Photo by Original drawing by Judith Beermann
At the Vienna train station circa 1922 (author's mother in plaid front row right)
At the Vienna train station circa 1922 (author's mother in plaid front row right)

Last week’s massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue did not shock me. It only reinforced what I’ve known throughout my life. Historic, worldwide and systemic anti-semitism is alive and well.

 

I don’t consider myself a victim. Not yet, anyway. I’m not a practicing Jew. I love the cultural traditions of every organized religion, and have a particular affection for my own. But I can’t get past the notion that one god is better or more true than another.

 

Until now, I’ve never felt a moral obligation to announce that I’m Jewish. I’ve always been offended when people are surprised to learn that I am, or say, “You don’t look/act Jewish.”

 

Whatever it means to the reader, genetically, and verified by 23andMe (boring though it may be), I’m 98% Ashkenazie Jewish. 

 

I grew up in a predominantly Jewish Montgomery County, Maryland neighborhood. My parents, both refugees from Nazi Europe, belonged to an Orthodox congregation, not because they were so religious but because they liked the focus on traditional services and customs. I went to Hebrew school there, attended a public high school nearby that was 60% Jewish and almost never felt any overt discrimination. More about rebellion and adventure than Zionism, in my late teens I lived on a kibbutz in Israel.

 

Mine is a familiar story of East Coast Jews who settled in New York City during and after World War II.

 

My father grew up in Hanover, Germany and experienced first-hand the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s. Well liked by his teachers and a model student, by the time he was in his teens, he was no longer allowed on field trips, and excluded from school organizations. In a family album, there is a photo of Adolf Hitler marching through Hanover in 1936. My grandparents, foreseeing the threat, planned for more than five years prior, to emigrate to the US. Several members of his family chose to stay and died in concentration camps.

 

My mother’s maternal grandparents lived on Long Island, New York since the mid 1800’s and my mother was born in New York City in 1915.  At the age of five, she moved back to Vienna where my grandfather owned several businesses. With their five children, my grandparents lived there until the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. Through several different countries, they escaped to New York.

 

Why share my personal history? Proud of my Jewish heritage, I have enormous gratitude to my ancestors. And respect for everyone who has ever come to the United States in search of freedom and a better life. 

 

I’m not going to digress here and start talking about our nation's growing xenophobia and rapid move toward totalitarianism. We certainly have enough news and social media pundits already. But it's alarming.

Simply, I’m so very sad. 

4 Comments For This Article

VICKI JOHNSON

very nicely done...

Michael Obler

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and learning much heretofore unknown tidbits about the life of my dear cousin. And the drawing is beautiful. Thank you Judith

Jenny Shtipelman

Love this and you. thank you so much for sharing.

Anonymous

Beautifully written - poignant and disarming. Thank you for sharing some of your personal history and Jewish perspective with us.

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