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Friday, June 14, 2024
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I began this column at 11:02 p.m. on Monday. I’ve been struggling to find the words to even begin this column. I’ve been unable to write as I’ve pondered this question since I was nearly stampeded in Turlington Plaza about two hours ago: What does it mean to be a Jew?

When I was a little girl, being Jewish meant gossiping to my best friend in Hebrew so other people couldn't understand me. Being Jewish meant that when people asked, “Sasha, what’s your favorite food?” I replied, “Kugel,” and they assumed I was speaking gibberish. Being Jewish meant my mom’s contact popping up as “Ima” on my phone and explaining to my friends what that meant. 

However, what it means to be Jewish transformed for me on Monday. At 8:55 p.m. in Turlington Plaza, a loud noise ruptured the silence of prayer. On Monday, identifying as a Jew meant running as fast as I could without realizing the road was shredding the soles of my feet because my Birkenstocks were pulled out from under me in the mass exodus. I watched students’ belongings fall and shatter. People screaming at the top of their lungs rang through my ears. Being Jewish Monday meant anti-Semitism was so pervasive that one “thud” was immediately assumed to be violent. What it means to identify as a Jew is a harsh reality right now. 

I’m not going to argue over geopolitics and Instagram infographics. This war is not about Jews fighting Muslims or Israel fighting Palestine — it is about fighting the anti-semitism that so relentlessly permeates the lives of Jewish children, teens, and adults. 

It is about the stigmas like “Jews hoard their money” that penetrate our minds without us even realizing it. It is about a few hundred students gathered in Turlington for a candlelight vigil to pray for their home, families and friends in Israel but were so readily able to believe in the power of anti-Semitism that the drop of a water bottle caused unfiltered chaos. I am Jewish, and I possess deeply rooted ties to Israel. However, that does not mean my heart does not go out to those Muslim people experiencing Islamophobia in our current political climate. Being Palestinian or Muslim does not mean association with Hamas.

Hamas is a terrorist organization seeking to eradicate the Jewish state entirely.  More than 1,000 innocent individuals have been slaughtered. Upwards of 2,500 innocent individuals have been severely injured. 

Families are being slain. Parents have been butchered, shielding the bodies of their children. Individuals are being kidnapped, held hostage and starved. As you’re reading this in the comfort of your home, someone’s sister, daughter or wife is being raped, assaulted and treated as an inhumane object to use and discard at the will of Hamas. 

By no means am I justifying the years of horrendous treatment that some Palestinians and Muslim people have experienced due to the Israeli government or the IDF. Nor am I attempting to talk politics — I simply am interested in the need for fundamental human rights. 

Regardless of the political situation in the Middle East, there is no justification for the terrorism of Hamas. There is no excuse to ignore this situation or not educate yourself. The people of Israel are experiencing torture and dying for the sole reason that they are Jewish. 

Many fear speaking out on this situation because it is so controversial and complex. Part of me is afraid to write this article for fear of experiencing a hate crime. However, your silence, refusal to denounce terrorism and lack of knowledge hurt both the Jewish and Muslim people surrounding you more than you can even begin to understand. 

Being Muslim should mean the ability to wear a hijab without the fear of being associated with a terrorist organization completely unrelated to you. Being Jewish should mean that I can wear something as simple as a Star of David around my neck without fear. Being Jewish should mean I should be able to congregate at a synagogue without fear of violence. Being Jewish should mean that I should be able to publish this column without fear. 

The world is drowning in hatred right now — we must speak up to end the assault on innocent people. Instead of politicizing your own personal anger about this situation, denounce terrorism and be mindful of the innocent victims on both sides of this conflict. Hug your Jewish and Muslim friends because they might need one more than you realize. 

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Sasha Wildstein is a UF criminology sophomore.

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