Lauren Waksman and I met--or rather, connected--through some mutual friends in the political world. We attended congressional softball games together and compared our rather different political ideologies.
The 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference is when I felt a new type of closeness with Lauren. Not only did we spend the whole weekend laughing with another friend of ours, but we discovered a unity and a bond that transcends all political differences.
This bond was prevalent in all of the conference and connected 18,000 people from America, Israel, and other parts of the world. Never have I felt such tenacity, such community, such support as I did among that group of Jews and people who stand in solidarity with Jews. It seemed as if we were all held together by one thing: the understanding that collectively our people had survived and overcome so much.
I have experienced nothing but kindness and love from the Jewish community as a collective. AIPAC Policy Conference attracts individuals from all walks of life from all over the world with all sorts of talents, passions, quirks, problems, and opinions. That is partly why I so strongly resent the negative screen that is thrown on top of us.
To a lot of the world, Jews are just bankers, fat cats, and lately, a group of greedy colonists (I've heard the last one in my school; a girl I know called us "the greedy land-grabbing Jews" during a unit on the Arab-Israeli conflict.)
As someone who grew up with interfaith parents, I've spent time in communities on both sides of the screen. My church never expressed anything but love toward the Jewish community, but I can assure you that some secular entities were not as kind.
I don't necessarily blame the government or the schools--though their job of shutting down blatant anti-Semitism was not well done, as evidenced by my classmate's uninterrupted and undisputed comment--but some individuals do not understand anything about the Jewish people, nor do they care to. They just weren't brought up to understand. The Holocaust is often a punchline in their jokes (I'm not one for censorship, but people, can't you think of anything better?), or they go to great lengths to defend the actions of terrorist organizations such as Hamas or the PLO without knowing what's actually going on. It's often covered up with the "anti-Zionism doesn't equal anti-Semitism" adage, but let's be honest, when you forthrightly omit knife-wielding, trained-to-kill-Jews Palestinian children from your argument so you can accuse the IDF of killing innocent teenagers, you aren't critical of Israel as a state, you're anti-Jewish, whether intentional or not.
When you ignore the nuances and complexities of Israel's history and present a one-sided argument aimed to dehumanize the Jews, you're not a good historian; you're selective.
I criticize Israel's policy and actions as I criticize the actions of my government, but in the same way, that I am thankful for America's existence, I am grateful for Israel's.
Most Zionists take a similar stance: never do we forget that Israel is a state comprised of culpable human beings, but its existence is useful and necessary, and we now must work to promote peace and state-based solutions in the area.
We don't all feel the same way toward Israel's internal policies (because, wow, we're humans), or even Judaism. Many Jews, especially American Jews, identify as secular.
Lauren is part of this percentage. She comes from strictly Jewish lineage. Her ancestors were refugees from Eastern Europe, and her family knows quite well, as do many Jewish families, what it's like to suffer and rise above just anti-Semitic oppression.
As for myself, I come from a similar lineage, and like Lauren, I don't identify as Jewish spiritually. I often confuse people because I go to both church and events in the Jewish community. I am proud of being "half-Jewish", and to me, if you come from and understand a lineage of a people so strong and perseverant, you should be proud.
I grow tired having to explain that there many ways to be Jewish: religiously, culturally, ethnically, no matter the kind of family you are born into.
For Lauren and I, protecting our culture and our lineage is incredibly important. For us, it's a purpose. So when anti-Semites spew their hatred, it incites not only our individual selves but the millennia of oppression our families have endured, which we vow to avenge.
The Jewish community in my area isn't necessarily lacking, but let's face it, I live in the South. I absolutely love where I'm from, but just about everyone I know has had an encounter with a maybe-joking-but-also-maybe-not Neo-Nazi at least once in their life.
Last week my friend told me about a man with some questionable insignia on his truck who rolled down his window and yelled "Heil Hitler!" at her.
Despite my area being a melting pot, and the provided stark contrast between Jews and literal Nazis, it's even easier to gain a better view through social media--which is, after all, the great equalizer.
Since Lauren grew up in a conservative synagogue, she attended the Jewish Community High School on Wednesday nights and learned what anti-Semitism was like. She took classes on the Holocaust and Israel advocacy.
Nothing could prepare her, though, for the blatant anti-Semitism she sees every day on social media. Lauren says she "lives" on social media. She is always a heartbeat away from her Twitter feed or Facebook timeline. Her upbringing just wasn't as hostile as the things she sees. She often heard the words "never again" as a kid, and now "again" is starting to happen in front of her eyes, with much thanks to the Internet.
Now, only being young adults has us wondering: did we miss something? Has this anti-Semitism been here all along and we are just now getting a good look at it? Of course, anti-Semitism has always existed, but not in the way it exists today through social media.
Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, and Instagram are just some of the social media outlets people are using to target Jews and spread hatred.
There is all of a sudden this notion that Jews are hateful people. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that a lot of conservative and reform Jews are rather liberal, and "liberalness" on Twitter has always had a negative connotation, as conservatism has had on Facebook in the past.
A Twitter account called "Adolf Joe Biden" (@Bidenshairplugs, in no way affiliated with Vice President Joe Biden) tweeted: "An anti-Semite used to be someone that hates Jews. Now it's someone the Jews hate."
I mean, why wouldn't someone hate someone that hates them first? In a sense, this tweet is logical. However, the hatred that Jews have for anti-Semites comes from a place of sadness and loss, not of bigotry.
Our ancestors went through genocide. They went through horrible situations in which they saw their children die and their brothers and sisters forced to work in highly volatile conditions.
We're fighting back by saying "never again." We're not picking people to hate. In fact, we do not hate anyone. We just don't want what happened in the 1930s and 40s and more or less all of history to happen again. Anti-semites are ignoring what happened or denying it, and they don't even have all the facts.
There are also forums and websites where people just make up things about the Jews. For example, "Moses was a Christian." Obviously not a fact. I think this person meant that Jesus was born a Jew? Maybe? I don't know, but some people just don't have their facts straight.
The problem extends beyond factual errors and even odd conspiracy theories. Growing up mixed, Jewish, and female, I prayed that I would never be targeted. I was ever so grateful that the KKK is no longer prevalent, that Nazism is ancient history, and that I live in a world where I will never be discriminated against.
But do I really?
Social media has brought many wonderful things into my life, but it has also opened my eyes to the latent hate residing in what is supposed to be a civilized society. My favorite social media forum, Twitter, is teeming with alt-right, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi accounts. Not only do these accounts exist, but they often support certain mainstream presidential candidates by the boatload.
What if this supposedly fringe movement slips into the mainstream and into American policy? These people, who call Jews "k*kes", and use parentheses (e.g. (((Christa Hart))) ) to pinpoint and target Jews somewhat inconspicuously, are appearing in massive amounts, and their ideas seem to be taking a place in our government.
There are online movements to expose and stop these accounts, but why should there have to be? Why is it, that in the year 2016, blatantly hateful and racist individuals exist in such masses?
Of course, it goes beyond people calling Jews rich and disasterly bastards. Israel is a huge part of the conversation.
Many people think anti-Zionism has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism. You could make an argument either way, but ours remains. Anti-Zionism directly correlates with Anti-Semitism, and it's most evident through social media.
Jews and their allies need to rally together. Importantly, anti-Zionists need to recognize that their dislike of Israel often comes from a hateful, anti-Semitic place, or a place of ignorance.
At AIPAC Policy Conference we saw signs from orthodox Jews that said: "Anti-Zionism does not equal Anti-Semitism." Well then, what is anti-Zionism?
Whether or not you support all of Israel's current actions--and a lot of us our critical--the fundamental idea that Jews deserve a homeland of safety and meaningfulness is important to understand and support.
Therefore, we reject the premise that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism don't have a direct correlation.
We accept the idea of a Jewish state along with a Palestinian state. You can still be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. This is what some people on the internet fail to realize. It's not one side or another; you can choose both.
At the end of that day, if we don't rally behind the Jewish community, history will repeat her mistakes. It's important we get it right this time. With such means of communication at our literal fingertips, it shouldn't be hard to make a stand against those who abuse social media as an outlet for their bigotry and hate.