by Yale Bowman, Staff Writer
I want to share my experiences of prejudice. I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. Quietly at first, but it was always there. I started my path like anyone else; as a child. But as a Jewish child. I practiced Judaism until the age of 13, when my anxiety toward speaking in public resulted in my young self asking to call off my own Bar Mitzvah (which I had spent years studying for).
From that point on, I discontinued my studies in Judaism, stopped attending temple, and avoided heavy engagement in family religious functions. My dad had moved out and converted back to Christianity shortly after this decision, so this allowed me some extra leniency to do so. Judaism is a religion with origins rooted in mysticism and magick, and although it was not discussed, it must have been conveyed well enough through the stories and remaining rituals, because I began an independent study and practice of occult magick and mysticism at the age of 8, in secret. In this manner I broke from the path of Judaism and began to sail the uncharted waters of a non-denominational spiritual path, rooted deeply in the influences of my past and present lives. I have no regrets regarding the path I ended up on, its brought me to my life’s work, but half of this reason was due to the shame I felt living as a Jew in America. That shame made my choice seem not just easy, but also necessary.
By the time I called off my Bar Mitzvah, I was a non-practicing Jew, and practicing Pagan of Scottish, Irish, Lithuanian (White Russia at the time), and Native American descent. My mother’s family is entirely Jewish; My maternal grandmother’s half came before the Holocaust to the best of my knowledge, and my maternal Grandfather was first generation American. His mother escaped the Holocaust after living in hiding for some time. Her parents were forced to lie about her age when she was brought into the US to avoid rejection at Ellis Island, and she lived her whole life without knowing her true age or date of birth.
I grew up afraid of Nazis. And I never grew up with racism as a young child. I did not experience racism until a much older age, as we had people of color who attended our Temple, and much diversity amongst our family friends and acquaintances. My grandfather worked across Asia for Chinese and Japanese business owners who visited frequently, and this allowed us to have exposure to eastern cultures as well. At a young age the children of my family were well acquainted with the themes of equality and acceptance, and I was more than interested in the backgrounds and cultures of the world. I studied and study them often. I listened fondly to the stories about my Native American grandmother and her sisters, my great, great aunts, and pressed my dad and now passed uncle to reveal their memories of her work and teachings as a spiritualist.
It was not until 3rd or 4th grade that I experienced prejudice, and it happened in my elementary school.
Being Jewish usually means being white in America, but we were never truly accepted as such. Antisemitism is an interesting form of hate to observe, because it is instantaneous upon the realization of ones background and/or beliefs. If someone antisemitic knows you are Jewish, they may make their hate or ignorance, or discomfort with you, known upfront. If they do not realize right away, they may engage in antisemitic conversation in front of you, or WITH you without realizing. Growing up, there were many times that people would project antisemitic hate without realizing who was listening, only to have other friends point out that I was Jewish, or WE were Jewish. I never spoke up myself. I was afraid of antisemitism. It had been responsible for the attempted gene pool cleansing of my culture all over Europe. Usually, apologies were not given, but when they were the damage had already been done. I began to realize I had white skin, but I was not white in the traditional American sense.
To be Jewish is to be an outsider; an often disliked culture within a country that is bound in terms of mostly skin-based inequality. It is a weird middle-ground to stand on. We had white skin, maybe a bit darker tan, but we were visually, virtually white. This didn’t matter to the nice family we had over to my grandparents house one year; After coming to join us for dinner, they began to realize we were Jewish, and made it very clear to everyone in our family at the dinner table, during the middle of our meal, that we would all be burning in hell for an eternity. Another time, an electrician came to repair our laundry room light fixture. He began talking about his love of being a Neo-Nazi, and my mom then quickly hid our Menorahs and other religious objects. This was a fear of life and death, and this man had no idea he had just expressed his acceptance and active support of the movement which drove my great-grandmother and her family from their home country to save their own lives.
Jewish hate is not strictly white though. It was for me when I was young, but as I grew up I began to see more, and more non-white anti-antisemitism. As a teenager I began to experience this same treatment from not just WASP individuals, but also from people of color. I could not understand this until I began to understand the ignorance that rests behind that sort of hate, and that realization occurred after/during a beautiful spiritual conversation with a wonderful black woman in a T-Mobile store. We talked about the state of racism in this country, the male-dominated culture, the need for equality. The woman took my hand and said “Honey, it’s so good to talk like this, we indigenous people always recognize each other even though we all a bit different.” It was a great conversation for both of us, she was a very sweet woman.
She wasn’t wrong, I have some indigenous background, but she continued by saying something along the lines of “Now if we can do something about all the Jews who control the money and steal all of the gold!” She explained to me in-depth how the Wizard of Oz movie was truly about the plan of the Jews; to control America, and the World, by hoarding gold and financial assets, promoting a New World Order.
In her appreciation of my views against prejudice and a prejudiced society, this woman overlooked that fact that my background was a bit different, despite my drawing similar conclusions. I’m pretty damn white as far as appearances go, like entirely white, so whether she somehow took my slightly browner complexion than most white individuals as an indicator of my diversity, or just based her assumption solely in my views, she had mistakenly outed herself as being a bigot while doing so. This interaction still baffles me. It makes no sense. But hate makes no logical sense, it is personal not rational. I won’t attribute responsibility for anything to one cultural group, I see it as a slippery slope.
That day my heart broke, because I realized that even among other minorities I felt shame. Some of the same people who had been enslaved as we were said to have been long, long ago, and some of the same people who were treated so cruelly, beyond cruelly, actually hate Jews as their white oppressors do. Whites and non-whites have told me face to face that they personally deny the Holocaust ever occurring. I’ve been told by both white and non-white Christians that Judaism is based in worship of the devil, despite sharing a common god and the same base-cultural ties to Christ. I’ve been personally blamed and shamed for the death of Christ by both white and non-white Christians as well, as ridiculous as that sounds. I’ve been shamed for the simple act of growing up Jewish and stamped as a “Jew” (This is a slur from the ill-intentioned mouth) despite having a diverse spiritual belief system.
I was always a quiet Jew, and while I don’t practice Judaism today, I was still born in a Jewish culture that shapes the customs, beliefs, lifestyle, and structure of my maternal and immediate family. I’m no longer a practicing Jew, and I’m no longer so quiet, but this shaped my life. I am Jewish, I am of a Jewish descent, and that I cannot wash off. It may look acceptable to some hateful people in a certain light, but it will never go away. I still feel shame for that, despite knowing its wrong to feel that way. I still feel like an outsider for it, because almost any time I disclosed myself in the past I was either met with anti-semitism, or incredible discomfort. Not just from white Americans, but from non-Jewish Americans of many colors.
What happened in Charlottesville is an example of my worst nightmare growing up: A Nazi/KKK Riot. But this is also unmasked hatred, and it is unprotested by the government. Now, it is happening, and it feels surreal. Am I to be rounded up one day for my cultural background, here in the USA? And the one thing I can’t drive from my mind has been there all these years; hate runs deep. It runs so deep that it defies logic, and it is all based in ignorance. Ignorance is not bound to white people, we ALL carry prejudice. I have seen a lot of great expression on the Charlottesville events by people of color in this country, but I have seen much less outward expression from the Jewish community. I believe this is in part because we Jews are accustomed to not saying anything, and have a more passive role in white oppression through this silence and our access to certain white privileges. Saying something means saying, “It’s true, we aren’t like you, and we don’t like this.” Some of us probably Voted for Trump, too. I didn’t. I like seeing people of all backgrounds throwing in their views, and I want to throw in my perspective because I come from a community that has been somewhat quiet. I don’t speak for them, but I speak as someone who has been on the receiving end of antisemitic hate most of my life.
For me, personally, I want to take the opportunity to identify that for the first time in history we have a very common enemy in the same space and time. This leaves me conflicted, because I don’t believe in having enemies, but I also don’t believe in hate. I especially don’t believe in hate among those who are the targets of it. As a Jewish, Native American, Pagan man who is also White, I take offense to hatred of any form, and I find, as many of you have, that I still don’t fit in here in America. Despite my white skin, I don’t fit in.
This hate we are facing is bigger than color, this is based in human decency. If we are not decent to each other, all of us, things will never be decent. I am happy to see people of all backgrounds and colors choosing to stand together at a Nazi rally, because that’s the way it should be. The “white folks” who eradicated and tortured our kinds have never gone away, just become more careful and selective with their voice. This recent riot proves it, as they still exist in numbers. But all the hate in the world has been pooled in the US, for quite some time now. There is one group who hates EVERYONE, by logic even themselves, as their families are immigrants and did not originate on this land. They carry a hate so irrational it threatens the existence of all culture in America.
America has no original culture aside from that of the native people who were born here. White imperial America steals culture, or “integrates” culture, and hides the source. Often while shaming the sources. All “non-white’ culture is being threatened, and the threat is pretty unified. The less “white people” who stand for this, the better, but we need to further unify the culture of diversity. The only ones who really understand hate, are the ones who live and have lived on the receiving end. No matter what you think to be true about the other group, one thing is DEFINITELY true: white supremacy wants to cleanse this country of our kinds.
The Imperialists and Nazis that killed my family are the slave masters who killed yours, the ones who call all Muslims terrorists, and the ones who deport anyone with brown skin. If they weren’t from the same group originally, they’ve surely all fucked each other continuously by now because here they are. And here we all are. We, the Diverse People of the United States, don’t have to all fuck each other to survive. But we should appreciate each others’ struggles and say “No More!” I see that happening, but I want to feel it happening somewhere DEEP DOWN in the collective consciousness.
I want to speak out and say: let us, the younger generations, end this. Bigots and racists have always been at fault, but we need to stop playing their game, and all call ourselves on our own shit while we deal with the real threats. Our self awareness and societal awareness is the strength and gift of our generation, of young America.
I believe that it is true, race is a social construct. And because it is a social construct, it is meant to construct us socially, and in turn divide us. I would like to see people be proud of their heritage, endlessly proud, but the human race is one we all belong to, and if you can reject hate and project equality, love, and acceptance, I think you belong. And I don’t feel the need to divide us by our cultures or colors, I just want to celebrate you while you celebrate me. I believe we all can celebrate each other without forgetting to be aware of ourselves, and without forgetting who we are. There are dark forces at play that seek division in any form, as division is the downfall of unity. We need a global unity that advocates for human rights, lets start here and now.
I understand that hate is based in skin, but it is not entirely based in skin. It IS entirely based in ignorance. And hate is a personal choice. Let’s all do a mental sweep, even those of us in the minorities. We are stronger together, I believe that. And to anyone, if White Supremacy looks nice, Mars looks nice too, so consider colonizing it without space helmets. I’ll hold your beer…
To all the nice white people, I appreciate you, but you will never understand first-hand what it feels to be threatened for who you are, unless you are a woman. That being said, it’s okay. As a Jew I have both enjoyed white privilege and endured fearful prejudice within the same five minutes, gone from “us” to “them” in an instant, and some of you nice white people were the only ones who stood up for me when I wouldn’t stand up for myself. The great thing is that you don’t need to understand first hand, just understand that any tolerance and any silence is permissive. This is my refusal of silence, with all things considered. And if you don’t like the wording, or if you choose to deny or dispute some of the details, that’s fine; just remember that I am speaking.