“Ew, a Jew.”
I heard the statement through the grapevine only a few days ago, yet according to a friend I heard it a year after it was made. I remember the night at my university. I was standing on a stage and leading a game of Jeopardy for the audience. Jeopardy is a game with no discrimation in its allowance of players; a game asking what the contestants knew about our world in the past, present and perhaps years to come. Yet, the person who said it directed it towards me alone.
I found myself angry at first, getting revved up in how to take on such a character in my eyes. But then I slowly took a step back to re-evaluate why this was said towards someone like myself; someone who doesn’t only help the Jewish community but spends the majority of her time helping all others… someone who takes pride in accepting those ordinarily unaccepted in the world… someone who is evidently, unaccepted on her own in many ways.
I thought for a moment what options were available for me to take: I could bring the matter to the university, I could confront her myself or, as crazy as it might seem, I could move on with my life. I could swallow her statement and continue learning about this world and how those of us just beginning to find our ways in life arrive at such moments. But what good would that do for people like myself in future situations? I quickly realized that this incident could inspire me to go further in examining the possible outcomes of each conflict-solving option. I believe such conflict requires time for resolution, and snapping one’s fingers to solve a problem isn’t quite the answer needed here.
I have always been the “token Jew” throughout my international young adult life. I was the leader of Holocaust Education Week in my freshman year at the University of Delaware, spent months teaching international friends about Judaism and how we are both the same and different compared to others, and I have stood out on an attendance list anywhere I go given my Jewish-sounding last name. It was during my time studying in the Netherlands that I had my first taste of meeting someone who had never met a Jew. While making small talk on a local tour, a young woman from Germany heard of my religion and looked at me as if I was an alien. The shock registered in my mind.
Given my upbringing in an upper middle-class suburban neighborhood on Long Island, I essentially grew up in a bubble; I was never exposed to discrimantion in such a Jew-friendly place. Nevertheless, as I left my home to go out into what many people may see as more of a “real world” setting, this bubble completely burst. I found myself even more passionate in showing others that difference is ever so present today, and in my opinion, with difference comes the best place to learn.
So, I decided that it was important for me not to take my ever-evolving human development skills straight to a counselor or HR professional on campus, but instead to teach. To teach those that make these statements that coflict isn’t something that will be solved in a day. Conflict is, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, an “active disagreement between people” and therefore activity requiring tending to and care.
By Tara Silberg
Tara Silberg is a senior undergraduate studying human services and Judaism in the honors program at the University of Delaware. She has worked at numerous nonprofit organizations in the past including the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, UJA-Federation of New York and the Hillel on campus. Silberg is now a government advocacy intern in the Simon Wiesenthal Center program.