I will admit it now: For most of 2018, I hid my Jewish pride.
Two weeks ago, I was at The Wing in New York to see Transparent creator Jill Soloway launch her new book, She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy. I have known Jill for years through Reboot, a Jewish collective of creatives, entrepreneurs, academics and activists reconnecting to their Jewishness in modern, creative ways, and was proud and excited to be there. It was packed but I found a bunch of Rebooter friends, and smooshed them together for a photo, because of course, Instagram. I went to tag Reboot in the post – look! Here we all are! – and then the tag came up: @RebootJewish.
I hesitated for a moment, but it was a short moment. I didn't tag.
I didn't tag because I didn't want to flag that I was Jewish. It's not that I was expecting blowback on Insta – I have a reliable group of story-viewers and most of them are there for the toddler content with a side of rage-posts about the current administration. I just didn't want to call attention to it. Because, well, you just never know.
You just never know who is an anti-Semite, who secretly hates Jews. It's not a secret on Twitter, where the anti-Semitic hate is there for all to see in oven memes sent to journalists and completely not-veiled triple parenthesis icons –you've probably seen them: ((( ))) –that the alt-right puts around names to flag their Jewishness. It certainly wasn't secret in the chants from tiki-torch carrying white nationalists in Charlottesville last year: "Jews will not replace us!"
Back to my tagging, and pointed lack thereof. I did not tag @RebootJewish anywhere on my Instagrams from Jill's talk, even though the Jewishness in her Transparent thrilled me and felt personal to me in every way, from the familiarity of the Pfefferman clan to my love of Rabbi Raquel to my different, more fierce love for the 1930s Yetta hiding a family jewel in a bar of chocolate (played by Michaela Watkins, another amazing Rebooter), even though Jewishness is the nexus for my knowing Jill in the first place. And besides, Transparent is first and foremost about the trans experience (just look at its title), and was groundbreaking for highlighting and mainstreaming trans storytelling and notions of gender fluidity. That's what a nice Jewish liberal like myself ought to be highlighting, anyway. Right? From the safety of my cis-white-lady privilege, it was much safer to focus on the othering of another group.
But for Jews, that safety is fragile. We know that all too well after the brutal slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning. Eleven Jews, gunned down by a hateful, anti-Semitic white supremacist as they prayed. A white supremacist who screamed "All Jews must die" as he opened fire on a roomful of elderly people. He had posted anti-refugee bile on the loathsome Gab.com previously, but his target were Jews, so easily lumped in by white supremacists into everything that they hate. It was the worst massacre of Jews on American soil. Murdered for being Jewish, in the United States. In 2018.
Usually we say "in 2018" as though merely a date is enough to prove how far we've come, but the facts of the past two years have proven otherwise. Hate has been legitimised at the highest levels - and yes, by the President of the United States. For the most part, the Republicans have looked the other way, happy to have their judges and their tax cuts. Paul Ryan pretends to tut-tut on tone as his super-PAC spews racist bile. Ivanka has been silent. Chuck Grassley actively joined in the barely-coded stoking of anti-Semitism by waving around the George Soros conspiracy-mongering. And of course the hate for immigrants has been made manifest in Trump's loathsome child-separation policies and his fear-mongering about refugees daring to travel together to seek asylum ("our country is being stolen!" and "This is an invasion of our country!"). And in Pittsburgh, a white supremacist anti-Semite ate it all up.
And in New York, just two weeks ago, I declined to tag a photo of proud Jewish women who knew each other through a beloved Jewish group because the tag had the word "Jewish" in it. But that was before Pittsburgh, when, to me, it felt safer not to trumpet my Jewishness everywhere. And I love trumpeting my Jewishness! I was the freaking co-host of a women's current events show on The Jewish Channel. I was on the Heeb 100 and the Forward 50. And I love being in Reboot. And back in 2016 when journalists were being targeted on Twitter, I put the ((( ))) around my Twitter handle too, in defiance, but as the weeks went on it started to feel more and more uncomfortable. (I have a young daughter, and scary thoughts come to me sometimes, like when an angry man slides into your DMs to tell you he's coming to find you, bitch.) Why draw attention? I took it off.
Why draw attention? In the wake of the murders of my fellow Jews in Pittsburgh I wrestle with that question, knowing that it is my responsibility to be Jewish with pride and visibility, in defiance of hate. The murder of Jews for their Jewishness is a clear sign that we are more vulnerable now, but also - maybe paradoxically - makes the choice more clear, too. Before, it was the ominous rise of anti-Semitic incidents and disquieting proliferation of ugly Twitter trolls that hinted at an elevated risk; now, alas, the worst fears have come to pass. So now it is a question of response, and action, rather than the passivity of just hoping you can sit this one out.
I connect deeply to the Jewish notion of 'tikkun olam' – which literally means 'repairing the world' - but that is not work to be done quietly, especially in 2018. Silence is about safety, but also passivity. It is also about privilege, because as a cis white woman I have the option to blend in with, say, the 53% of white women who voted for Trump. That option was not available to Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, murdered last week at a grocery store in Kentucky just because they were black. The gunman had tried to enter a black church, but the door was locked, so he found his victims elsewhere. When I think of it that way, my don't-make-waves silence starts to feel an awful lot like complacency, which is pretty damned close to complicity.
Complicity is to look around and say, “Eh, this seems fine.” The Rev. William Barber posted on Twitter with a reminder of Martin Luther King Jr’s words following the Birmingham church bombing in 1963 (55 years ago) which killed four little girls: "We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer." It is not incidental that in his attack on Jews in synagogue, the Pittsburgh killer was also attacking tikkun olam – Jews repairing the world by helping refugees. It is all connected.
Back to Reboot (@RebootJewish on Instagram, to labour a point!) The central question of Reboot is, as Jews, what are we inheriting, and what do we plan to do with it? I love what I am inheriting as a Jew – my traditions, my stories, my history, my prayers, my jokes about such small portions. And what I am also inheriting is an existence that comes with a legacy of persecution, and the dangers of persecution now and in the future. So I will speak up loudly against all persecution. (Cue Martin Niemöller, who may seem familiar from a sudden spate of Instagrams, reminding us that speaking up against injustice can go both ways.) Anyone who thinks they can pick and choose between atrocities that matter is dead wrong, and morally wrong. (This is not a debate. Do not debate this point. Especially not on Facebook. Oy. Just no.) There's room for everyone on the right side of history.
So I will speak up. And I will tag defiantly. And I will say "oy" now and forever. And I will ask myself, about everything: What am I inheriting? And what do I plan to do with it?
And then I will speak my answer. Loudly.