“I was very blessed to grow up in a predominantly Jewish town where I never felt out of place for being a Jew.”
Rena Gordonson’s childhood wasn’t perfect. Few are. But it was, in many ways, idyllic. Rena grew up in the New York City area. Being Jewish meant being a proud part of a respected community. It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she had her first negative experience. Riding in a taxi with a group of non-Jewish women, one of them suggested Rena handle the money. “Because I’m a Jew. Can you imagine? And in New York City,” Rena recalls.
A few years later, the issue came up again. “I was dating someone from French Canada. He…stated that Jews have all the money. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with what he had said.” A French-Canadian woman couldn’t understand why Rena and her family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Rena believes those experiences were born out of ignorance. That they were due to a lack of exposure to Jewish culture. What has happened since the campaign and election of Donald Trump feels quite different.
“It has been a rude awakening. The incidents of antisemitism have risen so quickly,” Rena says. “I have naively never been afraid to be Jewish. But these days I am.” She admits that the growing white nationalism and the surge in hate crimes have changed the choices she makes. “I choose not to go to Jewish events because I’m afraid. I ask about security at the events. I worry about these things now.” But for Rena there is another aspect which is just as troubling. “I worry about the people who cannot see that anti-immigrant, racist, and homophobic views are the same as antisemitism.” She says that this behavior isn’t just an issue among those who belong to groups in the majority. “I see this confusion within the Jewish community, too,” Rena concedes.
Being tone-deaf about the issues affecting communities other than your own is not uncommon. John Bender, a Jewish man living in Maine, has it noticed as well. John says the school where he teaches has also seen changes since the election. There has been a rise in hostility toward historically oppressed groups. In response, signs were hung around the school. The signs originally posted at Afropunk, an arts festival produced by black artists, read:
John says he was surprised to see that antisemitism wasn’t on the list. He feels this shows how isolated communities can be from one another: even when those communities are all experiencing America as a more dangerous place, now.
The truth is, America is a more dangerous place for many people now. The FBI reports that hate crimes are on the rise for a third year in a row. Living in fear, however, is not a choice Rena Gordonson is willing to live with. “I was driving myself crazy with worry and fear after the Pittsburgh shooting,” she says. “But I am realizing and putting into practice that I can live in fear or I can live in love. And my living in fear does not help the world in any way.”