This Holocaust Memorial Day, I’m Prouder Than Ever to be Jewish

The past year has been hard for everyone – and sadly, we cannot blame it on 2020 anymore.

Apart from the viral effect of the pandemic, another virus has threatened Jewish people, and has done for thousands of years – antisemitism.

Since Wiley’s infamous social media tirade last summer, I became increasingly aware the world does not want me for who I am. No one ideology is to blame for this.

It’s only a few months since the Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded the Labour Party broke the law in failing to address and protect Jewish members from antisemitic behaviour.

Barely three weeks have passed since white supremacist rioters stormed the US Capitol building wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Camp Auschwitz – Work Brings Freedom”.

Credit - Pixabay

In the face of all this hatred, I have felt anger and fear, but most of all – pride.

Pride that, by some miracle Jewish people are still here after 3,000 years of violence and genocide. Pride that traditions have continued to persevere in the face of atrocity. But most of all, pride that I am Jewish.

Some might argue that I’m not a traditional Jew.

I haven’t attended Synagogue or kept Shabbat, and only my father is Jewish, when traditionally Judaism followed the mother’s lineage. I am also bisexual, and homophobia has been a big problem within the Jewish community.

However, Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. I have dealt with antisemitism and the inter-generational trauma of being a descendant of Holocaust survivors. Having dealt with the pain that comes with being Jewish, I feel that I deserve to feel pride too.

What I have considered to be own Jewishness – is not up for debate with anyone.

My grandfather was arrested during Kristallnacht and sent to a concentration camp, but he managed to escape, thankfully, to the UK before the Final Solution came into action. My great-grandfather was also interned at a concentration camp from 1939 to the end of the war.

The Star of David Róisín's granddad was made to wear. Credit - Róisín Jacobson

It has been a question I often ask myself; whether I’m the granddaughter or great-granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. I guess it depends on where people believe the Holocaust began. Whether it was the genocide alone, or the events that occurred after the inception of the Third Reich?

What I do believe is that only historians and groups of those affected by the Holocaust have the right to debate such a traumatic subject.

Wiley’s tweets last year, and the spike in antisemitism on social media that followed, caused a real personal mental shift.

Like many Jewish people, I was forced to look back on my life and acknowledge that antisemitism has seemed to follow me, particularly when I was a child. From classmates joking about the Holocaust in primary school, to being compared to The Merchant of Venice villain Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, by bullies in secondary school.

But last summer – during the slight relaxing of lockdown – was the first time I felt physically unsafe as a Jew.

Whilst I was in Bristol collecting what I left in my student housing when I went home for the first national lockdown, Neo-Nazis were counter-protesting against Black Lives Matter in the city centre. Despite my white, or white-passing privilege, I felt I knew exactly what the protesters thought of me.

My dad and I made sure we left Bristol as quickly as possible – it wasn’t the best end to three great years studying in the city.

Since last year’s eventful summer, I have been actively exploring my Jewishness more than ever, doing so by following Jewish educators and activists on social media. The process has been difficult at times. Learning about Judaism has meant learning about the 3,000 of years of trauma faced and how rampant antisemitism is today.

It means seeing certain friends in a new light, as they speak up for every marginalised group apart from Jews. But it has also been beautiful.

I have felt connected to my ancestors for a long time, both on my Irish mother’s side and my Jewish father’s side. Strengthening the connection with my Jewish ancestors has been one of my highlights in the crap times we’re all living in. Through learning and praying, I have discovered a strength that I didn’t know I had.

I have learned that being Jewish isn’t something to be ashamed of. Instead, we can be proud. Our very existence, despite deadly violence and prejudice for 3,000 years, is a miracle.

Róisín wearing a Mitpachat. Credit - Róisín Jacobson

I don’t know if I will ever convert to Judaism, but I know if I did convert, I would certainly be pretty relaxed in practicing the religion. But I will always be incredibly proud to be Jewish.

So how will I mark Holocaust Memorial Day?

I intend to wear Mitpachat, a traditional head covering worn by Jewish women, for the day as a way to feel close to and honour my ancestors. I will continue to work from home, and I’ll probably watch Netflix or read in the evening.

Whatever I do, I will be Jewish.

Not just on Holocaust Memorial Day, but for the rest of my life.

Róisín Jacobson (she/her) is a Sociology graduate with a passion for social justice. She works for Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team (EYST) as part of their Make Your Mark 2021 campaign, which is working to increase voter turnout among young People of Colour in the Welsh elections this year.

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