The accent was unmistakable at Sunday lunches “could you pass me the feijón, please?” Born in former Yugoslavia, from which he fled persecuted with his family in World War II, my grandfather saw death, starved, crossed borders between countries and, at an age when he should have known love and freedom, knew hell. He landed stateless in Brazil and, a few years later, met in the synagogue a childhood friend from his hometown. In an exciting history of strength and entrepreneurship, they created together one of the biggest lingerie factories in Brazil.
We had already lost him when, at the age of ten, I left the Jewish school where I studied to attend a secular one. On the first day, I made a friend:
– In what language is your name?
– In Hebrew.
– Because I’m Jewish.
– Wow! But did you know you can change your religion if you want?
I then became known as “the Jew”. I was the “rich Jew” as if my family’s money was the result of a religious condition or shame, the “cheapskate Jew” when I didn’t share a snack, the “geek Jew” when I got good grades. The derogatory tone, my colleagues believed, was not accompanied by any malice.
I’m Jewish in every inch of my soul, although extremely secular, and I lived in Brazil until 2017. That’s where I grew up, had my two children, paid all my taxes and bills on time and voted, as a citizen of the country that welcomed my stateless grandparents.
Then, in 2019, one of the largest magazines in circulation in Brazil features on its cover the Brazilian head of the Social Communication Special Secretariat and denounces all its dubious practices. It would be praiseworthy in a country that has been plagued by corruption for decades if it wasn’t for one big detail: the emphasis of the matter is that he is Jew. “The Manipulation of the Jewish Colony” appears in bold letters, including other highlights such as “The Israelis are known for operating in the underworld of the security and information industry” and comparing the protagonist of the article to Goebbels.
That is to say, according to the piece, my childhood peers were correct: we are always Jews above every other characteristic when someone wants to point an accusing finger at our face, always making use of the Jewish conspiracy myth that refuses to die.
The head of the Brazilian Social Communication Special Secretariat is a man who needs to be investigated, regardless of his religion. My grandfather was a hero and entrepreneur, regardless of his religion. I am the girl who used to love confetti, regardless of my religion. And Goebbels, dear journalist, is the man who created arguments like those that make ten-year-olds believe that prejudice is just a joke. Just like yours.
“A lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth” And because of it, my grandfather knew hell at an age when he was supposed to throw confetti.