By Victoria Ginzburg
“What’s your number?” He said jokingly. I was slightly confused, as this question is not unheard-of at a typical college party, but I had never met him before let alone talked to him. Yet he approached me and asked me for my number? He repeated himself “what’s your number?” but this time, he pulled out his arm and pointed to the inside of his wrist. I then understood that his evil was not in objectifying me as a woman but as a Jew.
I have always stood proud of my identity as a Jewish woman. Living amongst a loving Jewish community in the Bay Area during the formative years of my childhood created a sense of security and warmth that I always carried with me. I felt understood. There was no need for me to explain who I was to those around me. I, of course, was not naive to the realities of anti-semitism but also had never experienced it first hand.
In October of this past year, I was confronted with blatant hatred that I had never fathomed experiencing before. I was verbally attacked for being Jewish. It was unprovoked and occurred in only an instant — a short few sentences, but its impact continued to linger over me for many months after. This person who came up to me decided to take something I cherish so deeply, something I feel so proud of, and place upon my identity shame and disgust. His words brought a new and unparalleled pain into my being. Soon after this incident, I began to feel so alone. It was hard for me to explain to people why this attack on my identity hurt so much, why it was impacting me in such a heavy way. I longed for the familiar security of the Jewish community that had sheltered me for so many years. I began to feel isolated from the ones around me, from my surrounding settings. I retreated.
This remark was hurtful because it took a personally sensitive topic and perverted it into a joke. It dismissed the gravity and horrors that had occurred in the Holocaust. I found myself in constant shock and tears by the idea that someone had thought that turning the death of my family into a joke was an okay thing to do. That it was funny and that I would laugh along too. The Holocaust is something I think about almost every day whether intentionally or not. The reason I am alive is that a few select relatives from my family survived while the rest of my family perished. This is not an occurrence I take lightly.
I had never been faced with hatred before nor did I think when choosing the University of Oregon that this would be a reality for me or my friends. People often attribute the American college experiences to be the best years of one’s life. This utopian dream created by pop culture and the media is not necessarily all true. The school’s support of its diverse community is well advertised and buildings continue to be adorned with “all are welcome here signs”. Yet, in reality, many people lack the education and awareness needed for a truly accepting community to be fulfilled. The lack of inherent radical acceptance and understanding among all students is why we must aspire to be better.
The experience of being harassed based on my religion is something I think about often as I encounter a diverse range of people in my life. It opened my eyes to the tenderness of identity, especially in an environment in which one might feel uncomfortable or misunderstood. As students here at the University of Oregon, we were selected to make up a special community to both personally grow and collectively enrich each others’ experiences. In this community, each person holds a unique identity and cherishes specific parts of who they are. An unsolicited attack on these sacred parts of oneself can be so damaging. Hate is so counterproductive for this community. It should not be tolerated no matter the influence one is under, the person they are addressing, or the audience they are a part of.
Originally Published in the Allyship Issue of The Siren Feminist Magazine