My first experience with antisemitism at the age of 8 was also my most direct, violent and formative one.
It came in the form of a bright, neon green flyer that my distressed parents had brought home from the local high school and left on the dining room table.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
The text read ‘If you’ve had enough and you’re ready to kill Jews call this number’.
There was also a limerick about ‘The Jewish Parasite’, but what struck me was the drawing that accompanied it.
Two beady eyes presided over a long, beaklike nose.
Claws clutched at a money belt that was wrapped around a protruding gut.
Gold chains with Jewish stars spilled forth from a hairy, rodent like chest.
Drool dripped past sharp teeth, curled up into a greedy grin.
It wore a yarmulke.
This wasn’t just racist, it was specific.
Somebody felt so strongly about me that they took the time to write it, draw it, print it and distribute it.
Their hatred was a labor of love.
I don’t think I had the awareness to take it personally.
I was mostly confused and intrigued.
I suppose that up to that point I had always thought of myself as just another white person.
Sure, I was a white person who had to take a cooler of Kosher for Passover food to school one week a year but up to that point I had never thought of myself as a minority.
I knew about Egypt, Germany and Russia but to me those were history lessons of a time gone by.
Yet here was clear proof that the threat was still very real.
22 years later, I live in Los Angeles and I’m surrounded by Jews.
Nobody has ever called me a kike (at least not to my face), or insisted that I’m Jewing them down.
There is the occasional ignorant person who remarks that I don’t look Jewish by pointing to my small, button nose but by and large most of my days go by uneventfully as just another male, middle class, college educated, privileged caucasian.
That is until I turn on the news or walk through a metal detector into a Jewish institution and I’m reminded otherwise.