In My Own Name

Yesterday a white supremacist walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and shot a security guard, who died of his wounds. This past month, the FBI arrested men who were plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx in New York. It feels like a scary time to announce to the world that we are Jewish. Indeed, the department of Homeland Security had issued a report in April warning of possible anti-Semitic attacks by right-wing extremists.

I was sitting in my office all day yesterday watching the reports of the shooting as more information was available. I was feeling wound up. Why does my kid have to grow up in this environment? I want Jewishness to be all chocolate babka and inside jokes, not scary racists with guns. I also felt guilty that I couldn’t drop what I was doing and go down to the Boston Holocaust Memorial for the annual GLBT Pride Memorial Vigil. I want to stand up for something, if only to give someone the finger. (Though that’s not usually the source of my Jewish identity or practice, I admit that I do feel that way sometimes.)

From time to time, writers request to publish their work anonymously, with a pseudonym. Sometimes we let them, but we don’t like it in general. I was thinking about having my name on my writing here, especially since I was trying to argue with one writer that she shouldn’t be afraid of the repercussions of having her relationship with Judaism visible in the public sphere on the web. A lot of us have recognizably Jewish names, though not all. I do. My husband does.

My husband is online under his own name doing anti-racist journalistic activism. Here’s his blog, complete with a list of stories about unsolved KKK murder cases. Does it make me nervous? Frankly, yes. So far it’s only been a helpful way for him to meet journalistic sources and people from the civil rights, labor and peace movements who knew his dad in the 1960s. That’s cool. I do worry sometimes that someone will come after him, but I wouldn’t want him to stop what he’s doing.

I don’t want to get writers in trouble with their families or workplaces, or to leave a real name up when someone is being stalked. That can happen, especially to women. For the most part, though, I want people to have their names on our site and to stand behind their words.

Sometimes it’s scary to be Jewish in public. I know that. It can also be scary to stick up for what’s right, to tell the truth about who you love and to insist that your experience matters. We want to include people in interfaith families in the Jewish community and that can be hard to do if their relationships are something they feel they need to hide behind a pseudonym. So in general, if there isn’t a very good reason, we don’t like people to write anonymously for our site.

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15 thoughts on “In My Own Name

  1. I think a lot of people are afraid in the aftermath of this shooting. Every time something like this happens, I feel traumatized, because it reminds me of every other time before it, and the echoes of these experiences in the stories of previous generations.

  2. This is a wonderful post. You have put into words exactly what I am always feeling. You want your children to be proud of who they are, and the wonderful history that they have. Yet, at the same time, you are afraid for them. You are afraid because sometimes telling people who you really are, opens you up to all kinds of terrible things.

    I commend your work. And, I think what your husband is doing, is wonderful! Wonderful!

  3. Anti-semitism is NOT “mostly” from the Far Left. Presumably, Alice, you’re talking about criticism of Israel, not all of which is “anti-semitism.” Don’t think the Jewish State should engage in human rights abuses? You must be an anti-semite! Don’t think it’s okay to shoot at non-violent demonstrators? You’re a self-hating Jew! Good thing we’re here for tikkun olam. I feel better knowing Palestinian children are getting their legs blown off in the interests of repairing the world. Having said that, I have encountered people on the Left with extreme views who openly admit they believe Israel should be destroyed. So I don’t say they don’t exist. They are there, and I am deeply disappointed in people who claim to stand for humanitarian values but seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Jews. I would not, however, go so far as to dismiss the Far Left as MORE hostile to Israel (and by extension to Jews or Judaism) than the Far Right which – at best – supports Israel in hopes of bringing on the Rapture if they don’t run with the KKK and Christian Identity/White Supremacy crowds. In any case, there is no shortage of lunacy or anti-Jewish bigotry, including from Jews toward other Jews in the ongoing battle regarding who is worthy of being called a Jew and who isn’t.

  4. Ruth,
    Realize that most racial minorities deal with the fear of being attacked for their skin color. We don’t have the option of hiding. American Jewry forgets that many people live in fear of being attacked for religion, race, sexual/gender orientation, and socioeconomic status. Perhaps this is why our liturgy often reminds us to remember the stranger.

    The illusion that we are safe is just that, an illusion. If one lacks the economic cache to afford “safe” neighborhoods or dwells in affluent areas where they are the only racial minority, their sense of safety is violated habitually. Remember, we all enjoy privileges that others may only dream.

  5. Yes, I think most American Jews do live with the illusion that anti-Semitism is all over. As my friend Rebecca Lesses pointed out in her blog post on this, Jews are the most targeted religious minority for hate crimes, according to the FBI. Of course, racial minorities are targets of hate crimes with even greater frequency, with African-Americans the most frequent target of violent crimes motivated by bias of any other group. In spite of a Jewish communal belief that it is possible to hide, I think it really isn’t. The FBI has a table of hate crimes statistics here.

  6. Most anti Semitism is from the Far Left and has become mainstream in the Democratic party. People can cover their eyes and pretend that it is not happening, but it is. I have not forgotten that FDR sent the St. Louis back to Europe so its travellers could perish! “Sara” is blind to reality. Human rights abuses? The Palis are the biggest human rights abusers of all along with their friends, Hamas and Hezbollah. And please don’t start me on sharia law! Coming soon to you – sharia law unless we stop it.

  7. “Mina” obviously has never visited the B’Tselem website. She hasn’t seen the video of Israeli soldiers shooting a group of Palestinian demonstrators doing no more than carry signs at the border. I know there is anti-semitism on the Left and it makes me sick. They would never say the things they do about any other minority and be able to get away with it. But I think it’s “blind” to say everything Israel does, by definition, is perfect. The history there is long and complex. Both sides are their own worst enemies.

  8. Sorry, guys, but I have a relatives in the IDF and Israelis soldiers, for the mostpart, are gentlemen so please – don’t tell me about a fakakte website! I am not into moral equivalency and, in fact, I have real problems with a website that does not promote Judaism.

  9. Please try to keep comments civil and reasonably close to on topic. (And clean, let’s not use language in Yiddish that we wouldn’t use in English please.)

  10. I apologize. I am defending my left-leaning friends, not all of whom are evil. It would be nice not to reflexively demonize entire groups of people based on experiences with a few. We all want to be safe.

  11. The shooter in D.C. was a 9/11 Truther and they are mostly on the Far Left and among radical Moslems. I stopped watching the tv show Rescue Me when one of the characters started spouting 9/11 conspiracy truther garbage. The Far Left and radical Moslems converge with their hatred of Jews.

  12. Mina, it may be true that many 9/11 conspiracy theorists have leftish ideas. (Or political ideologies that draw on Islam, for that matter.) The shooter in the DC case was not one of them–from everything we know about him, he is a right-wing anti-Semite and general racist. Unfortunately, there are anti-Jewish ideas on both the left and the right. The 19th century German leftist August Bebel referred to anti-Semitism as the socialism of fools, and most reputable left-wing thinkers then and now were with him on that. I think mainstream conservatives in many countries, ours included, have also rejected anti-Semitism as a political tactic. The word “extremist”–and indeed, the nature of the crime we’re discussing—should have tipped you off that we aren’t talking about Joe the Plumber, here.

  13. Ruth, please read Don Feder’s “Why the Left is Anti-Semitic” – he nails it in spades. Anti-Semitism is predominantly from the Far Left and unfortunately a large portion of members of the Democratic Party engage in this.

  14. In the United States there is a great deal of anti-Semitism on the Far Right. They are the white supremacists, such as the Christian Identity movement, Ku Klux Klan, and the Minutemen. Anti-Semitism is an equal-opportunity form of bigotry.

    Most people I know on the Left advocate civil liberties, equal rights, labor rights, national healthcare, affordable housing, and quality public education. Some of them are pacifists.

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