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‘I never forgot and I never again felt as safe’ — readers share the most antisemitic things that ever happened to them

There were dozens of stories — dozens! — of being called a dirty Jew or a Christ-killer, mostly in the tender days of elementary school. Many reported being asked about their horns — not in a joking way. Even more recalled someone bragging about having “Jewed down” an opponent in negotiations.

Ten days ago, I wrote a column about the most antisemitic thing that had ever happened to me, which was when a drunk British barrister said he should have figured I’d be the one to cut a buffet line, because I’m Jewish. I invited readers to share their worst-ever antisemitic experiences, and a flood poured in: 197 by Sunday morning, more than 44,000 words worth.

Some recalled being denied access to jobs, college admissions, neighborhoods or clubs back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Some were harassed online or attacked physically in just the last few years. Several military veterans shared harsh encounters; several civilians spoke of love spurned or dates gone awry.

Many had overheard offensive remarks because they were not visibly Jewish. Many had been told they do not look or act Jewish, whatever those mean.

Mickie Weiss said she considered the bomb threats and building evacuations she lived through while working for a Jewish organization, but decided they were ultimately not as hurtful as what she experienced as a social-j ustice activist over the last 20 years.

“No matter what the issue, there appears a faction of anti-Israel protesters seeming to suddenly overtake the rally or march,” Weiss wrote. “And the chanting would turn to generalized antisemitism — at which point I would sadly slip out of the crowd feeling as though my power and voice as a U.S. citizen were being taken away from me”

As I wrote in my own column, many readers noted that these experiences paled in comparison to what our ancestors had suffered or what many people of color continue to grapple with in our communities today. A couple even chastised me for posing the question, suggesting it was sensationalism or distracting from more pernicious problems.

But antisemitism is real and, according to the Anti Defamation League and the police in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, rising. Such statistics never tell the whole story. I wanted to see what antisemitism looks like, feels like — what sticks with us. And many readers thanked us for asking.

Some sent a simple anecdote while other emails went on for many paragraphs or pages. Even decades-old experiences were recalled with cinematic detail. Some had told their stories over and over through the years, others had never before shared what happened to them. And people wrote as much about the aftermath as the incidents — pride or shame in having stood up in the face of hate, or not.

“I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time,” wrote Irv Osterer, an educator from Canada. “Thanks for the opportunity to air it out.”

The excerpts below have been edited for clarity and length.

’I didn’t even understand what that meant’

Anna Levy: I was a sophomore in high school and my friend’s boyfriend was annoyed that I spoke up in defense of my friend while they were disagreeing about something. He responded, “If that dirty Jew ever talks to me like that again, I’m going to tell her to lock herself up and die in a gas chamber.”

Akiva M. Shoulta: I am in the military. I am not considered Orthodox, but I do hold some Orthodox practice; I have a beard and wear a kippah while in uniform.

One day while waiting in line (in uniform) at the post office, someone came up to me and asked if I liked the Navy. We started a small conversation, and they asked about my last name. I said, “I am Jewish,” to which they responded, “Oh you wouldn’t like me very much then, my family is German.”

I said, “So was mine.” The response I got from this was foaming-at-the-mouth anger and an incomprehensible stream of insults. I ended up saying something not at all poetic and just left.

This was in broad daylight, in public. Nobody came to my defense, although it all happened so quickly I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Jeffrey Gersh: In 1980, when I was in 5th grade in Lithonia, Georgia, I had a classmate threaten that he was going to “blow my face off” with a shotgun because I was a dirty Jew and a Christ-killer. I didn’t even understand what that meant and had to have the entire concept of “deicide” explained to me and how this was a common trope and bigotry used among certain groups of Christians.

Of course, the year before, I was made to sit in the hallway during the Christmas Party, so they wouldn’t offend me.

And in or around 2007, living in New Orleans, I actually had someone ask if they could feel the horns on my head. I thought they were joking; they were not. “

They weren’t being nasty or anything of the sort, he sincerely thought that Jews had slight cranial protrusions as part of our ethnic make-up! He knew they weren’t actual “horns,” but that there would be bumps on my head where horns might be.

Paul Newman

Courtesy of Paul Newman

Bette Cabot: I was the treasurer of my bowling league. At the annual end-of-season dinner, I approached my teammate to ask for money for his spouse. He said he’ll get to it. He then proceeded to scream at me that I was a rotten Jew bitch, all I cared about was money, and he said it more than once. I stood there horrified, mouth open, tears in my eyes, finished.

’It always starts with words’

Erika Blumberg: I was at a gas station in Phoenicia, N.Y., on New Year’s Eve. A woman came in and was commiserating with the cashier, saying, “It must be a tough night in here, New Year’s Eve”. The cashier responded, “If I can handle 50 Jews in here at a time, I can handle New Year’s Eve”.

I froze. I knew I had to say something but I didn’t want to look her in the eye. So I stopped before the door and said: “By the way, I’m Jewish. Happy Holidays”.

You could hear a pin drop.

Phoenicia has plenty of Reform and secular Jews, and nearby Woodstock has many more. But there is also a town nearby where there are many Orthodox Jews, so I think this cashier assumed that all Jews look like that.

Laurie Pollack: In 2019, I received 1,500 negative replies on a tweet that called former President Trump a racist.

I had a small number of followers on Twitter and could not figure out why it got such a big response. I only found out later that my name, photo and quoted tweets had been posted on an antisemitic list on the platform Telegram as propaganda claiming Jews were conducting a major conspiracy to destroy the white race.

I was truly shaken. I was one of a large group of names so I didn’t really feel singled out and I continued with my life. But still in the back of my head was: what if a follower of his decided to take things a step further?

The shooting in Pittsburgh, the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd (and so many other Black Americans) put this in perspective for me as relatively minor: I am safe and well and am not a person who is targeted for the color of my skin or hungry.

But antisemitism is real and harmful and sometimes deadly, and I now view it as my duty to call it out when I can. And it always starts with words, whether spoken or written or in virtual space.

Nicole Liberman Gann: Back in 1993, at UCLA, I started working on getting recommendations for law school. I asked a professor with whom I took two upper level courses, and from whom I had received two As.

He agreed to write the recommendation, and even asked to read over my essay. After giving me some good feedback on the essay, he pronounced that I should apply to Fordham because “a lot of my people were there.”

Irv Osterer: I grew up in Ottawa, Canada — and attended a parochial Jewish day school. I never knew antisemitism existed until I entered a public high school. I was completely unprepared for any of it. I didn’t understand that having IRVING as my surname was akin to having JEW tattooed on my forehead. A classmate took it upon himself to throw pennies at me. I was all of 13 years old.

Early in my teaching career in our public school system, I had one student threaten my family. The school said it was nothing. I called the police and they dealt with it very efficiently. I had another tell me that he wished I was burned in the ovens with the rest of the Jews. It was the only time in a 40-year career that I sent a student to the office.

Antisemitic graffiti on synagogue

Antisemitic graffiti is written on the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine on October 31, 2018 in Irvine, California. By Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

But the one antisemitic event that you are asking your readers for happened to me in 2016. I was an administrator at a public secondary school and spent half my day as a teacher-librarian. The library was being updated to be more digital, and one library technician, a Polish immigrant, was very unsettled by the changes. I’d worked with her for years, exchanged holiday cards, attended her husband’s funeral; she had told me some of her best friends were Jewish.

She needed someone to take her frustrations out on — and it was me. She accused me of orchestrating all the changes. I let her vent, and after I had given ample time to air her grievances, I  told her that it had nothing to do with me, and advised her to take the matter up with the school administration. I told her that the discussion was closed.

She then looked straight at me and said: I knew there must have been a good reason that Jews were disliked all over Europe.

I worry how my children will deal with these kinds of things.

’The sting has always stayed with me’

Norman Simms: Several years ago I wrote an essay for a journal in Romania and worked with the editor to knock it into shape. Then a few weeks later he wrote to apologize: the committee said they could not print my work. “It was too Jewish and too Zionist,” he said.

“But,” I wrote back, “you know it has nothing to do with Zionism and only a few lines about Judaism.” He responded: “It doesn’t matter. You are a Jew and a Zionist.” He couldn’t fight for me because he would lose his job.

Hillel Goldstein: I was shot multiple times by a neo-Nazi in Chicago as I walked from shul to my then-home on Friday evening, July 2, 1999. The terrorist went on to maim and kill in Illinois and Indiana. His atrocities were covered locally, nationally, and internationally.

Please, avoid googling this without a filter. Jew-haters et al. still link to various associated articles.

Mark Weinberger: It was almost 40 years ago but the sting has always stayed with me,

I was on a boat with many friends crabbing and one of my friends wife was recounting a story on her success in getting a good deal on a recent purchase when she nonchalantly said “ I really Jew’d him down.”

Wow, she said that in spite of the fact that she knew many of the others on our small boat were Jewish. It just rolled off her tongue.

I also to this day continue to be upset, not because of her stupid remark but because I remained silent, albeit stunned. I should have called her out

ANONYMOUS: When I was online dating in the 2010s, I used to receive no small number of messages making an issue of my being Jewish in one way or another.

Most of these were from white non-Jews or South Asian Muslims trying to figure out whether I was a Zionist — and Zionism was always assumed to be an inherently right-wing and racist ideology. (For the record, I do consider myself a Zionist — but I am also progressive; I’m anti-occupation and have been deeply critical of much of Israeli policy over the last 15 years.)

Norma Klein: One evening about five years ago, when we were living in Germany, I heard noises coming from the stairwell. I opened the door just a crack and immediately noticed the smell of paint; I discovered two men outside who were painting swastikas all over the hallway and up the stairs towards my door.

Man with kippah

Man wearing kippah stands in front of the Brandenburg Gate on May 20, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. By Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Tina Moje I was told that I was the most unJewish Jewish person my sister-in-law met because I don’t go to get my hair done regularly; I hate shopping and do not wear the latest trends; I don’t polish my nails; I don’t wear jewelry; I have money but drive a 16-year-old Honda. I have a hammer in my purse.

Susan Etscovitz: The most anti semitic thing I ever heard is that criticizing the settler colonial regime is antisemitic. That I am a self-hating Jew because I believe in equal rights and freedom for all people and Palestinians are people, not just fodder for ethnic cleansing and weapons testing.

Jews are entitled to freedom of speech, including freedom to boycott in America like everyone else. I pledge no allegiance to Israel or it’s collaborators including the U.S. government. Antisemitism exists and is horrible like all forms of hate and bigotry, but it is NOT criticism of Israel and conflating the two does not help eradicate the real scourge.

’Barely anyone looked up from their phones’

Moshe Siegel: Spring, 2009: A man sucker-punched me when I wasn’t looking, right in the head, and screamed “go back to Crown Heights.” He was a white man, age 60-70, fully gray, with a white beard.

It happened as I was standing on the No. 6 train platform in Union Square subway station. I wear a black hat and am visibly Jewish, but I am not Lubavitch. At the time, I’d only even been to Crown Heights once in my life.

I gave chase, screaming, “That man just punched me!” Not one person did one thing to stop him, or help me. Barely anyone looked up from their phones.

What upset me the most wasn’t that he hit me, I’ve been subjected to many antisemetic incidents in my life. What upset me was how there were dozens of witnesses, and not a single one cared enough to even ask me if I was OK. It was a stinging reminder that some people hate Jews, but everyone hates the Orthodox.

Elaine Cohen: Time: 1944, I was 11 years old. Place: P.S. 108, Bronx, N.Y.

I was in 6th grade and Andrew, a student in my class, began to follow me as I walked home from school. He pelted me with rocks or snowballs, depending upon the season, while yelling a variety of antisemitic epithets.

After many weeks of this, I told my parents what was going on. My father, a teacher at another public school, took an unpaid afternoon off and came to my school and spoke with the principal. After my father left, the principal called both me and Andrew into her office.

She then said to me: “Elaine, there must be something else wrong with you besides being Jewish.”

Roberta Gold: How short is our memory! When I grew up, antisemitism was systemic, expected and socially accepted.

In my high school, Yom Kippur was not an excused absence. Black girls made the cheerleading squad, but not Jews. Non-Jewish guys would not ask me out.

The cities had Jewish country clubs because Jews were not accepted as members at establishment clubs.I recall my family being rejected as guests at an upscale hotel that did not allow Jews.

And, of course Jewish hospitals and Jewish law firms were established because many of these Jewish professionals were not readily hired otherwise.

Josh Tolle: In Columbus, Ohio, the spring of 2014, I was walking to a concert with two friends. It was midafternoon on one of the city’s main streets. Although I had stopped wearing my kippah a couple years before, my friends still wore theirs.

Up ahead, a line of people spilled out of a bar doorway. Near the front of the line was a large, bald white man who began to eye us. As we approached, conversing unselfconsciously, the man yelled, “Hey, Jewboys!” It was all we needed to start crossing the street, right there in the middle of the road, traffic coming from both directions.

Behind us, the man continued to yell: “You want to hear a joke? It’s about little Jewboys who get put in ovens! Aren’t you interested?” He was not manic or agitated, but calm and collected, as if his joke really were funny, as his snickering companions seemed to suggest.

His laughter followed us across the street. Strangely, my friends and I didn’t stop talking; in fact, we hardly glanced at the man, remaining intent on our conversation instead. And after we crossed safely, we didn’t stop to discuss what had just happened. Nor did we a few blocks on. Or after the concert that evening.

It was like we couldn’t admit what had happened, even among ourselves, though I assume their hearts, like mine, pounded away inside until much, much later.

Michael Schulder: As an undergrad at Columbia College, my mezuzah was ripped off my dorm room doorpost. I was rattled by this, but I didn’t set afire the Twitterverse (it was 1977); nor did I involve the president of Columbia (whom I had gotten to know).

What I did was put up another mezuzah, which stayed unmolested the rest of the year, and that was that.

Barbara Frank: When I was in kindergarten in Stuebenville, Ohio I was told that I killed Jesus. I became hysterical. Me? I never killed anyone. I would never kill anyone. I didn’t even know Jesus.

’My security had been shattered’

ANONYMOUS: As a Hasidic Jew, I’ve experienced my fair share of antisemitic incidents. Growing up, it was mostly “Dirty Jew!” yelled at us from passing cars as we walked to shul on Shabbos morning. Rattling certainly, but mostly harmless. “Go back to Palestine!” was another epithet, along with “Go back to Germany!” neither of which I could ever understand.

When I moved from my native Australia to New York City, I experienced antisemitism of a different kind. Two years ago, as I walked down a Brooklyn street past midnight, blissfully unaware of my surroundings as I chatted on the phone, three young African-Americans came up behind me. With a powerful blow, one of them knocked me to the ground. I lay on the floor for a second, as I processed what had happened.

My security had been shattered. Never had I imagined my personal space would be invaded in such a violent way.

They said nothing. They took nothing. They attacked me because I was a Jew. More than the stinging blow they landed me, the pain of being brutally beaten in the street will never go away. Lying bleeding and helpless in the gutter, like generations of my ancestors in Eastern Europe, while on the streets of New York City, a city of progressivism and tolerance, shocked me. It hurt. And it still does.

Rick Levy: I attended what was supposed to be a secular Christmas-season office luncheon. But just as we were about to start eating, the department supervisor turned to one of my coworkers, a lay preacher, and asked him if he would like to lead us in a Christmas prayer, to which he eagerly consented.

They both knew I was the only Jew there and asked me if I would like to leave the room and return when the grace was finished. By turning the party into a religious occasion, they evidently didn’t care about what an awkward position they were putting me in, especially with everyone watching (about 15 co-workers) to see what I would do.

Rabbi Robin Nafshi: Eighteen days after the shootings in Pittsburgh in 2018, a neo-Nazi/white supremacist in New Hampshire posted a list online of the “10 most anti-white people in N.H.” He targeted immigration activists, including one from my congregation; Christian clergy who were active in the Poor People’s campaign; others doing activist work, and me — simply noting that I was a lesbian rabbi.

Robin Nafshi

Robin Nafshi Courtesy of Robin Nafshi

For the next many months, on a white supremacist website, he frequently posted about me, including my photo, and a photo of the synagogue’s building. He’d call me the “Despicable Jew of the Day” or write about my being Jewish and Lesbian.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, 18 days after he began posting about me, the local police contacted me that they had received information from federal law enforcement that someone was in our town threatening to kill “every f—-ing Jew in Concord, N.H.” He was eventually identified, arrested, and sent to our state psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Debby Garbose Loewenberg: I was 6 years old. My neighbor, who was 4, saw me outside my house near her yard. She challenged me and said, “ I dare you to step on my grass.” Of course I decided to do it.

She ran into her house and her mom quickly came out and immediately pulled me up in the air by my collar and said; “You dirty little rotten Jew, get off my land,” and dropped me to the ground.

I learned that day that she was a horrible person. It turned me into a very strong person. I’ve never written this experience on paper. Thanks for the opportunity!

[email protected]: When I went in to register my 5-year-old son at Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School in Berkeley, the people in the register’s office presented me with a form that asked for my son’s religion. I checked the “Jewish” box.

The vice principal came out, looked at the form that I had submitted and addressed me as we were leaving. He said “is this your son, Nils?” I responded “yes, he is.” He laughed and said, “Oh, your son doesn’t look Jewish at all. And your last name – Skudra – that doesn’t sound like a Jewish name.”

I was stunned and ended up reporting the incident to the higher-ups at the school district. Sadly, nothing was ever done about it. I was told that the vice principal was just making a joke and “being playful.”

On numerous occasions, both my son and I have seen swastikas on buildings on the U.C. Berkeley campus. We reported it to campus authorities. Only days later, they reappeared on the inside and outside of campus buildings.

My son, while an undergraduate student at U.C. Berkeley, told me that numerous Asian female students had told him that they “wanted to land a Jewish man because they always ended up rich and were good with money.”

Anti-semitism is everywhere. Just never expected it in Berkeley.

Steve Frank: My favorite involves the popular high-school quarterback who regularly dropped his jock strap over my head on his way to the shower in the locker room. Finally, on the last day of our senior year, he stopped by the bench where I was sitting, flung his arm around my shoulder in a neighborly fashion and pronounced in a thick Texas accent: “Steve, you’re a Jew, but you’re funny.”

Then there was my high-school chemistry teacher, who used to pass me in chemistry lab and “jokingly” caution me not to get too close to the bunson burner, saying: “You people don’t like gas.”

I was constantly being asked where I was from. I always replied “Texas,” having been born in Houston. This was generally followed by the typical follow-up: “Yeah, but BEFORE that” or alternatively, “Yeah, but where are YOUR PEOPLE from?”

’It was so unexpected and shocking’

Nancy Siegel: It was the 1960s and I was a junior high school student in Palo Alto, California. I had a crush on a boy at school named Steve and was so happy when he asked me to go on a double date to a matinee movie.

It was a World War II film we saw, and Steve and I started chatting about the movie and the war as we walked home. Suddenly he turned to me and said in an angry, venomous voice, “I hate Jews. I wish Hitler had killed them all.”

It was so unexpected and shocking. My mother had lost family in the Holocaust, so I knew how far this kind of hatred could go. My surname before I was married was not a “Jewish” name. I realized then that Steve didn’t know I was Jewish.

He was waiting for me to agree with him. Of course I couldn’t agree. But I couldn’t fight him, either. I could barely get a word out. I was terrified as we walked the rest of the way home, even though Steve had moved on to other topics.

I didn’t tell my mother or anyone else at the time. Somehow, I was deeply ashamed that I had admired this boy and longed for his attention and had not detected the kind of person he really was.

Praying in front of the Tree of Life synagogue

People pray together in front of at a memorial for victims of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6 at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 29, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Miranda Outman: In 1993, I spent a semester in Spain. A friend introduced me to a writer, the writer bought me a drink, and somehow, we were in the back corner of a bar when he told me I had to have sex with him because I was Jewish, and “Jewish women are warm and passionate.”

I got home, nothing happened, but just for minute, I didn’t see a way out.

Alison Mann: When I was in 7th grade in Maine, I had the job of selling lunch tickets to the junior high students. I devised a system where I held my left hand out for the quarter (it was a long time ago!) and my right hand would dip into the box, get the lunch ticket, and present this to the student, and the quarter would be placed into the change box at the same time. There was always a line of students and this method was efficient and fast.

One day, a boy stood in front of me and said, “Just like all the Jews in Lewiston. Always have your hand out for money.” I was shocked and had no idea what to say. He got his lunch ticket and moved on.

I finished my job, and walked to the principal’s office. I was shaking and close to tears as I asked the secretary to speak to the principal. She ushered me into his office, closed the door, and he listened to me as I related what happened.

He told me that he was glad I had come to him, and that he was sorry that I had to be faced with someone making comments like that. He assured me that he would take care of it. And he did.

When I got home, the principal had already called my mother. He told her that he had spoken to the boy in his office, and had suspended him for two days from school to have time to “think over his remarks”. He also spoke to the boy’s parents.

I thought then that the boy would probably hate Jews even more, and me in particular. But I couldn’t be silent.

‘I’m ashamed to say I did nothing’

Jonathan Segal: One day 20 years ago, there were so few off-season visitors to the Iron Horse champagne winery in California’s Sonoma Valley that the very gracious owner, who happens to be Jewish, gave my wife and me a personal tour, even opening up some samples from that year’s vintage, over and above what they usually do. When I remarked on this to the local girl behind the counter at the winery gift shop, she said, “Oh, him — he just likes to play the Jewish piano”.

“The what?” I stammered.

“Oh, you know — the cash register”, she smirked.

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do, or say — I’m ashamed to say I did nothing.

I could’ve gotten her fired in five minutes, by finding the owner and telling him, but I didn’t. I could’ve demanded an apology, but I didn’t. I could’ve railed at her for being so stupid as to insult Jews without even realizing that a Jew was standing right in front of her.— but I didn’t.

Since then I’ve replayed the scenario in my mind a hundred times, rehearsing what I’d say to her if I had another chance, and my failure to do or say anything to her is a source of shame to this day.

Paul Fried: First full day at basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, on St Patrick’s Day, 1962. Going for a mandatory haircut. Barber turns to me and says, “You’re Jewish?” I said yes. He said: “Where are your HORNS?” I told him I had them filed way down, but if he looked very closely he could perhaps find them.

After a few seconds he said, “Good job of filing, aren’t visible anymore.”

Naneen Levine: I was in law school in L.A. in the 1980s, and a guy a year ahead of my friend and I offered her his study notes for exams. As he was handing them to her, he stopped and said: “One condition, you don’t share this with any Jews.”

My friend calmly handed them back to him and said, “Some of my best friends are Jewish — like my mother and my father.”

I was so impressed by my friend’s response. I’ve told this story numerous times since, especially to my own kids when they were growing up.

David Feder: I’m 63 and grew up in Texas in the early 1960s. I was 10 before I knew my name wasn’t, “Hey, Jew-boy Christ-killer!”

So, was the worst antisemitism I ever experienced being hit in the head by a shower of rocks from fellow students screaming, “Jew, Jew!” or was it from the teachers and students who verbally, emotionally, and even physically abused me with open hostility toward my Jewishness?

Or was it lost jobs from overtly antisemitic bosses, or even from the people I still encounter who pick fights with me when they see this kippah-wearing Jew out in public?

Was it from my secular days, by the pretty Gentile girl whom I fancied and who fancied me, telling me not to let them “Jew me down” while we were on our mutually desired first night out — a date that ended early because I was so sick to my stomach over what she said?

None of those incidents can compare to the pain when I see or read or watch on TV fellow Jews spewing out parroted falsehoods about Israel and their fellow Jews.

‘I just internalized the pain’

Melanie Springer: When I was in high school, I woke up one winter morning and looked out my bedroom window. I saw that it had snowed but the plow hadn’t been by to clean the driveway.

Someone had stomped out the word Jew in huge letters. I was stunned I felt shame and a deep fear that my parents would see it. I wanted to protect them from being hurt.

I never mentioned it and if my parents or brother saw it, they didn’t either. By the time I left for school, it had been plowed under. In the end, I did nothing. Nothing was ever said…. But I never forgot and I never again felt as safe as I had always felt.

Burning swastika neo-Nazis

Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning after a rally on April 21, 2018 in Draketown, Georgia. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Remy Rosen: During a seven-year stint living in Tel Aviv, I came back to New York for a visit. At a house party of a Jewish friend on the Upper West Side, I somehow got roped into a conversation with a particularly offensive guest.

He overheard that I was living in Israel. At first he was encouraging and even told me how he has many Jewish friends. Then his tone sharply changed. He flat out told me that he thinks it is “disgusting how Israelis go around murdering Palestinian babies in the streets.” My heart was racing. My face turned red. I started sweating profusely.

I tried to have a real conversation with him, tell him how I’m a fellow liberal, and how I support and advocate equality for all people in Israel—including Palestinians wherever they live. But my attempts fell on deaf ears. He continued with the regular rigamarole of how Jews control all the money and power, and how the Jews are the new Nazis and how Israel must be stopped. Very hurtful to someone whose three grandparents barely survived the Holocaust.

For years I regretted how I handled the situation. The party was comprised of mostly gay liberal men, as I am. However, the guy hurling the openly antisemitic jabs at me had the added layer of being Black. Being very sympathetic and sensitive to the Black experience and their own trauma, I didn’t know how to navigate the delicate situation and power dynamic. Instead, I just internalized the pain and walked away.

Swastika graffiti in synagogue

A Jewish worshipper prays near a large Swastika that desecrates the Grand Synagogue May 4, 2006 in Petah Tikva in central Israel. By David Silverman/Getty Images

Nechamah Goldfarb: When I was living in a cottage in county Kildare a nosy woman who had a big house nearby came to visit to see who had moved in. She told me that she had just been in many countries, and the only downside of her trip was that there were Jews everywhere.

“I went to England, there were Jews. I went to Scotland, there were Jews. I went to see the holy father in Rome, there were Jews. I went to the holy land, there were Jews…”

Once she said that, it riled me to the point of no return, and so I said, “Well, you can go to hell; there won’t be any Jews there!” She stared at me for a minute, then started laughing and laughing, and went on her way.

I don’t know if she was laughing because she realized how absurd she was being, or if she thought I was silly because she figured hell was the only place for Jews.

Alan H. Nevas: When I was in elementary school many years ago, I was regularly taunted on the playground with antisemitic slurs by a classmate, which usually resulted in fist fights between us. He was an excellent singer and in high school he was a soloist in the Glee Club.

Some years ago, my wife and I were in temple for Friday night services. I looked over at the choir, which had temple members and outside paid singers. There he was, my old nemesis.

During the coffee hour following services, he saw me and came over smiling and greeting me as if we had been best friends. It was hard to believe that this man who had been such a virulent antisemite as a boy was now singing in my temple’s choir

Deborah Kohn: The time was around 1965. I was a cheerleader from Cleveland Heights High School, explaining to a cheerleader from Lakewood High School my excitement about the upcoming rival football game between Cleveland Heights High School and Shaker Heights High School.

This cheerleader told me that we needn’t worry because “Shaker was nothing but a bunch of Jews!”

Marion Y. Hamermesh: The mother of a non-Jewish boyfriend made me a Christmas stocking and put yellow six-pointed stars on it. I never knew if that was just naive, really weird, or malicious.

‘Well, I am complaining about it now’

David N. Rosensaft: One never forgets the venom of one’s first antisemitic incident. Mine happened at the tender age of 3 – I remember it as though it happened this morning, although it was nearly 63 years ago.

I grew up in a very small town in central Massachusetts, a little hamlet of about 17,000 people, called Leominster. There were a handful of Jewish families, a synagogue and rabbi. My parents sent me to what was considered the best preschool, located in the basement of a church in the middle of town.

During my first day, all the children were gathering slate roofing tiles and assembling them into stylized towers and castles. I collected a few of the slate pieces and stood in line, to add mine to this group project. When I reached the front and tried putting the pieces on the growing tower, the teacher stepped up to the other children and said: “You can’t play with him. He’s Jewish.”

Of course, none of the little kids (myself included) had any idea what this meant.

This is where the poison starts. No one is born an antisemite; they are all created by respected influencers: parents, teachers, clergy, etc.

Lynne Bronstein: As a journalist, I attended a play by a Latinex theater group in 2007. Their “scenery” included “symbols of oppression” — a swastika, a hammer and sickle and an Israeli flag.

I told the director that the Star of David on the flag is a symbol of my religion and I did not like to see it compared to a swastika. He said, “Nobody has complained so far.” I said, “Well I am complaining about it now! And I am mentioning it in my review!”

Susan Megerman: I was in 10th grade geometry class. On one of our weekly quizzes, I scored higher than the best student in the class. When he learned that my score was higher, he called me a ”dirty Jew”.

Now at age 76 I can still recall every detail of the incident. It was a cloudy day, I sat in the fourth row and he in the third to my left. My delight at getting a good grade was immediately quashed.

I don’t think I told my parents either about the grade or the remark.

Barbara Brown: It’s the story of my entire elementary school career on Long Island, where my siblings and I were the only Jewish kids in the district.

The worst were the Christmas programs. We’d sing carols, and then the teacher in charge would announce, “Barbara isn’t like us. Barbara doesn’t have Christmas. Santa will never visit her house. Barbara is Jewish.”

And then they’d make me sing “Dreidel, dreidel” all by myself.

Eliya Smith, an editorial fellow at the Forward, contributed to this report.


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