During his junior year of high school, Ben Rouder made eye contact with a quarter rolling down the hallway at him. With no second thought, he knew why the coin swept in his direction. He looked up to see one of his friends smiling, but Rouder did not return the grin. He knew the quarter was not a kind donation, but a joke with a much darker background.
“I was absolutely furious when I saw [my friend] throw the quarters,” Rouder, a senior said. “I was angry and humiliated. I immediately snapped back telling him that it wasn’t okay. Although most people remember what had happens somewhat fondly or vaguely, I remember it vividly as a degrading experience.”
Some anti-semitic jokes are harmless, he said. Others, however, go too far. Hate crimes against Jews make up 59 percent of all religious assaults. At Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California a 17-year-old threatened to initiate a Columbine-style attack on the Jews at his school in 2016. In 2007, the streets of Columbia swarmed with residents wearing swastikas around their arms. Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of the Columbia synagogue Columbia Beth Shalom finds hate crimes against his religion are not as recorded in media as they should be, so they are desensitized.
“Thirteen Jewish community centers in 11 states were evacuated [Jan. 31] after receiving bomb threats,” Feintuch said. “This is the third time in the past month that Jewish community centers have been subjected to such threats of violence and harassment. Yet it barely registers in the media.”
A lack of attention drawn to Jewish people In their country allows for leniency in punishment and negative attention when it comes to hate crimes. Jews are not protected from the hate they endure for a religion they have the freedom to practice. In current times, anti-semitism shows through websites maintained by anti-semitic extremists and packaged into a deal of hatred with Muslims and those associated with the “impurity” of the Middle East.
“While the media is hyper-sensitive about anything that happens to Muslims, the sad reality is that hate crimes against Jews far exceed those against Muslims,” Feintuch said.
Commonly in the United States, Jews are no longer blamed for societal disasters. They aren’t believed to carry diseases, and they don’t kill children for ritual practice as they were perceived to centuries ago. The hate, however, has carried over into the present. 85 percent of Jews experiencing or witnessing anti-semitism according to JNS.org, a Jewish news site. For senior Zane Durante, however, anti-semitic jokes are not commonly directed at himself while at RBHS.
“I’ll often hear jokes about Jews, the Holocaust, etc.” Durante said. “The people making them will not know I’m Jewish at the time, so they aren’t as personal.”
Likewise, Feintuch can’t personally relate to anti-semitic jokes made at his expense. He advises, however, for Jews to object the humor before the joke is told. As a cynic, he believes people should not read into the humor.
“I’d imagine that if someone made a reference to a ‘Jewish nose,’ I’d say things like, ‘And don’t forget the yellow blood that run in Jews’ veins,’ or their ‘triple chin, or is it our quadruple chin?’” Feintuch said.
Sometimes called the “longest hatred,” anti-semitism has been prominent for thousands of years. In the first millennium of the Christian era, blame fell on the Jewish population for the persecution of Christ. Catholics in that time period believed Jews were created to punish their sins and inability to consistently convert people to their religion. In the 10th and 11th century, Jews were once again condemned for various socialite and religious destructions such as Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy beginning to split thus threatening the Church hierarchy, Muslim conquest continuing success, and the end of millennium fervor.
“[Now,] we’re less okay with discrimination against a population based on factors they can’t control,” world religions teacher Gregory Irwin said. “At the same time there’s still a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment — especially with the nation of Israel — around the word as people see them as pretty militaristic and not wanting to allow Palestine to exist.”
The continuation of discrimination against Judaism became more and more vulgar with rumors such as Jews using the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. Scriptural anti-semitism reached its height in the Middle Ages, when Progoms (acts of upheaval) launched against practicing Jews. Blood libel became a legitimate accusation of Judaism. Jews became scapegoats for natural disasters. Some even blamed them for the Black Death, a disease that killed 50 million people and 60 percent of Europe’s population in the 14th century because of their “satanic purposes.”
Jokes against the Jewish population are not hard to find. Just inserting “Jew jokes,” into a search bar generates about 800,000 results on Google. The first result itself has a title admitting to being racist and prejudice against Jews, and many that don’t follow the discriminatory outline are stereotyping practicing Jews.
Rouder experienced the bulk of the jokes made about his religion during his freshman and sophomore years at RBHS. He said he had surrounded himself with people who used his religion as an excuse to make jokes, and eventually it became the only aspect people saw of him.
“Once people found out I was a Jew, it became the only thing they could talk to be about,” Rouder said. “I couldn’t get through a full conversation without someone mentioning the fact that i’m Jewish, not in a celebratory way, but in a demeaning way that made me feel less as a person.”
[quote cite=”Ben Rouder, senior”]I couldn’t get through a full conversation without someone mentioning the fact that i’m Jewish, not in a celebratory way, but in a demeaning way that made me feel less as a person.[/quote]
The normalization of these derogatory jokes plague the internet humor forums and many people’s senses of humor. Sophomore Jensen Mees is an advocate of dark humor and doesn’t really care what people think.
“I never really worry about what people think of me,” Mees said. “So I never really hesitate to say anything that may be offensive. If someone takes offense, it’s fine. I might not tell the jokes for a while but I never really stop.”
Nonetheless, Mees knows when to draw the line and which types of jokes not to make around certain people, although one will sometimes slip out. Teased for ‘looking like a Jew,’ his freshman year, Mees used the claim to his advantage to make jokes. He used self-deprecating humor to make people laugh about a religion that wasn’t actually his.
“Anything is fair game,” Mees said. “Some things might be a little touchier than others, but nothing is really off limits [for me.]”
The degrees of anti-semitism come in many waves. From the lighthearted and non-offensive jokes about one of Rouder’s friends mistaking “Molotov” for the Hebrew phrase ‘Mazel Tov,” meaning congratulations or good luck, to darker-humored Holocaust phrases all the way to legitimate threats against Judaism as two Dutch teens did in 2013.
The teens spoke in an interview about their extreme Anti-semitic views on Netherlands national television. The two Muslim immigrants communicated that they were satisfied with what Hitler did, and that all Jews should have been killed in the Holocaust. One of the teens went on to express that “Jew equals evil,” and he “wishes them the worst.”
Anti-semitism in this case is far from a joke. During the Holocaust, between five and six million Jews had their lives taken, now have their deaths are treated as either a laughing matter or a justification for racist viewpoints like the two Dutch teens’.
“Jewish jokes happen fairly often, but I don’t mind them too much if I think the intentions were just to be funny,” Durante said. “I’m more upset [if] someone is purposefully trying to be mean. I usually just try to ignore it.”
Durante nor Rouder partake in Holocaust jokes, whether that be telling them or receiving them without standing up for their religion. The Holocaust represents one of the most difficult times in recent history for those of Jewish descent. Extermination camps, or killing centers, became the destination to many deported Jews during World War II. More than three million Jews lost their lives by gassing chambers alone. Other forms of execution included hanging, mass shootings, disease, hunger and labor. An entire group of people, once forcefully separated from their families, friends, and homes in order to be wiped out, is now mocked for their past.
“I put my foot down on [Holocaust jokes.] I never let them slide,” Rouder said. “If they happened they happened, but I gave people really uncomfortable glares and said ‘That’s really not that funny.’ Some people continued; some people got the message [to stop.]”
In order to get the jokes at his religion’s expense to end, Rouder had to end the anti-semitic jokes around him before they got a running start. When the jokes made stereotyped Rouder for his religion, he felt it was his fault for being affected by them. It put him in a position where he wasn’t completely happy with himself.
“In the beginning, I ignored a lot of the jokes that were made. Slowly over time [the jokes] made me feel really bad, so I started to call people out on it,” Rouder said. “[Then the people] would say ‘This was okay then, why isn’t it now? You should be less sensitive; we have the right to tell Jew jokes.’ It made me feel too sensitive as a person and [that] I didn’t really have control over myself because I thought I was the problem.”
[pullquote align=”right”][The jokes] made me feel too sensitive as a person and [that] I didn’t really have control over myself. I thought I was the problem -senior Ben Rouder[/pullquote]
After he stopped conversing with the people who used derogatory terms against him, Rouder found he was happier with the people he was around. From time to time, jokes because of his Jewish heritage still occur, but he knows when to draw the line. When the jokes are innocent they’re okay, but when someone takes the time out of the conversation to say ‘wanna hear a funny Jewish joke?’ Rouder says he doesn’t enjoy them.
“Putting a [deflated] Wubble on an exercise ball and calling it a yamaka is innocent,” Rouder said. “But me being able to pay for something and saying, ‘Ben, you’re Jewish, of course you can; you have a lot of money,’ is more degrading.”
Although Rouder said he is not very religious, Judaism is still a part of who he is, and he celebrates that fact. He doesn’t hide his religion and doesn’t believe there is a reason to even with a prominent anti-semitism presence around the world. Anti-semitic practices, however, only grow stronger and more normalized as generations drift further away from pronounced moments in Jewish of religious discrimination, such as the Holocaust.
“We’re never told that racist jokes aren’t necessarily bad. We’re told that racism is bad, that slavery is bad, that Martin Luther King is good but we’re never told that making a racist joke [makes] you a racist person,” Rouder said. “You tell yourself it’s a racist joke, but it’s a joke, so you obviously don’t mean it, and it’s okay and that’s what normalizes racist conversations. We think we’re not being racist because [we’re kidding] but the logic is to some people [the jokes] are not jokes.”