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Issue Date:  May 19, 2006

Anti-Semitism in 2006


Early this year, our oldest was playing badminton in his high school PE class when a student on the opposite team spiked the birdie at him, saying “What now, stupid Jew?”

A few weeks later, our younger son was playing with his X-Box Live, a video game system that can be played with people anywhere in the world. An opponent made a joke through the microphone. “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A Jew screams in the oven.”

Horrified, I asked our 14-year-old how he felt hearing those words. “I was shocked and speechless,” he said. “It wasn’t really a joke. It was criticism.”

I don’t believe that what my boys heard was directed to them personally. What is troubling, however, is that not only did the X-Box opponent make an anti-Semitic joke but he did so without regard to whether the person on the other end was Jewish.

Not only had my sons experienced these incidents right in the heart of America, but it was just last year that my parents’ house was vandalized. At first, my mom and dad saw the toilet paper and thought it was a practical joke, until they saw “Jew” written on their sidewalk with a Jewish star.

Twenty-two years ago, when I was 20, I traveled to Europe with a friend. We visited Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. I noticed the surrounding lush greenery as we made our way up the hill, and shuddered. How could a death camp lie behind such beauty?

As I walked up to the entrance booth, I felt disgust that I had to pay a fee to see a place where some of my father’s family perished. I remember walking through the massive opening, barracks on one side and crematorium on the other. I saw a pit where humans were worked to death, literally. The place was desolate.

With this in mind, I am sickened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated denials of the Holocaust and his call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” during his string of anti-Israel remarks Oct. 26. In addition to the United States, Israel is my homeland. It is a place where I can feel that I’m in the majority, where more people than not are celebrating the same holidays I am, where I can get as close as possible to the site where the Jewish Temple once stood.

The Jewish psyche is one of trepidation. Could the Holocaust ever happen again? Will my family and I need to move to another country just as thousands of my Jewish people have done, to escape discrimination and persecution? Just this year, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was brutally tortured and died in France, apparently because he was Jewish.

I am thankful that France, Germany, Austria and the United States condemned the Iranian president’s remarks, but individuals must do more to make sure people like Ahmadinejad don’t succeed in teaching hatred and falsehood. The least we can do is tell our children about these incidents of anti-Semitism. Let your family know what happened to my children. Don’t be afraid to have a discussion. Tell your youngsters, your teens, anyone in your family how wrong it is to say these things.

Now I look back to the time I spent at Mauthausen and realize that the entrance fee went for a good cause. If it weren’t for some kind of payment, perhaps these concentration camps and their victims wouldn’t be memorialized. Perhaps they wouldn’t exist as proof for future generations.

Sheila Sonnenschein is a freelance writer, community advocate and stay-at-home mother of four.

National Catholic Reporter, May 19, 2006

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