Parenting and worrying go hand in hand. Some might say this is a stereotype of Jewish parents. Others might say it’s tradition. In either case, I think it is accurate to say that a large part of being a parent (whether one is Jewish or not) is being worried about your children.
If you had asked me what I worry about most prior to this summer, I would have told you that I worry most about the ways in which sexism will impact by daughters. I would still give you the same answer today. This is because I worry about rape and sexual assault and sexual harassment in the street and in the workplace. I worry about whether my daughters will be able to control their bodies. I worry about whether they will be paid less for their work because they are female. I worry about eating disorders and depression. I worry about the sexualization of young girls. I worry that they will follow a script that limits possibilities, discourages imagination and individuality, and diminishes them. And, I worry that my daughters will be judged by their appearance and their ability to procreate, and not the content of their character. And worse–that they too will judge themselves this way.
Talking about the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the obstacles Black people continue to face on a daily basis in our country, Jon Stewart recently noted that “race is there and it is a constant.” The same is true for one’s sex. Indeed, no matter how well I teach my daughters, no matter their value as people, and no matter how well they may attempt to comport with what our society expects of women, the fact of their femaleness is constant, and subjects them to discrimination.
But, this summer taught me a cruel lesson. There is another constant that may subject my children to discrimination and hatred–the fact of their Jewishness. This is something that is easy to forget for American Jews. Here, we are accepted as equal citizens, partake fully in society, and, while domestic hate groups may list Jews as their main problem, anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts are not tolerated in this country.
However, the war in Gaza pulled back what was a thin veil on the world’s hatred of Jews, which was further fueled by the media’s coverage of the war, which, in turn, was lacking in context or historical perspective. This reality could be observed in the many demonstrations and protests around the world, particularly in Europe, where Jews were told to go “to the gas.”
Now this hatred has reached our shores. Among other incidents, a Jewish student was assaulted at a pro-Palestinian info booth at Temple University, a rabbi was murdered in Miami in a possible hate crime, and a Jewish comedian–Elon Gold–and his family (including his two daughters) were subjected to a hate incident in the streets of Los Angeles during which the perpetrators screamed that they hoped his children would die. And, just the other night, literally too close to my home, a Jewish couple was assaulted on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
I suppose I should be happy that my daughters do not have “shtetl names.” I suppose I should be relieved that my daughters do not wear religiously identifiable clothing or jewelry. I suppose I should breathe a sigh of relief that while they are learning Jewish traditions and to be proud of their heritage, this is done in the privacy of their preschool and in our tent-sized apartment.
But, what if this changes? What if they wear items that identify them as Jews? What if they start to “appear Jewish?” What if they participate in more public Jewish celebrations? Will I, like the countless Black parents in this country who prepare their children for police encounters, have to prepare my daughters for random anti-Semitic acts on our streets? Will I teach them to hide their Jewishness outside the home? Will I have to restrict their travel to Europe? Will I have to instruct them to keep their opinions on Israel to themselves, especially when they head off to college?
Or, will I just simply have to worry that the fact of their Jewishness and the fact of Jew-hatred is one more constant I can do nothing about?