BY HANNAH ROACH '17
The closest things Jews have to baptism is the fact that around 95 percent of us learned to swim by being thrown into a Jewish Community Center pool. I was no exception – I went to the JCC every summer from ages 4 to 9. Every day, I walked the hallways and was surrounded by Jewish imagery. Mezuzot were placed on every doorway, Hebrew words shining through stained glass in the summer sun. Every year, a magician would come in and balance someone in a chair on his nose – they would get a t-shirt and be the envy of all. The JCC was a safe place where I built a community within a Jewish space, with Jewish and non-Jewish peers. It was where I learned to swim, where I felt comfortable being Jewish and being myself.
The JCC near my home was evacuated on Feb. 27 of this year. As of March 13, more than 100 community centers had received bomb threats. Children were escorted out of their classrooms, leaving behind the sense of comfort that exists within Jewish spaces.
JCCs and Jewish communities are where Jews live, where we celebrate the blessings of every day.
It isn't just our lives that are being attacked, but our deaths. Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated alongside the JCC attacks. Headstones were turned over, plots destroyed. Jews have historically been mistreated in death, with many being forcibly baptized after the Shoah. We put stones on our graves because they are permanent – they do not fade away like flowers. They ground the soul to the Earth, keeping our graves and our identities safe.
Bomb threats and grave desecration aren't unique to the United States of Trump's presidency; in 2015, the Anti-Defamation League reported a 3 percent increase in these activities from 2014. Anti-Semitic attacks have doubled on college campuses. While I would like to say that I feel safe here, I am constantly reminded of the Nazi propaganda that was printed on all campus printers connected to the cloud last year. While we received an email stating that these flyers went against Mount Holyoke's commitment to diversity and inclusion, the conversation stopped very quickly after the pamphlets were recycled.
An Israeli-Jewish American teenager was arrested for making some of the calls that threatened violence at JCCs across the United States. According to Haaretz, he has been making these phone calls for more than two years. Although learning that the perpetrator had been found gave many Jews momentary relief from these threats, the fact that the he is Jewish complicates this story. It is about to be dismissed from our conversations. People wonder: How can a threat be anti-Semitic when it comes from a Jewish voice?
Of course, anti-Semitism from any source leaves the community afraid and hurt. But how are Jews expected to talk about the validity of these threats without being diminished? Throughout the past few months of increased anti-Semitic threats, I saw only one non-Jewish person post about it on Facebook. While I saw my family and friends sharing their personal stories about these threats, I did not see support from non-Jewish friends. I was not asked if my JCC was attacked or if my family was evacuated. Rather, the Jewish community surrounding me became an echo-chamber, bouncing our prayers and hopes against one another's.
I can't stop talking about my Judaism. I can't stop questioning and complaining and wondering. That's the Jewish condition – except we call it kvetching. While the stereotypes suggest that we only complain about what Dr. Brown flavors are left at our Seders or that Young Frankenstein was underwhelming on Broadway, it turns out we have real things to complain about.