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In Defense Of The Star Of David

When my grandparents gave me a Star of David necklace in elementary school, they did not mention Israel.

A few years later, they told me about my family members who survived and died in the Holocaust, and the Star of David they were required to wear on their clothing. Still, no utterance of the Jewish State.

At a relatively diverse middle school, classmates saw me as an “other” for what hung around my neck. By the end of sixth grade, I took my Star of David off. I stopped mentioning holidays I celebrated. I refused to go to Hebrew school. I was embarrassed to have a Bat Mitzvah, because I thought no one would come.

I would bet my life savings that if you went back and asked these 11 year olds to define Zionism, they couldn’t.

By the middle of college, I rediscovered my Jewish identity and wanted to express it. I could’ve bought a chai or a hamzah necklace. Those were, after all, less “controversial” Jewish symbols. The state that hundreds of people at my school protest doesn’t have a chai or a hamzah on its flag. Those symbols don’t run the risk of offending anyone, or cause people to make assumptions about my views on the modern Zionist movement.

But I wanted liberation from my adolescent shame. I wanted to honor my grandparents. And I wanted to re-appropriate the star that was used to oppress and systematically target my people less than a century ago. So, I bought my second Star of David necklace as a Chanukah present for myself last winter, and let people think what they wanted.

In the spring, I helped chair my Hillel’s Pride Shabbat, and one of my duties was to make marketing materials for the event. Here’s what that looked like:

Image by Courtesy Amanda Booth

For a split second, I worried that people would assume that we would tie this act of allyship to Israel (We didn’t, FYI). I yearned for the time when I was blind to attempts of non-Jews to explain what Jewish symbols should mean to me. Luckily, we didn’t receive backlash for using the Star of David to showcase Jewish solidarity. However, as many people in the Jewish community know, not everyone’s that fortunate.

When I heard the news of the Chicago Dyke March asking Jewish members of the LGBTQ community to leave because the Star of Davids on their respective rainbow flags made anti-Zionists feel “unsafe,” I had no words. Just reintroduced pain of blatant anti-Semitism and the hope that — like my middle school bullies who grew up to be decent people — these people will understand how they caused a community harm if we approach them with our honest narratives.

To be clear, I am not attempting to downplay triggers. But to call a rainbow flag with a Star of David a trigger for anti-Zionists undermines the identities of queer Jews and Jews who don’t identify as Zionists, but still view the Star of David as integral to their Judaism.

Like many of my Jewish friends (especially my queer Jewish friends) I am angry and I am scared that Jewish people are oversimplified and stereotyped by a segment of the political spectrum that works to fight back against the dehumanization of other minorities.

My progressive values and my Jewish values are practically one in the same. To put it simply, they both drive me to repair the world. Oddly enough, I believe I have this in common with many people who support the decision of the Dyke March. I genuinely believe that anyone who defines their activism as intersectional can understand where we as a community are coming from.

Morally, we are entitled to this. Every faith, race, sexuality, and gender is entitled to this. But a sad truth that has been pervasive throughout our history as a Jewish people is that we have to fight for this.

To me, that means leaning into conversations that make me uncomfortable and challenge me intellectually. It means putting my body on the line for those who need it the most. But it also means that while doing so, I explain to fellow members of “The Left” how anti-Semitism functions. It means teaching them that the Star of David holds much more value for our people than the centerpiece of Israel’s flag. Most importantly, it means being unapologetically, publicly Jewish.

I don’t claim to know the ultimate remedy to anti-semitism, but after the Dyke March, I have a renewed sense to urgency to work to figure out if there is one.

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