Ilana K. Levinsky
I write what I see

A Jewish Teen’s Poetic Triumph

Jack Bryett Recites The Olive Tree, May 23, 2024 (courtesy)
Jack Bryett Recites The Olive Tree May, 23, 2024

When my son told me that from now on, he would keep a low profile in high school, not wanting anyone to know he was Jewish, I remember just staring at him briefly, then my eyes shifted back to the TV. This conversation took place on October 7th as news of the massacre in Israel began trickling in.

Jack’s comment lingered in my mind.

In the midst of what was slowly beginning to feel like our new dystopian reality, as we struggled to grapple with an apocalyptic event, we were thrust into another incomprehensible reality—that of complete moral rot. I mean not just any rot, but blatant, open, proud prejudice, reminiscent of the Nazis and mirroring the dehumanization of Jews in some Arab countries, where all of the world’s evils are ascribed to Israel. This prejudice has not been confined to the fringes; it spans the political spectrum, from left to right, and has infected people worldwide. We’ve witnessed it, we’ve heard it—people from all walks of life have morphed into a unified cult of blind followers of the Palestinian cause and terror apologists. Their support of Hamas and vilifying the Israeli victims as deserving of their fate, has been so depraved and perverted, and it underscores the persistence of deep-seated antisemitism and shatters any illusions of safety and acceptance. But is this a surprise for anyone?

Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, returning to their old town of Kielce after the war, likely believed they were finally safe. They must have thought that never again would that Nazi mindset endanger their survival. But just a year after the war, they faced a brutal massacre by a mob. How naïve it was to think that the very people who had aided in the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Poland would welcome them back.

So, what has changed since October 7th? It’s not that there’s been an absolute transformation of something previously nonexistent; rather, there’s been a shift from something somewhat hidden to being completely exposed. It’s the revival of unabashed Jew-hatred, a troubling resurgence fueled by a selective amnesia towards history. How else could we explain the blatant calls for violence against Jews coming not from Nazis or Arab leaders, but from everyday people? We’ve heard: “Death to Israel, f*ck the Jews,” “Go back to Europe,” “Killing Jews is a duty,” “Open the borders, so we can kill the Zionists,” “Jewish women are too ugly to be raped,” “Go punch a Zionist, and if you need a list DM me,” “We don’t want [no] Zionists here,” chanted students outside Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. But is this really as unbelievable as we’re telling ourselves? Did it not happen to those Jews of Kielce?

Sartre wrote that “No external factor can induce antisemitism in the anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism is a free and total choice of oneself, a comprehensive attitude that one adopts not only toward Jews but toward men in general, toward history and society; it is at one and the same time a passion and a conception of the world” (Sartre, Anti-semite And Jew, p. 17).

Sartre is saying that antisemitism is distinct from other forms of hatred, and if you think about it there is a spectrum of hatred; many different groups are hated, but antisemitism is different. It’s not a rational response to real-world events or circumstances but rather a deeply rooted ideology that shapes the antisemite’s worldview.

Throughout history, hate towards Jews has transcended geographic boundaries, seeping into societies where Jewish presence was minimal or nonexistent—demonstrating the pervasive and boundless nature of antisemitism. Following the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, antisemitic sentiment persisted, despite the absence of a Jewish population. Stereotypes depicting Jews as greedy, morally corrupt, conniving, and villainous became deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness, perpetuated through literature, art, and religious teachings. This relentless focus on Jews fueled and sustained hatred, illustrating the insidious nature of this particular brand of prejudice and discrimination even in the absence of tangible targets. Literature containing prejudiced portrayals of Jews is still studied today, often without proper acknowledgment of the antisemitic themes.

In America’s history of prejudice, antisemitism has often been erased from the narrative, yet it has persisted since Jews first arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654, when the governor attempted to expel them. Throughout the years, Jews faced significant obstacles, such as difficulties in developing businesses due to being denied credit. Prominent figures like Henry Ford exacerbated antisemitism by disseminating pamphlets (The Dearborn) filled with wild conspiracy theories about Jews plotting to control the world. Universities also practiced discrimination, and Harvard, Yale, Princeton, for example, implemented quotas limiting Jewish admissions despite of their qualifications—their excuse was that it was to discourage antisemitism. Additionally, Jews were often excluded from government jobs, political parties, social clubs, professional associations, and neighborhoods through formal and informal agreements, perpetuating systemic discrimination and social exclusion.

Just as reprehensible are Jews who identify as anti-Zionist, those who claim to have become “enlightened” at long last. You know the types—someone like Simone Zimmerman, one of the protagonists in the film “Israelism” created by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen. For once and for all, you’re supposedly learning the truth about the nefarious ploys of Jewish minds because, tadaaa—it’s Jewish minds now revealing these Zionist lies, so it must be true!

Zimmerman asserts that Jews are force-fed Zionism from an early age and they are sick of it! And I’m sick of having to defend the word, the concept, and the idea of Zionism.

Zionism is not a menacing or criminal ideology. Zionism is about the Jewish people’s right to establish and maintain a homeland in their ancestral land, a legitimate and just cause. The vilification of Zionism ignores its true meaning and historical significance, instead turning a word that symbolizes hope and national revival into a target for unfounded hatred and prejudice. Zion BTW is a beautiful word from the Bible, one of many names for Jerusalem. Why am I beginning to think that the very reason this word has been sullied is to disassociate Jews even from their capital, Jerusalem. It didn’t help that in 1975, the UN’s General Assembly Resolution 3379 infamously equated Zionism with racism. Although this resolution was rescinded by Resolution 46/86 in 1991, yet the flawed idea that Zionism was anything other than a noble aspiration, has stubbornly persisted.

Ten minutes into “Israelism,” and you feel as though they’ve copied their material from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”—that infamous and fraudulent document that purports to reveal a Jewish conspiracy to achieve global domination. First published in Russia in 1903, the document was quickly exposed as a hoax, yet it has been used for over a century to fuel antisemitic sentiments and justify hatred against Jews.

Screenshot, Jacob Berger mocking Jews, May 20, 2024, accessed June 8, 2024-Instagram

Erin, Sam, and Simone are in great company! I’m not sure how Jacob Berger ended up in my feed, but I clicked on his video—it was supposed to be a joke but really so unfunny and cringe-worthy. In his videos, he brazenly instructs Jews how to place one foot in front of the other, and advance forward down the street in the event we fear walking down a NY street, since we’ve only imagined that antisemitism actually exists.

For Berger, antisemitism is a mere game and we need a lesson how to navigate through this imagined fear. He mocks any Jew who raises antisemitism as a legitimate problem, as though it were just a figment of our imagination. His disregard for Jewish safety, history, and the facts is staggering. By reducing the very real threat of antisemitism to a punchline, he not only trivializes our plight but also reinforces dangerous stereotypes about Jewish victimhood.

Screenshot, Jacob Berger, self-victimising, May 20, 2024, accessed June 8, 2024-Instagram

Berger’s videos and comments paint a distorted picture of Jewish life, portraying us as paranoid and consumed with victimization. He perpetuates the myth that antisemitism is a relic of the past, something to be laughed off rather than confronted. In doing so, he ignores the countless acts of violence, discrimination, and prejudice that Jews have faced throughout history as well as the growing incidents since October 7th. A disclaimer, although I have chosen to reference Jacob Berger’s anti-Israels posts and communication with me and others, it is not because he is important—far from it. He’s despicable. However, he represents a microcosm of many popular beliefs that have pervaded society, creating a skewed and toxic atmosphere for Jews.

Screenshot, Jacob Berger, no to Zios, May 20, 2024, accessed June 8, 2024-Instagram

He calls us “Zios” and, with an air of sadistic triumphalism, blames Israel for genocide. And oh boy, is he getting love from all of those peaceful types who chant, “From the river to the sea.” It’s an absolute love affair when a Jew, of all people, says that the “once tortured is now the torturer,” and of course it must be true! But his mockery goes beyond just minimizing our experiences—it actively contributes to a culture of disbelief and dismissal. When Jews speak out about antisemitism, we’re often met with skepticism and scorn, accused of exaggerating or fabricating our stories. His videos only serve to fuel this narrative. How many interviews and articles and posts have we seen of the complete dismissal of the October 7th atrocities?

Screenshot, Jacob Berger, May 22, 2024, nicest people, accessed June 8, 2024-Instagram

Jacob Berger’s portrayal of Palestinians as devoid of agency, consistently absolving them of accountability for their actions, is both hurtful and misleading. His assertion that Palestinians are “the nicest people around” implies a contrast with Jews, perpetuating the false dichotomy of innocent Palestinians as blameless victims subjected to an oppressive occupier. This perspective overlooks the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ongoing terror and violence perpetrated against Israelis since before the founding of the State of Israel. Additionally, these videos ignore the suffering experienced by Israelis held captive in Gaza, who have endured torture, kidnapping, and displacement from their homes.

Berger’s narrative fails to acknowledge the crimes committed by Hamas and other individuals on October 7th, undermining the notion of Palestinians as inherently “nice.” We’ve all witnessed the chilling scenes of Israeli captives in Gaza, and their treatment by ordinary citizens. Of course there are peace-loving, innocent people in the mix, but those presently are overshadowed by the horror of watching Israeli captives paraded through Palestinian streets, subjected to verbal abuse, harassment, and physical assault. Shockingly, some captives were held in ordinary Gazan homes, implicating individuals including teachers and doctors associated with organizations like UNRWA. By oversimplifying the complexities of the conflict and depicting Palestinians solely as blameless victims, Berger’s portrayal fails to capture the nuanced reality on the ground.

In the end, his videos do more than just offend—they perpetuate a dangerous myth that threatens the safety and security of Jewish communities everywhere. We cannot afford to ignore or downplay the very real threat of antisemitism. It’s not a joke. Our well-being depends on confronting antisemitism head-on, not laughing it off as some kind of harmless joke/fantasy.

Simultaneously, the demonization of pro-Palestinian voices in the United States has risen to a fever pitch – particularly when those voices are Muslim and Arab. Zionists and Islamophobes attack critics of Israel’s policies and practices by conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and seek to censor discussions within the context of the 56-year-long illegal Israeli occupation and the Nakba. Instead, antisemitism is weaponized to silence and discredit advocates of Palestinian human rights (Presumptively Antisemitic:Islamophobic Tropes in the Palestine-Israel Discourse, Rutgers, Center for Security, Race and Rights.)

And this from Rutgers, a university that prides itself for its research . . . The claim of Islamophobia in the face of global boycotts and hysterical protests against Israel, along with the singling out of Jews leading to numerous antisemitic incidents is alarming, and it only serves to sow division and distract from the urgent need to address antisemitism. Israeli and Jewish academics face boycotts from university campuses merely for being just that, Jewish/ Israeli/Zionists while Muslims holding anti-Israel views are the new heroes. Anti-Zionist Jews are obviously welcomed with open arms. I have failed to see expressions of mutual self-determination from progressives and Academics teaching Middle Eastern studies, silly me how could that be when anti-colonialist and anti-Western scholarly and didactic approaches have created the myth of Israeli imperialism.

Let’s not forget the historic imbalance in protests over the loss of Muslim life or repression on religious grounds when perpetrated by countries other than Israel. Are any students or faculty bothered by China’s treatment of the Uighurs? Are Chinese lecturers boycotted? What about Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds? And the list is long. Instead, Israel is the one boycotted world-wide, not Islamic countries; at McGill University, an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hung atop the school’s Roddick Gates. However, you won’t find effigies of any Islamic leaders with a rap sheet of human rights violations hanging anywhere. And unless my eyes have deceived me, we’ve not seen these crusaders for justice on university campuses wearing the Jewish prayer shawl, instead we’ve watched in dismay as protestors have adopted Islamic clothing and symbols that for Jews, at this juncture, are associated with the antithesis of freedom—how sick have you felt when seeing that Hamas green bandana?

For decades, certain academics have struggled to comprehend the unique and nuanced complexities inherent in Jewish history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe struggled isn’t the right word, I believe they’ve chosen to ignore those facts. Rather than acknowledging the longstanding presence of Jews in the region, predating Islam by centuries and persisting throughout Islamic rule, they have portrayed Jews as foreign interlopers. This biased narrative, prevalent in academia, has contributed to the vilification of Israel, permeating various disciplines and shaping student perspectives. Consequently, it effectively indoctrinates students against Israel, distorting their understanding of the conflict. The acceptance of falsehoods and mythology as fact, points to systemic erasure. This is possible despite a history that is not convoluted or difficult to follow—if only it were studied properly.

Screenshot, Jacob Berger, mind your own business, May 22, 2014, accessed June 8, 2024-Instagram








In another video, Berger teaches Jews yet another lesson: how to mind our own business. He dons the tiniest Star of David as he walks into a Palestinian protest to illustrate their purported peace and acceptance, seemingly unperturbed by the presence of a Jew among them. Idiot. When I commented on the disturbing trivialization of antisemitism, I was met with dismissive and hateful responses. Then it became personal with Berger and his sycophants.

Screenshot, Jacob Berger, May 22, 2024, denying antisemitism, accessed June, 8, 2024-Instagram








Apparently, nobody knows we are Jewish, and black people hold a monopoly on prejudice and discrimination. The notion that only black people encounter prejudice implies a narrow understanding of racism. Should we not recognize and address prejudice wherever it occurs, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the affected individuals?

Screenshot, Jacob Berger, May 22, 2024, self-aware, accessed June 8, 2024

Well duh, antisemitism has made us self-aware, or rather hyper-aware. It’s a constant presence we can’t escape. You’ve never let us forget! Katherine’s ignorant remark about us all looking the same is just another painful reminder. Imagine the uproar if such a comment were directed at a Black person or an Asian! The truth is, nobody realizes we’re Jewish until they do. It’s as though we must hide our identity–our Star of David, side locks, dress, name–or anything else “Jewey,” so that we can feel safe. Missing from the usual discourse about us is the fact that Jews come in all colors, and Jewish people, like any other ethnic or religious group, encompass a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, experiences, and levels of privilege.

Even the Holocaust experience is trivialized by Berger’s followers, as though Jews weren’t the primary victims. Katherine, together with Berger, poked fun at my son, dismissing his anxiety over the very public displays of antisemitism he has felt since October 7th. They encouraged him to go out and play in the grass, where antisemitism supposedly doesn’t exist.

But you see, privilege is not only about money and opportunities—it’s also about nachat, a Hebrew and Yiddish word that conveys contentment—a peace that envelops your body and soul. Our “jewrney” means we know very well what it feels like to be the “other.” Do not invoke intersectionality to cast antisemitism to the sidelines as though we don’t understand. Privilege is never having to hear the same age-old stereotypes and rhetoric that make us feel as though we’ve stepped into a time warp.

Supporting resistance movements can be alluring and even profitable, but often at the expense of Jewish self-determination. As Sartre observed, antisemitism is a chosen, comprehensive attitude, reflecting a deep-seated predisposition towards hate. This is a reality that underscores the persistent and pervasive nature of antisemitism in our world today.

I could go on, but I rather turn to something more positive.

It’s been months since Jack mentioned keeping a low profile, and during this time, we’ve endured a relentless wave of hate towards Israel and Jews. Little did I anticipate that Jack, encouraged by his remarkable teacher Miss Resnik, would participate in a poetry slam competition, the theme was roots, and that he would compose a poem about his Jewish heritage. His poem was one of the two poems selected to represent his high school, a first for its subject matter. Despite his apprehension about public speaking, and possibly an anti-Israel outburst, Jack bravely took the stage yesterday in a filled auditorium, surrounded by students, teachers, and staff. Nevertheless, the boy, who once sought to conceal his Jewish identity, courageously took the stage and recited his poem with unwavering confidence. Each word flowed from his lips with clarity and conviction that captivated the entire audience. His performance was both powerful and mesmerizing, evoking a sense of pride that pulsed through my heart. Although he didn’t secure first, second, or third place, his triumph lay in overcoming his fear and rediscovering pride in a religion and culture that has weathered much controversy. In my opinion, he emerged as the winner.

Jack Bryett reciting The Olive Tree.

Jack Bryett Recites The Olive Tree, May 23, 2024 (courtesy)

The Olive Tree
by Jack Bryett

Blinding and beautiful sun that dwindled in an orange sky
Passing an ancient olive tree, its fickle bark twisted and torn, oozing
centuries of history
Blade-like leaves shimmer in Sol’s afternoon splendor as they cut
through the dusty zephyr
Green ovoid fruit anointed with kingly oil plucked unceremoniously
and brought to my lips
Overwhelming bitterness
Gravel shifting and fitting together under my feet destroying any
semblance of its personal space
I ascend a dirt trail, earth swirling, stepping over the fragments of my
Dull rocks tell a tale as old as time
Ancient shards of pottery that cut my inner being
Terracotta puzzle
The land of my people, where archaic memories choose to dwell
Centuries of nomadic wandering, enslavement, banishment, exile
A people steeped with ancient scrolls and songs
The hope to return, a desire to persist, the need for peace
Dove clutching an olive branch – a symbol of our timeless quest
Branches break, roots hold fast, a testament to our steadfast past
Birds chirping, bullets whistling, deafening thunder, explosive

Shrapnel rain
Olive skinned grandmother scavenges and picks at the bone
I scavenged old bones — the pieces of a long forgotten era
When prophets roamed
My roots, my people
An olive tree with a thick bark, deep roots, and bitter fruits
Memories of the past and the present converge
I walk over the fragments of a lost soul’s life
Smashed pottery, smashed home
I try and escape the realities of an ongoing era
We didn’t belong before and we don’t belong now
What will be left to scavenge of my people?
Ancient temples and pottery
Smashed homes and picture frames
The price to pay for my selfish wanting;
Selfish desire to dream of belonging
Cost an arm and a leg
For some people.

*Extra reading:

Bobby B. Sprout Meets a Bunch of Rotten Veggies by Ilana K. Levinsky is a charming children’s book that explores themes of diversity, acceptance, and the celebration of individual differences. Follow Bobby B. Sprout on his delightful adventures as he encounters a variety of vegetables, teaching young readers valuable lessons about love, acceptance, and empathy, all with a touch of humor of course! Filled with vibrant illustrations and charming characters, this book is not only enjoyable to read but also serves as a powerful tool in fostering exclusivity and challenging stereotypes from an early age.

Your link for the book:

About the Author
Ilana K. Levinsky is a writer and baker with a passion for crafting captivating stories and intricate sugar cookies. Originally from London, England, Ilana earned her LL.B from the University of Manchester, though spent the past two decades working as a freelance writer and in recent years, developing her cottage food bakery business. Notably, Ilana spent a significant part of her childhood and teenage years living in Israel, adding unique experiences to her creative palette. Ilana wields a pen and an icing bag with equal finesse, blending imagination into her books and edible canvases. With a penchant for diverse storytelling, she weaves family history into a gripping historical novel spanning England and South Africa. In her intimate diary-style narrative, Ilana transports readers to the vibrant world of Venice Beach, where a woman's quest for love and literary recognition unfolds. As a children's author, she ignites young minds with a colorful array of topics—from the woes of having no friends to the joys of daydreaming and even the enchanting world of sweets. With each tale and every sugar stroke, Ilana creates worlds of wonder, inviting readers and sweet enthusiasts alike to savor the magic of creativity and taste. Discover all of Ilana's books on Amazon, and don't miss the opportunity to view her artistic sugar cookies on Instagram @ilanasacups. For her musings on aging and beauty, visit her blog at
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