and learning about new foods to bake and cook.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors.

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