The moment I heard Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs say, “When my own mother, who survived the Holocaust and was in a DP camp, heard that Israel became a state in 1948, she and other survivors danced. They danced for their own joy, and they danced for all those Jews who could no longer dance for themselves because they were murdered by Hitler,” at the StandWithUs MZ Teen Interns Conference in August 2013, I knew those words would be in my heart forever. I knew those were words I wanted others to hear.
I am a currently StandWithUS MZ Teen Intern, one of 50 teens across the United States who works with StandWithUS and to educate our peers, combat anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism, and advocate for Israel through campaigns and programs. Each month, we have an MZ teen regional conference call to continue our Israel education and expand knowledge base.
One night, after one of our calls, I was feeling very frustrated that in spite of all the positive contributions Israel has made to the world and in spite of everything that the Jewish people have gone through, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment are still prevalent. That same night, one of my friends said that people always tell her that she’s lucky that she doesn’t look Jewish.The idea that it was good that someone didn’t “look Jewish” to me seemed ridiculous. The very idea that one should look a certain way to appear Jewish has always sounded absurd to me. I look Jewish because I am Jewish.
At that moment, I realized I needed to do something. I needed to speak out. I needed to tell people my story, the story of my homeland, and the story of my people. So I wrote a poem.
I wrote a poem, and I called it “Shalom,” because shalom, which can mean so many things, seemed to be the only word that could fully grasp what Judaism and Israel mean to me. I wrote the poem as a spoken word piece because I wanted it to be read aloud because it was meant to tell people my story. I read it to some of my Jewish friends, and they loved it. The real challenge was when I performed the piece at my school’s open mic night; could I get these kids with no affiliation with Judaism or Israel to listen and care? The piece received positive feedback from both Jewish and non-Jewish people, which gives me hope. I am hopeful because I believe that through telling stories and understanding the stories of others, we can achieve peace.
If I am not for myself,
who will be for me?
If not now,
I thought it was funny
that the story of most Jewish holidays
was that people tried to kill us
You see, to me,
people wanting to kill the Jewish people was nothing new.
It meant that it was merely another holiday.
Until I saw the numbers tattooed on her arm
Until I heard the stories from inside the camp
saw emaciated faces of my people
Until I saw their shoes.
There were so many of them.
My people were not even granted the privilege
to be murdered in shoes.
They were shuffled like stock to the slaughter,
No one warns you
how small some of the shoes are.
Children and babies were murdered.
Teens were murdered.
Some of them probably weren’t that much different than me.
There is so much hate in the world.
I want to hug my message of peace
Into the ignorant minds of those
who tell me my homeland is committing genocide
who tell me I support apartheid
who tell me I support hate
who tell me I don’t want peace
that they haven’t seen
the joy in the faces of two young boys
one Syrian, whose country has tried to wipe my homeland off the map,
one Palestinian, the likes of which my homeland is accused of gratuitously killing,
who have both just been given free heart surgery to save their lives
That they haven’t seen
the Kotel on Tisha B’av
Because when I stand at the only piece left of the Second Temple
with my pangs of hunger in my stomach as I mourn the destruction
surrounded by praying women who help the Wailing Wall live up to its name,
I imagine what it was like before my people were scattered across the world,
like puzzle pieces dreaming that one day,
we may be put back together again.
You see, people have tried to kill the Jewish people a few times before.
The Damascus Affair
We’ve been expelled,
forced to convert,
burned at the stake,
I know we’re the Chosen People.
But chosen for what?
I want to travel the world someday,
but there are some countries
where I am still not welcome
where it would not be safe for my grandfather to wear his kippah.
My star of David hangs like a noose around my neck.
There are swastikas still
painted on the walls as we walk to the synagogue.
So when you tell me to pick up that penny,
or to stop being such a Jew when I won’t lend you money,
you can kiss my penny-pinching ass.
And when you tell me that,
I don’t look Jewish
What do Jewish people look like?
I think that at least one looks like me.
These stereotypes that are rooted in centuries of hatred and oppression
aren’t going to make me laugh.
When you spread hatred and anti-Semitism,
You make the days I spend in synagogue atoning on Yom Kippur worthwhile.
In the DP camps after the Holocaust,
when the Jewish people heard about the founding of Israel,
they danced for the people
who could not dance for themselves.
Not enough Jews are dancing anymore,
but there are always people to dance for.
If we are not for ourselves,
who will be for us?