I’ve lived in Europe for nearly 14 years now.
For that whole period, I often get told by well meaning people that life for Jews in Europe is over. Whether the reasons cited are the inbred tradition of anti-Semitism spanning centuries or the influx of significant numbers of Muslim immigrants in recent times, every time something happens (and even when it doesn’t), I am told in one way or another to get myself off of the European land mass before it’s too late.
Despite my frequent bad-hair days, I didn’t just crawl out from under some rock, I am well aware of the history of Jews on this continent and painfully aware that the tide flows against Jews and against Israel in Europe.
I have, for the entirety of my 5,000+ days on the continent, been ever conscious that there are those here who have hate in their heart against Jews. After all, I am living in a country that was once occupied by the Nazis and where the largest proportion of the Jewish community were murdered during the Shoah. Please don’t mistake me as some liberal do-gooder wanting to hold hands, eat organic quinoa and sing kumbaya.
I carry the weight of being a Jew in Europe and what that means with me every day. I live in a place where there is a palpable distaste for Jews, ranging from apathy to and hate. I know this.
Truth time: I’ve always felt less comfortable to express my pride in being Jewish here than I did my first 30 years living in America.
Truth time: because I know that many of the people here (Dutch and non-Dutch alike) are either ignorant about what it means to be Jewish or that they baseline being a Jew and a Zionist as a negative thing.
I see Muslims, both religious and secular, all around me, every single day, at the grocery store, on the trams, at work and down the street.
Truth time: I assume that Muslims hate Jews. I assume that if the woman with the burqa I was sitting next to on the tram knew I was a Jew, she would hate me without any other reason than because I am a Jew.
Europeans and Muslims are not the only ones making assumptions. I am too. How can I expect anyone else to let go of their assumptions, if I don’t let go of my own.
Truth time: I actually don’t know many Muslims but you know what, the few that I do know, a colleague, a fellow parent at school, one of my daughter’s mentors in her after school program, they all wished me Shana tova. One wished me a happy new year and checked if this was the right thing to wish on Rosh Hashanah, wanting to be sure they got it right.
None of my Christian colleagues, my daughter’s Christian teachers or mentors wished me Shana tova.
And I think back to the only two real incidents of anti-Semitism that I have ever personally experienced, — a swastika carved into my locker in high school and many years later a drunk colleague spewing anti-Semitism at me at a company dinner, but insisting he wasn’t a Jew-hater, but only critical of Israel.
Truth time: neither of those two incidents were carried out by Muslims.
There is a Mezzuzah at the door of my home, not a teeny tiny one, but a big silver one, clearly visible from the street. It’s never been defaced. On Shabbat, our candles are in the window, as are our Hanukkiot (okay, truth, on the weeks we light Shabbat candles). No bricks have ever come through our window, even though those candles are visible clearly from the street and our house sits in front of a playground where many non-Jewish families bring their kids to play.
My daughter went to school the other day, a school where close to half the kids are Muslims and where she is the only Jew. Her backpack full of apples, honey and homemade challah, she told her class all about Rosh Hashanah. The kids really enjoyed hearing about it, and eating bread and apples with honey.
Does any of that mean that anti-Semitism in Europe is not real or that the entirety of the Muslim populations in Europe love Jews? Of course not. because regardless of my own personal experience anti-semitism is on the rise.
No, we must to continue to be conscious of the risks that are around.
But, we don’t have to be ruled by them. We could choose to be ruled by our own experiences.
Because you know what? Some people will hate you for being Jewish, and many will make assumptions about you based on that one thing.
But, you know what? Many won’t.
I have the choice not to make assumptions about what people might think or feel. Instead of assuming that people hate us, until they prove otherwise, I could just assume that they, um — don’t hate us.
And, I could teach my daughter that too. Maybe that’s one of the most important lessons I could ever teach her to base her views on her own reality, instead of on fear put forth by the masses.
Maybe those kids will forever associate Jews with the taste of honey on their lips.
Maybe she planted a seed.
Maybe she is teaching me.