I make no secret of being Jewish. I mean, I really don’t. I’ve been disturbed at the increase of anti-Semitism, but also surprised at how many people seem to be flabbergasted that these ideas are “still around” or that this hatred “still lingers”. Much more knowledgable people than I have written about the history and the present of anti-Semitism, and I’ll leave it that to them. I only know from what I’ve experienced first hand, so that’s what I’ll share.
I grew up in Sharon, MA a town known for its high Jewish population. I attended private Jewish day school for K-12 and for three years attended Kingswood, a Jewish sleep-away camp in the summers. My point being that I had a fairly culturally insular life. This story takes places the year before I started going to Kingswood.
At [redacted summer camp] I enjoyed a fairly standard first week. I found the ropes course to be challenging and fun, I’d made a few friends, and I was looking forward to being in a play that summer. Like many groups of young boys, there was one, whom I’ll call ‘Joe’, who was the defacto leader of our little group. He was a taller, more confidant, and had that all-around cool-guy vibe that we all responded to.
Then we had the first barbecue. There was a barbecue every week on Fridays. The food was of course provided, and you could have a hamburger or a hotdog. Because I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to eat either [coming from a kosher-keeping household] my parents had cleared it ahead of time that it’d be okay if I brought my own meat wrapped in tinfoil [so as not to share the grill with the other non-kosher meat].
So that first Friday I brought a hamburger and a hotdog, wrapped in tinfoil in a cooler. When my new found friends saw that I was having both, they asked why — and I explained that I’d brought them from home, that they were kosher. This is the part that I don’t understand, even today. They latched onto that word. Kosher. I didn’t know them well, and I certainly don’t know them now, I find it hard to believe I was the first Jew they’d ever met, but it’s possible I was the first they’d met who kept strict kashrut. Either way.
Joe did that asshole-kid thing. He refused to ‘hear’ the word or understand it. He kept calling it ‘koshen’ with an ‘n’.
“So you’re koshen? You’re a koshen boy?”
That’s what he called me for the rest of the summer. Koshen boy. Of course, because he did it, so did some of the others. I was out. I finished out the summer, participating in my activities that I’d signed up for, but I didn’t have friends anymore. Sure I knew the people in the activity groups, but it wasn’t camp-friends. The worst part was every Friday. They’d find me wherever I’d gone to eat my single hotdog or single hamburger [somehow thinking if I didn’t bring both it’d be okay] and taunt me.
The next summer I went to an all Jewish summer camp.
This is a relatively small blip in my life, but it was important too. I was pretty sheltered growing up and while I certainly heard of anti-Semitism happening in the US and elsewhere, our community was so insular, it didn’t often happen to people I knew.
Anti-Semitism didn’t start with the Holocaust and it didn’t end there. It knows no national boundary. It may be a rising tide, but if all you see is the tide — you’re missing the ocean.