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The Political Existence

A table outside, set for Shabbat, glowing in the low light of the evening. (Image courtesy of author)

Imagine I am sitting across from two people. Person A is Jewish, and Person B is not. I have just recited to them enthusiastically the rules of the word association game. They have agreed to play. But instead of starting somewhere vague such as ‘apple’ or ‘giraffe’, I give them both the phrase: “the political existence”. 

I watch Person A’s eyelids flutter shut just a second too long. I watch their chest rise with a shaky breath and catch the small tug of a thumb on her left sleeve out of the corner of my eye. She is quiet. 

At the same time, I see Person B sit slightly more upright in their chair, a flash of recognition in his eyes that can only mean that he seems to be proud of the answer he is about to give. There is no hesitation, no questioning of why Person A has not yet said much because he is too caught up in his own mind to have even realized that his voice would be the only voice in the room as he replies. 

“A President.”

That is the answer I get. Not the answer I wanted, dear reader, but what I expected. To Person B, a political existence is a chosen one. It is the process of walking up to a podium and asking – in all senses of the word– to be politicized

Imagine after this, Person B gets up and leaves the room with his head held high because after what he believes to be the right answer is given, there is no use in wasting any more of his time waiting for alternatives. It is only then, in the buzzing silence, somewhere between disbelief and a familiar disappointment, that Person A can tell me what her answer was. 

“My life.” 

And although terribly unfortunate, dear reader, she is right. I have thought long and hard about the intersection of politics and of humanity. Of voting and elections and policies and all of the rights that go along with it. However, this angle assumes that being political is an aspect of someone’s identity, not the identity itself. And this is how it should be. But when you are Jewish, your entire existence is up for debate. 

You are held entirely accountable for the actions of a government miles away, and for the wrongdoings of your own country’s government because everything is your fault. You are scapegoated and you are blamed, but you are pitied while simultaneously ‘playing the victim’. You control the world, but you are the scum of it, and when you’re dead it’s tragic but when you’re begging not to be killed it is an overreaction. You want to just get homework done but your phone is being blown up because of an on-campus antisemitic emergency. You fail classes and you drown. You support ‘genocide’ simply by breathing, except you’re the ones who have been slaughtered by terrorists.

Any defense of your identity is met with cardboard signs and pitchforks. Your pain is being held up and scrutinized, and those same children who once used mirrors to kill ants are waiting at your doorstep with a magnifying glass.

Most of this world thinks like Person B. They are not concerned with the real answer or with other perspectives if it is not what they perceive to be correct. They can leave the room whenever they feel as though they have had their say in the conversation. And while this is true, to be Person A in this world is the Jewish experience. 

Our entire existence has become a tool. A political campaign from both sides to push opposing agendas by stretching and contorting our real world experiences into a narrative to get them more likes on instagram or more votes in an election. 

So, you ask, why am I telling you this? There is power in knowing. To truly defy this narrative, we must understand the root and be able to call out the problem at hand. Be aware of false friends, keep your cards close to your chest but your Star of David closer.

You have two options in this case: refuse this. Dismiss it completely. Don’t let them force you into a ballot box. Exercise your humanity and disassociate from anything and everything they tell you to be. Your second option, and this may be controversial, is to play into it. They are taking everything you are and ringing you out. 

Use this! Use this to your advantage in every way you possibly can. Simply because they are putting you in a position where you have to defend your very existence: defend it stronger. Defend it louder. Jews of the world are being silenced right now but we are also being given the opportunity to show how brilliant we are. How brave we can be. To show them all exactly why we have survived for thousands of years, and show them we will be here for thousands more. So perhaps the next time you think about a ‘political existence’, think about how one day, you might just think of the president, too. And that if you go with option two, one day that president may just be you.

About the Author
Though originally from London, Ilana resides in Florida and is a sophomore at the University of South Florida, as well as the Student Body President of USF Hillel. Ilana is a Jewish student on the front line fighting to combat antisemitism and support Israel. She loves to read and to write, and is the author of her Hillel's weekly column, 'B is for Boobah'. She is an Emerson Fellow for StandWithUs and is very passionate about being Jewish!
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