This is a guest post by Sue Freeman. Sue Freeman is a marketing/communications consultant in Minneapolis. This article was originally published in the Sept. 14th issue of the American Jewish World newspaper.
It was a typical summer day for 18-year-old Anat Shalev (name has been changed). She woke up around 8 a.m., put on her uniform, had breakfast, and headed to the target range where she works Monday through Friday as a trainer.
A typical summer day for my 17-year-old daughter, Allie, looked a little different. Allie slept in until 10 a.m. (when she wasn’t working part-time as a nanny), had breakfast in her pajamas, relaxed in front of the TV and later headed out to meet friends to shop, go to the movies or just hang out. Anat also enjoys doing these things in her free time, but the similarities between these two teenagers’ lives ends there.
Anat is a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). After graduating high school, she immediately joined the IDF and was assigned to serve in a counter-terrorism unit located right outside of Jerusalem. Anat works as a sniper trainer and says “It’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
While recently visiting Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP)**, I had the chance to speak with Anat about her life as a Jew living in Israel.
Anat grew up on a Kibbutz located right outside of the Gaza Strip. She lived with her mother, father and two younger sisters. “It was hard living there,” Anat commented. The Kibbutz was often hit by Kassam rockets that were deployed by the Palestinians. Once the warning sirens went off, Anat’s family had only seconds to find shelter before the rockets would hit. It became a regular occurrence but nothing you could ever get used to, Anat said.
I asked her if anyone in her family was ever injured. “Physically, no,” she said, “but mentally, yes.” Anat’s youngest sister started having problems three years ago when she was 10. “She was scared all the time. Any kind of noise put her in a panic.” She started seeing a psychologist to help her cope, but living in fear is something she faces every day.
In contrast, Allie grew up in Minnetonka. As a Jew living in Minnesota, she has never had to run to a bomb shelter, wonder if it’s safe to shop in a particular area or eat at a popular restaurant. She has never had to fear for her life just because she was Jewish.
For Anat, her family still lives on the Kibbutz where she grew up and it’s where she spends every weekend. When asked why her family never moved to a safer place, her answer was simple, “Because this is my home.” She went on to say that Israel is a small country and if everyone wanted to move, where would they all go. Living near Gaza for so long has instilled in Anat strength and determination to fight for her country.
“Growing up I was used to seeing soldiers. There were many assigned to our area. They protected my family. Now I want to do the same for others.” Is fear ever a factor? No, according to Anat. Being surrounded by violence all her life left her yearning for the day she would join the army. In fact, serving as a sniper trainer is the job Anat requested.
This fall, Allie will be a senior in high school and after that she will attend college. Although anti-Semitism exists in the U.S., it’s not a pressing concern for Allie. “I don’t feel targeted as a Jew living in Minnesota,” said Allie, “but I know that anti-Semitism exists.”
Acts of vandalism and hate mail have been seen in the Twin Cities over the past several years. In fact, harassment via electronic communication has become the preferred method of intimidation according to Anthony Sussman, Director of Communications and Community Security at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). “This includes phones, faxes, and Facebook, which are easier and more passive forms of harassment,” said Sussman. The JCRC has seen bullying and derogatory remarks coming from kids as young as middle school.
Why the Jews?
Why are Jews hated so much? Rabbi Ken Spiro, one of the presenters on the JWRP trip, shared theories on “Why the Jews.” According to Spiro, if we succeed in identifying the reason for anti-Semitism, then eliminating that reason should put an end to hatred for the Jews. However, if we can eliminate it and the hatred remains then we know what we thought was a reason is actually an excuse.
Spiro spoke of Jews being hated for economic reasons, explaining that Jewish wealth and power has made others envious and resentful. But there has been no historical persecution against wealthy non-Jews. If haters single out wealthy Jews and ignore wealthy non-Jews, than wealth cannot be a real reason. Logically, if wealth was the reason, than the lack of wealth should eliminate the hatred. However, poor Jews in the shtetls (towns) of Russia and Poland in the 17th – 20th centuries were poor and powerless but the anti-Semitism remained.
Jews have also been singled out for being different—different dress, different beliefs, different language. Sociologists refer to this phenomenon as “the dislike of the unlike.” Not wanting to be the “outsiders,” the Jews of Europe jumped at the opportunity to attain equality, Spiro said. They adopted the language, culture and styles of their non-Jewish neighbors, and intermarried with them. But once Hitler came into power, the Jews were persecuted for their attempts to fit in and were told that their inferior genes would not be allowed to infect the Aryan race.
And then there’s the scapegoat theory. According to Spiro, Jews were an easy scapegoat for Hitler because they were a group that was already hated. Hitler wanted to find an innocent victim to blame for his country’s problems and he executed a massive defamatory campaign against the Jews and succeeded. But the scapegoat theory is not the cause of anti-Semitism, Spiro commented, rather anti-Semitism is what makes the Jews a convenient scapegoat.
To learn more about what Judaism believes is the true cause of anti-Semitism, log onto http://www.aish.com/sem/wtj.
What might the New Year bring?
Every Jewish New Year, I send wishes to family and friends to have a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. That wish for peace seems to be more prevalent around Rosh Hashanah. It’s a time of new beginnings and renewed hope. I can’t help but wonder if this will be the year of change. Will we get closer to finding peace, not only in Israel but in our own backyard? And what will it take to get there?
The answer is education, according to Sussman of the JCRC. In Minnesota, there are kids and adults who have never met a Jew or know what being Jewish is all about. They are not familiar with other cultures, said Sussman. “By educating these groups through JCRC programs and developing relationships within the community, we hope there will be a time when acts of hatred no longer exist.” (To learn more about the work of the JCRC, log onto www.minndakjcrc.org)
Ending acts of hatred in the Middle East is what Anat prays for every day. She longs for a time when having a bomb shelter at every bus stop and playground in her neighborhood is no longer needed; a time when she can walk down the street and feel safe without the protection of soldiers carrying M-16’s. What does Anat think is needed to make this happen? “To have peace we need to have a partner,” she said, “and we don’t have that right now. The Arabs need to want it.”
*The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) was established to empower women to bring about positive change in the world. In July, eleven women from Minneapolis traveled to Israel with JWRP, which is sponsored locally by Aish. This highly subsidized trip consisted of visits to the most popular sites along with presentations from renowned speakers and authors. By focusing on moral values including importance of family and involvement in community, JWRP hopes to help women transform themselves, their families and their communities. JWRP has brought more than 2,000 women to Israel from 40 cities and 7 different countries.
(Photo: Albert Bridge)