Many people who are not Jewish think they understand what “being Jewish” means. In reality, this is often far from the truth. There are a lot of detrimental misconceptions about us that aid in our continued persecution. We will preface this article with an overview of what Judaism is in order to give non-Jewish readers a more accurate and informed perspective.
Judaism is an ethnoreligion, meaning it is an ethnic group, culture, and religion. It is a closed practice, and though we sometimes invite goyim (non-Jews) to celebrate with us, there are many practices (such as holidays like Hanukkah or Passover, and cultural rituals like Kabbalah) which goyim cannot participate in. While conversion is possible (for example, while Ronan is of Ashkenazi heritage, his family was forced to stop practicing due to persecution and hasn’t practiced in several generations. He is currently in the process of converting to Judaism), it takes many years of studying in order to understand the implications of being Jewish and to fully become a member of the community. Being Jewish means a lot more than beyond observing holidays and going to the temple. It comes with a lot of deep-rooted generational trauma. The Holocaust is the most well-known example of violence against Jewish people, which resulted in the loss of six million Jewish lives, along with the five million others lost. Some of us have direct connections to Holocaust survivors. For example, Venus’ relative survived the nazi’s persecution of Jews. Other events that have affected us include the Spanish Inquisition and anti-cosmopolitan laws in the USSR. The effects of these are still felt, both by those who directly experienced it and by generations raised after. Even today, America’s anti-semitism is at an all-time high, with most religiously motivated hate crimes being targeted at Jewish people. This is even more alarming considering that Jewish people only make up about 2% of the US population.
We wanted to use this piece to talk about our experiences with being Jewish at Reed, and some changes we want to see from both Reed the institution and from Reedies. While the impact that being Jewish has on someone’s life varies person-to-person, we wanted to touch on several specific incidents that the two of us have experienced. We will not directly name the students and staff in these interactions and would urge any goyim to listen and think about how you can change your behaviors and mindsets to be more welcoming of Jewish peers.
Some of the most glaring problems come from the institution, and how Reed can feel unwelcoming to us. A big issue is not having holidays off. The two most important holidays are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is considered to be “Jewish new years”, and typically falls in September or October. Apples dipped in honey are eaten to wish for a sweet year, and communities come together to pray. In 2021, we did get classes off for Rosh Hashanah, but only because it fell on a non-Jewish Holiday.
Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, which is considered to be THE holiest day of the year. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and reflection; we acknowledge the mistakes we made in the past year and spend the day in prayer.
At Reed, Jewish students have to go out of their way to request these days off from professors, which may or may not be granted. Some professors allow students to take holidays off, but there have been some cases where tests scheduled during that time are considered “too important” to miss. Some professors will assign homework because Jewish students “have several days of free time.” One of us had an incident during Yom Kippur this year where they received an email informing them that they had to submit paperwork to the business office by that afternoon or they would lose their job. They had to interrupt their prayers in order to run to the business office to ensure that they could still work.
Goyim might not think much of this, however. For culturally Christan students, major holidays like Christmas are given an extensive amount of time off. Not having our holidays off makes it feel like Reed ignores its Jewish students, making us choose between our culture or our classes.
Another issue we have found is with the meal options offered at Commons. While not all Jews keep strictly Kosher, it is common practice in Judaism. Some key components of a Kosher lifestyle include the avoidance of pork or shellfish, and avoiding meat and dairy in combination with each other. Meat must be butchered in a specific way to be Kosher. We have found that pork is very frequent in Commons, and while meat-free options exist, they are lacking in protein or are not appealing. We also don’t know how Commons meat is butchered, so it’s not always clear whether a meat dish is Kosher or not. This can make eating at Commons severely limiting for people who keep Kosher.
Next, we will discuss specific social issues we have encountered in the Reed community. These are our personal experiences that don’t represent all of Reed’s Jewish experiences.
One major thing we have noticed is the rampant anti-semitism and ignorance at Reed that students need to fix. Some prime examples are the use of anti-semitic imagery and conspiracies (“lizard people secretly running the world”, “all Jews control Hollywood/the banks”, etc.) In addition to this, we have seen people conflating religion as a whole with western Christianity, such as making broad statements that are only relevant to specific Christian denominations and applying them to “all organized religions.” This is hurtful not only to Jews, but to anyone who is religious and doesn’t allow for productive conversation regarding religion and spirituality.
Another prevalent issue is appropriation. For example, one of us had an interaction where a student who went to a Christan high school recalled conducting a Passover Seder there, which is an incredibly meaningful closed Jewish practice. After it was explained to them, the student saw no issue in this. Another experience one of us had involved a culturally Christian Pagan student who admitted to using Kabbalah (a closed form of Jewish mysticism) in their practices. Jewish cultural practices only being closed to goyim is nothing new, and any amount of research that went into learning these rituals would note that.
One of us was in a class where a professor compared the murder of six million Jews in the Shoah (Jewish holocaust) to pigs being eaten in an effort to promote veganism. While animal rights activism is important, the comparison between a minority group and animals is never ok. The people who were forever impacted by the massive loss of life during the Holocaust are not comparable to pigs. Venus thinks of their relative, Leon, who narrowly avoided death by the Nazis.
And on top of all of this ignorance and hate, one of us recalls being told by a non-Jewish peer that “it’s ok to appropriate Jewish culture, because Jews have never been oppressed.” Obviously, this statement is absurd, and it ignores the centuries of persecution we have faced.
Much work needs to be done in the Reed community to make it safer for Jewish students. Even with all of this harm done, there is opportunity for change. If Reed were to give days off for our major holidays, this would show Reed’s dedication towards creating an inclusive community. It’s definitely possible; Las Virgenes Unified School District, the largest K-12 school district in America, gives Jewish holidays off. In addition to this, Commons can plan their menu with Kosher students in mind, and improve their options for Muslim students, vegans, and vegetarians. Students and staff alike can listen to Jewish perspectives and do what they can to learn more about Judaism.