It Is Easy To Forget

August 7, 2013

I want to commend Simone Ellin for her Opening Thoughts column on racism within the Jewish community (July 26). This topic is rarely discussed, but it is certainly one that needs to be brought to the forefront.

I began to notice the pervasiveness of these racist sentiments in high school, when I first learned about that particular Yiddish racial slur (to which Ellin referred) and heard it used repeatedly among some of my friends. No matter how many times I would say that the use of such language was wrong and disrespectful, they always would shrug off my comments as if it were “no big deal.” I no longer consider those peers my friends. I have also had more than one conversation about how others refuse to see movies at certain theaters because of the “other patrons.” Once I started to learn about derogatory comments made by older adults within my community, I truly began to understand the seriousness of the problem of racism within the Jewish community, especially the unconscious racism to which Ellin referred.

I then flipped to Emily Minton’s article about the new exhibit “Some Were Neighbors” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum regarding the complicity of ordinary people during the Holocaust and the hope that this exhibit will make museum-goers think about the effect of individual choices during the Holocaust rather than solely focusing on Hitler and the Nazi regime. … While I wholly support such an exhibit and believe strongly in its importance, I am nevertheless very saddened at how much complicity still remains in our Jewish community when others face discrimination.

Yes, racial slurs and other such actions may not rise to the same level of horrifying systematic genocide, but many other minorities — particularly African-Americans — have faced terrifying levels of prejudice and violence throughout the entirety of America’s existence simply because of their race or ethnicity.

Given the religious freedoms Jews have (mostly) enjoyed since America’s inception, it is easy to forget, or to never even learn about, the discrimination the Jewish people faced throughout much of the rest of the world for millennia. In reality, the similarities between the Jewish experience and those experiences of other minorities are not as different as you may imagine. Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. captured the feelings of betrayal for any victim of discrimination when he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Complicity and the perpetration of many injustices, especially racial prejudice, go hand in hand. I implore my fellow Jews to rise to the challenge of combating both. Seeing an evening showing of “Fruitvale Station” at the Owings Mills AMC would probably be a good place to start.

Rebekah Kass
Owings Mills

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