My College Experience with Antisemitism

I notice it a lot in society nowadays. The thought is that if you didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, then you did nothing wrong, right? No. Even if you didn’t mean it, it came off that way. So what comes next? Try to understand why. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t just sweep your rude, offensive, and ignorant remarks under the rug and let yourself off the hook because you didn’t “mean” for it to come off that way. The root of most racism and antisemitism is ”not meaning for it to come off that way.”

Recently with the rise of antisemitism and Jewish hate going on in the world, especially on college campuses, I thought about one of my own experiences dealing with antisemitism. This wasn’t the time a friend’s boyfriend casually mentioned Auschwitz in a joke, or different friend asked if I liked a guy because he had a ”Jew nose”, or even the many times friends made light of the Holocaust. No, this was the something that I didn’t even realize why it was making me uncomfortable until just now—more than five years later.

It’s called Secret Hitler. A spinoff of the werewolf game where everyone puts their heads down and the werewolf (or in this case “Hitler”) lifts his or her head. Everyone spends the game trying to find out who the werewolf is. Except in this case, everyone tries to find out who Hitler is. Whenever my boyfriend’s friends would want to play, I reluctantly obliged, feeling uncomfortable but not really fully understanding why. No one else brought up the obvious offensiveness of the name of the game or no one seemed to notice my discomfort, so it became a game night staple. But each time we played my frustrations grew. The ”Secret Hitler” of the game had “fascists,” that only he knew about, posing as regular players also trying to ”figure out” who he was. It all felt too familiar. Until one day, the screaming about who was Hitler was too much. I blew up the game and told my boyfriend I never wanted to play again because I didn’t like everyone getting so heated. (A lame excuse, I know.) I’m sure his friends to this day think I was just being a diva because that conclusion is easier to jump to than to question why the only Jew in the room might be uncomfortable playing a game where everyone is laughing about the secret Hitler in the room.

I’m not sure why I remembered this game today. Maybe it’s because I recently found my Star of David necklace that I hardly ever wore in college because I, like so many other Jews on college campuses, felt the need to downplay or all-together hide my Jewish identity. Maybe it’s because of the rise of Jewish hate in the world. Maybe it’s because recently I have had several conversations with friends about antisemitism and about my experiences and to be honest, each discussion left me feeling more alone and misunderstood. I heard lots of “they’re just words” and “don’t let it get to you” and “I’m sure they didn’t mean it” and “that’s not normal” throughout the conversations. But they’re not just words and it does get to me. And if it didn’t get to me, I think I would worry that I was losing my compassion, my humanity.

Either way, I woke up with a start this morning as all the pieces fell into place—I had finally figured out why. It’s because I am amongst people who feel the same way that the ”fascists” in the game feel—they want Hitler to win. And I don’t really know who those people are, they blend in. So while this story of antisemitism on my college campus doesn’t hold a candle to other experiences (my own and others), it feels particularly relevant today. Probably because as I said earlier, no one ”meant” anything offensive. It’s just the name of a game so what’s the big deal, right?

Wrong. It’s turning one man’s unspeakable acts of cruelty into a game. And that is why I was uncomfortable. I know some people won’t agree with me. I know some people will say I am being “too sensitive.” I know others will roll their eyes and move on. I also couldn’t put words to my discomfort for years. I rolled my eyes when I first heard the name of the game and said nothing. I labeled myself ”too sensitive” at first as well. But it’s not just a game, that rude remark is not just a joke, and what happened is no laughing matter.

So that is why I share this story. Because so many of my friends are surprised and astounded when I speak about my experiences and about the amount of antisemitism on college campuses and in the world in general. Because I’m not sure why but it seems like antisemitism is seldom discussed and I want to be a part of the conversation so that maybe one day I won’t have to explain why it’s not okay. Because I am tired of people minimizing antisemitism.

If you are still with me, I hope you take one thing away from this post: what you say and what you do, it matters. It’s not okay to dismiss a swastika being etched onto a temple or a menorah being vandalized. It’s not okay to make “light-hearted” Jew jokes or make light of the Holocaust. It’s not okay to discriminate against Jewish people on college campuses. It’s not okay. It’s hateful.

Until next time,

Leah Pinkus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s