Two weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to participate in a week-long study session in Budapest about combatting online hate speech, focusing on anti-Semitism and antigypsyism. Run by EUJS, Phiren Amenca and the Council of Europe, it brought together young Jewish and Roma adults from all over Europe. We covered a variety of topics, including the history of anti-Semitism and antigypsyism, different forms of online hate speech, and how to combat them and protect ourselves.
However for me, the most interesting part of the week was meeting the variety of people present. There was one comment in particular that was said to me on the first day and still stands out in my memory. One of the Roma participants said that his community sometimes feel a sense of jealousy towards the Jewish community, as both groups have been persecuted throughout history in similar ways, yet the Roma community remains on the fringes of society, whereas the Jewish is more integrated. Until this moment, I had never considered the similarities between the two groups, in terms of history, experience and lifestyle, which I learnt about as the week progressed.
With their own language, food and beliefs, the parallels between the Roma and Jewish communities are striking. Just as the Jewish people originated in the Middle East and spread out across the world to form the diaspora, the Roma come from India and migrated through Europe and the Americas. Since their arrival in Europe in the 14th century, the Roma have been persecuted, enslaved and even sterilised, with cases of sterilisation still being discovered today.
The Roma were victims of Nazi racial laws, having their citizenship taken away with the expansion of the Nuremburg laws in in 1936, before being sent to ghettos and concentration camps. Just as there are not exact figures for the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust, the same applies for the Roma community, however estimates suggest that 25-50% of the 1 million Roma living in Europe before the 1930s were killed.
Learning about the experiences – both in the past and present – of the Roma community was eye-opening. When we talk about the history of the Jews, we cannot help but discuss the persecution we have endured for thousands of years. Yet I feel that we very rarely look beyond our own story to see how others have had similar experiences. This is where I believe that we are making progress, but there is still work to be done.
One such example is Interfaith Week, which started on 13th November. All over the country, students from different faith backgrounds will come together to share their stories, their beliefs and their cultures. They will find both similarities and differences between their respective groups, creating a dialogue that can be translated to work both on and off campus. If you’d like to get involved in Interfaith Week on your campus, contact your J-Soc Officer.
Another example is UJS’ Our Living Memory campaign. Launched two weeks ago in partnership with NUS and HET, this campaign aims to raise awareness of the different groups targeted by Nazi persecution. The campaign will run in the lead-up to Holocaust Memorial Day in January, when we will support students’ unions and societies in planning events to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides. It’s about reaching as many students as possible, to keep the memory of the victims alive, to educate, and to bring communities together to fight discrimination in our society.
As Jews, we often pride ourselves on our strong sense of community and belonging, however we must ensure that we do not forget to look beyond our own experiences to understand those of others.