March 4, 2009
Encounter With Hatred Reinforces Duty as Jew
Anti-Semitism is a word I’ve heard used often. Whether I was learning about the rise of Nazism in Germany in school or reading the latest, biased article in the newspaper about the conflict in Gaza, anti-Semitism seemed to exist everywhere and in every period of history.
However, growing up in a sheltered neighborhood in Los Angeles, I had never directly been in a situation where I personally felt my people threatened. Although I knew anti-Semitism exists, I had never actually realized how terrifying and close to me it truly is — until my recent Model United Nations trip.
Together with my school, I traveled to Mission Viejo for a conference to discuss space weaponization, space debris and disaster management — topics about which I was excited to debate; topics I had researched extensively. I was representing Israel, the country I deeply love and hold close to my heart.
When I got to the conference, I met many intelligent and passionate students from all over California. They also all had researched their topics for weeks, so our debates were intellectual and stimulating. I quickly gained the confidence to go to the front of the room and fervently defend Israel’s position — how Israel, the smallest country in the Middle East, needs weapons in space to defend itself from its neighboring Arab countries that wish to destroy its very existence.
I spoke about how glad I was that at least the United States understood this and could back up Israel’s position. I called for more countries to join us in creating a resolution that establishes boundaries for space weaponization but does not ban the idea entirely.
During the unmoderated caucus — where countries gather to discuss resolutions — I joined with the United States and prepared to write our own resolution to be presented to the General Assembly for voting. As I gathered up my notes, a delegate came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” he asked, “are you an Israelite?”
I looked up from my papers, confused.
“An Israelite?” I asked, “You mean, am I Jewish?”
“Yeah,” he answered, “I could immediately tell from the way you talked about Israel up there.”
I responded with a mumbled thanks and turned to my resolution group when he tapped me again.
“So, wait. What do you think about the Gaza conflict happening right now?” he asked.
I smiled and answered that Israel, of course, has a right to defend herself while innocent civilians die from the constant flow of rockets from Gaza. I emphasized that any country in the world would not let thousands of rockets kill its people and stand by and watch it happen. I directed the question toward him — if you were the leader of a country, would you let that happen?
Confident with my answer, I turned to go once again.
“Of course I would not stand by and watch it happen ... but I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that Israel’s a victim,” he smirked. “All of these wars, all of these conflicts — why is Israel always involved? They obviously have other plans.
“Why don’t you and your people take your stupid homeland and move it to Mars or something so that the world will finally be rid of all its problems? You Jews are the cause of everything bad in the world. Israel shouldn’t exist.”
Enraged with his idiotic answer, I prepared to explain to him everything I knew about the conflict and how nothing he said made sense. Then, a few seconds later, I thought better of it. He was obviously uneducated on the topic and not worth my time.
“Would you like to speak to someone more informed, like someone from my school that knows about the conflict better than I do?” I asked.
“No, no,” he laughed, “They’d probably be a Jew, and I don’t want to talk to any more of those.”
He then rudely walked away.
As I stared at his back, I contemplated what had just happened. I had met an anti-Semitic person, someone so young (about the same age as I was), so uneducated and uninformed; I was disgusted with the things he had said about my people and the place I love most. He spoke about the Jews as if they were rats or lice — he suggested sending us off to another planet!
But then I realized that there are a lot of people like him out there, and that I was naïve to think they all live halfway across the world. Instead of feeling disgusted, I felt proud of myself that I defended my people with such strength and passion. I felt motivated to get myself even more involved with organizations that educate people about Israel and defend her against anyone spreading lies and propaganda.
It is my duty, as a Jew and as someone who is fortunate enough to come from a strong, proud Jewish community. I owe it to all my ancestors who experienced things much worse than anything I could imagine, simply because they were Jewish. And that’s when I realized that standing up for my people in the face of evil is what truly defines me as a Jew.
Ariel Schnitzer is a 10th-grader at Milken Community High School.