The Words I Didn’t Know I Had

I am a Jew. I will always be a Jew. And I am not here to destroy or replace you.

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Image from US News

This is the image haunting me this morning, and suddenly I am filled with crippling fear.

The high school I attended was 30% Jewish. On major Jewish holidays, a vast majority of the class was absent, and everyone would take a look around and note that it was probably due to the Jewish holiday. There, I felt normal. I felt the same. It was safe.

Santa Clara has a 2% Jewish population. It is a Jesuit school, but the small number of Jews in a vastly diverse population in the Valley still astound me:

“Of Silicon Valley’s 1.7 million residents, only 35,000 or so—about 2 percent—identify themselves as Jews, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose. Fifteen percent—about 5,000—are affiliated with a temple or other Jewish organization. By comparison, Jews in San Francisco represent almost 12 percent of the population. San Francisco has 28 congregations within the city limits; the entire South Bay, with more than double the population, has 21.” (SanJose.com)

I was the first Jew many people at Santa Clara had ever met. I noticed the ignorance at first, but didn’t pay much attention to it until I felt different.

When I was a sophomore in college, I went to Israel on a Birthright trip. When I came back to school in the New Year, I was more in touch with Judaism then I ever had been. The camaraderie and pride I felt was something I wanted to share, not hide. But, when my friend from the trip visited me at school for my birthday, she felt something different. She came back to sleep in my bed before I got home and was met with harassment from someone living on my dorm floor. “There’s a little Jew in her bed,” he kept saying over and over. This, coming from the same guy, (his name is Trey) who groped and harassed me in the elevator Freshman year of college. I had to push him to get him off me.

Fraternity “pledging” came around, and I was sitting in the cafeteria one day when I noticed one of the new Sigma Pi freshman pledges came in with a Jewish star on a necklace around his neck. He had to wear this all week. My heart started to hurt.

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This is what I saw. A flashback to a time I did not witness. I wondered if these people (the fraternity “bros”) truly understood what it was they were doing. A silly “joke” turned my world upside down. This can’t be Nazi Germany. I’m safe, at Santa Clara in the Silicon Valley in California. These people didn’t mean harm, did they?

I went to the Dean of students. I told him what I witnessed and how it made me feel. He promised he’d keep me safe. I felt momentarily relieved.

Junior year I went abroad for one third of the school year. When I came back, my eyes felt opened for the first time. My school felt different. It felt smaller, like it wasn’t part of the real world. At the end of my diversity class one day, after a rather vibrant discussion led by my favorite professor, I checked my text messages. My Jewish friend from home, Hannah, sent me a text telling me that kids from USC (her school) who visited a Concentration camp in Germany were imitating getting their heads cut off and taking pictures of it. I remember the crushing feeling that day as I sat and wept in the classroom in front of my professor. I felt so lost. I knew deep down that those kids could have come from any school, especially Santa Clara. I know this because Black and gay students were frequently kicked out of off-campus parties because… well, because. I distanced myself from a lot of this because it caused me too much pain. I’m sad to admit that I should have done more than I did.

This is why, when people ask me if I liked my school, it’s hard for me to answer. In many ways I did love it, but it’s hard to pledge allegiance to a place that brought about pain to so many people.

But the images in the media are chilling me, even as I pull the blankets closer and closer around me in bed. This all became so real for me today, and reminded me of 9 months ago as I lay on the floor in a fetal position watching the polls roll in, crying.

I want to take action and stand up against these hateful people, but I’m terrified. Nazis cannot be reasoned with and they are extremely dangerous people with intent to hurt and kill. And at the end of the day, I’m the enemy to them – a Jew who needs to be gone from this world.

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