Thousands of Jewish teens marching together in a show of solidarity and triumph, proving that, despite his best efforts, Hitler failed his mission to eliminate an entire people. We are still here.
I still remember how proud I felt to experience that moment, 15 years ago, as a participant on March of the Living, a two-week program that brings Jewish teens to Poland and Israel to witness the sites of the Holocaust and strengthen their connection to their Jewish heritage.
The highlight of the trip is the recreation of the “death” march between the Auschwitz work camp and Auschwitz death camp. Only now it is a “March of the Living” and is still walked to this day.
Though many years have past, and I am a different person than I was as a 17-year-old high school junior who decided to embark on that life-changing journey, I am very much defined by that experience. Now, as a mother of a Jewish child, I know I have a responsibility to teach him the reality of what it means to be Jewish in today’s world. I can just hope that, someday, he won’t need these lessons.
1. Antisemitism is everywhere. I used to think that growing up in the New York City borough of Queens made me immune to antisemitism. Prejudice was something experienced in the rural towns of the Deep South, not the big cities of the North. I soon learned that the harsh reality that discrimination knows no geographical boundaries.
2. There will be folks who will attribute your being Jewish to your success. Yes, you are blessed to be born into an economically stable family. And yes, you are at an advantage for being born white. It’s important to acknowledge that. However, when others start talking about how “Jews have all the money,” understand that this isn’t about the privilege of a particular group, it’s just prejudice.
3. You will be judged as a Jewish person. I am disheartened whenever I read a report of a Jew involved in a heinous crime. I know it will further negative views of the Jewish people. I need you to understand that you are representing more than yourself. You are representing all Jews.
4. It’s okay if others question your Jewish practices. Many people have never met or only know of a few Jews. If they are confused when you say you don’t celebrate Christmas or wonder why you choose not to eat a ham sandwich, do not be offended. Use that as an opportunity to teach them about your culture.
5. Be proud to be a Jew. Your people have been through a lot and have much to show for it. You are here because of their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of non-Jews who stood up against discrimination and helped our people thrive. No matter how observant you choose to be, I hope you will always hold your Jewishness in high regard.