I am grateful to have this platform to respond to the recent unsettling events on campus, but I feel obligated to make one thing clear: I cannot speak on behalf of the Jewish community of Cornell. The Jewish population is host to a diverse aggregate of opinions, questions, and life experiences which impact responses to these events. I cannot claim to speak for all, most, or even some members of the Jewish community. I can only speak for myself.
Anti-Semitism is complicated because Jewish identity is complicated. Sometimes it is visible, sometimes it is not, depending on how we choose to present ourselves. Or believe we should present ourselves.
My own identification with Judaism is a complicated amalgamation of history, spirituality, morality, community, family and tradition. These values change, adapt, evolve, and often contradict each other in ways that are both affirming and challenging. In this way, I am prompted to confront and reevaluate my Jewish identity almost every day.
I’ve been told that I “look Jewish,” I’ve been told that I “don’t look Jewish.” I have been compelled to clarify, “No, my dad cannot help you get a job at Goldman Sachs, because he doesn’t work in finance.” And that my grandfather–a Holocaust survivor–was a taxi driver, “so no. I do not come from old money.”
Claudia Rankine writes about microaggressions as interruptions to intimacy, which I think is the most apt and beautiful explanation of the way this phenomenon affects all of us; both victims and perpetrators. These stereotypes and preconceived notions minimize us, and negate our lived experiences. And the more these build up, the more difficult it is to bridge the gap.
But the posters that were disseminated around our campus on Monday–posters warning against “Jewish lies” and featuring a Swastika–are more than microaggressions: they were a direct act of hate speech. This feels isolating, as was likely the intent of whichever anonymous coward hung them up. This incident, in conjunction with the other intentional acts of hatred perpetrated against the Latinx, Black, and Muslim communities this semester, does more than interrupt just intimacy. It interrupts students’ abilities to feel safe walking around campus, to feel as though our presence here is welcome, and create positive, productive relationships with our peers.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s in how our community has come together to condemn these acts of hatred. I feel a surge of pride in our campus community with regards to how my peers responded to this incident. The 75+ campus groups who signed onto the public statement in solidarity with the Jewish community, as well as all the friends who have personally reached out expressing their love and support stands as a beautiful example of how the Jewish community has come together to support each other in this challenging time.
We learn how to identify and condemn anti-semitism, but not how to contend with it. Hearing people say “I never thought this would happen to my community” is difficult to hear. The deep rooted issues of racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy impact so many communities on our campus; this incident is not an isolated one. Now is the time to get involved, have difficult conversations, and try to rebuild that intimacy that aggressions, both micro and macro, so rudely interrupt.
Because it’s personal.
It was always personal.