"No More Nice Jewish Girl"
We Cannot Again Be Silent
Jews for Hamas?
Many people were puzzled after several hundred leftwing Jewish demonstrators managed to close Grand Central station last Friday. Those protestors had occupied the Capitol a week earlier, demanding a ceasefire.
While it has been unsettling since October 7 as tens of thousands have celebrated and justified barbaric terrorism as an act of Palestinian resistance, that some of them were Jews just added insult to injury.
The Jewish pro-Palestine protestors came under the banner of two organizations, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. IfNotNow is a radical activist group that raises money for its “No Genocide in Our Name” campaign. Its website boasts it is “mobilizing Jews” to “Fight Antisemitism and White Nationalism.” Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the most consequential American Jewish pro-BDS/anti-Israel groups. It has celebrated Palestinians convicted of terrorism.
Although Jews cheering the people who would kill all Jews might seem the height of suicidal idiocy, it does not surprise those of us who have studied the cancer of antisemitism and its explosive growth on college campuses and in many countries. I have reported daily on the No Antisemitism Facebook page about incidents of anti-Jewish hate around the globe. Last year, I and my husband Gerald Posner, were so concerned that the Anti-Defamation League and other mainstream Jewish organizations were giving a pass to leftwing hate, that we co-founded Antisemitism Watch. It is a non-profit dedicated to fighting historical prejudices and stereotypes about Jews.
While I may not have been surprised at the public outpouring of hate since October 7, it nevertheless rekindled some long suppressed and intensely painful personal memories. As a Jewish child growing up in London in the 1950s and 1960s, I was the victim of continuous antisemitic bullying at public schools.
“All Jews have big noses.”
“Why don’t you go back to where you come from?”
Some thought they were clever by complaining that the Nazis had not gassed enough of us. My family moved a lot. I did not know at the time that my father was a compulsive gambler. When he was on a good streak, which invariably did not last very long, we lived in nicer neighborhoods. When he was in debt, we moved to council flats. It was those children of mostly working class parents who somehow seemed most allergic to the arrival of a Jewish student. I had been to a dozen schools by the time I was 16. While the teachers and students were different, the anti-Jewish hatred was consistent. At every one it seemed I found a swastika carved into my desk or scrawled by pen on my satchel. On one occasion, my head was shoved into a toilet.
When I moved from London to New York in 1978, I was pleased to discover that Jews were a vibrant and important part of city life. Antisemitism seemed quite distant. I felt liberated in New York from the hate that was such a steady part of my British school years.
A reminder that antisemitism was simply simmering under the surface, even in New York, came in 1991 after a 7-year-old black child was tragically killed by a Hassidic driver in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Demonstrators carried signs proclaiming, “No Justice, No Peace!” “Death to the Jews!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” During three nights of violence, Jews were beaten, and one 29-year-old Talmudic scholar stabbed to death.
Still, that flareup of hate receded into a distant memory over a few years. I lived in New York during 9/11. It was unthinkable that my neighbors and colleagues at work would cheer the success of the 19 hijackers who killed 3,000 Americans. I could not imagine that anyone would tear down the thousands of homemade posters that had been plastered around the city by families looking for missing loved ones. Yet, all of that is what has happened in the wake of October 7, the greatest single day pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust.
In 2020, when journalist Bari Weiss resigned from The New York Times, she published a remarkable resignation letter. She wrote, “[a] new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”
She had highlighted one of the main reasons I believed that the newspapers and magazines many of us relied on for our news, had steadfastly shied away from reporting on the growth of leftwing antisemitism.
When I emailed copies of Weiss’s letter to friends and colleagues, many dismissed it cavalierly. “She is overreacting.” Which implied, of course, that so was I.
Those who ignored the growing antisemitism and hoped it was a passing phase got a wakeup call on October 7.
Hamas’s brutality is a demarcation line for civilized people.
At least now I know who is on the wrong side of history. I can shun them in every aspect of public and private life. As for those identifying as Jews who have joined in the tsunami of anti-Israel vituperation, for me they are Jews in name only. Those they support laugh at their appeasement behind their backs.
I learned when I was twelve that mollifying the haters was a losing proposition. After a particularly bad bout of taunts about Jews, a teacher pulled me aside. She was the only Jewish teacher at the school, but very much in the closet about her Judaism, less she fell victim to the bullying.
She had never shown sympathy for my plight, never once intervening to stop the harassment. On this occasion, she simply said, “Levene, don’t make a fuss. Be a nice Jewish girl.”
Being quiet did not work. Nor did appeasing the haters. My grandfather, a Polish emigrant to the U.K., had encountered so much antisemitism in his new homeland that he had taught my mother and her two sisters how to defend themselves. He did the same for me when I finally told him about what was happening at school.
“If you are weak,” he warned me, “they will never stop.”
I was not a natural child to take on bullies. I was rail thin, and no one feared coming after me.
One day, after being shoved repeatedly in the school yard, I mustered enough courage to fight back. My heart felt as if it was coming through my chest. “No more nice Jewish girl,” I kept repeating in my head. In a fit of rage, a fury born of a thousand insults and taunts, I had reached my breaking point. I jumped on top of the largest of the abusive kids and kept pummeling him and screaming “no more” until a teacher pulled me off (for which, of course, I was suspended).
That incident did not stop the bullying overnight. It was far less intense, however.
It is open season again on Jews. And I, for one, will not stand by silently. I will not be a victim. This time, I encourage my fellow Jews to join me in resisting on the front-lines of public discourse.
There is a lot of fear among Jews, and with good cause. Do not, however, remove your yarmulke or Star of David necklace. Do not take away the mezuzah at your front door. We cannot again be silent.
Never again is now.
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