When I was seven years old, my family and I were flying from Saudi Arabia to New York for the holidays. The flight attendant asked if I was Christian for some reason that I can’t recall and I said yes. My father, who was sitting next to me waited till the flight attendant left,
“Sophie, you’re not Christian,” he said gently.
I remember feeling confused and frantic. All my friends were Christians, we did the same things they did for the most part.
“Are you a Christian daddy?” I asked,
“No, I am Jewish,” he said “you have to promise to keep that to yourself when we get back home. (Saudi Arabia) You can’t tell any of your friends.”
In Saudi Arabia there is no freedom of religion or protection for Non- Muslim faiths. According to the U.S State department, citizens and foreigners were being harassed, discriminated against, and assaulted for religious affiliation, beliefs and practice by conservative vigilantes.
I was shocked to hear of the dangers that came with this religion. Squirming in my seat I asked my father,
“So, am I Jewish?”
My dad turned towards me, while hunching his shoulders,
“No Sophie, you’re not Jewish, or Christian, you can be whatever you want to be,” he said.
Still confused, I asked him,
“So, I can become Jewish?”
My father responded,
“As long as you understand and agree with the religion, you can be a part of whichever religion you want or not follow one at all.”
When we returned from the states, I was eager to learn about every religion there was, with my focus primarily on Judaism. I took my dad’s advice and thought carefully about it and decided to follow my father’s faith.
During my time in Saudi, not once did I ever hear someone speak ill of Jews. A lot of people were supportive towards the Palestinians, students expressing their outrage on what was going on a few countries over, but as far as I knew, Jews were not being used as a scapegoat in those discussions. I had not encountered any type of racism or bigotry until I moved to the U.S.A.
When we moved to Boise, ID. My grandmother gave me a silver necklace with a pendant of the star of David, that I constantly wore. Walking down the hallways of Fairmont Junior High, some kids would stop and ask me if I worshiped Satan. I would hear boys using the word Jew as if it was an insult. It was exasperating, but the first blow I took was when the my best friend’s older brother called me a kike. He was about 16 at the time, and I was 14.
As he was staring at me, his eyes felt like razors beaming through my face, he was waiting for me to react. I did my best to not let him know that his words had cut me as deeply as they did. I remained silent, Chris, realizing that I was not going to give in, tired to save himself by saying,
“You know I’m just kidding.”
It was difficult growing up in a predominantly white city. The 2016-2017 census for Boise, ID states that 88% of the population is white, 1% Black and for people like me who identify as other race, we ranked below 1%.
One night I had invited my friends over. We wanted to smoke without my mother knowing, so we went to my backyard and climbed up the apple tree that held my tree house. Sometime during that night a boy named Kieran thought it would be funny to spray paint a swastika on the wall of the tree house, with the word Reich and a number encircling the symbol. Seeing that swastika crudely painted on my tree house by someone I considered to be my friend, in my parents’ backyard was one of the scariest moments in my life.
You just freeze, you forget how to breath, you have a million thoughts going on and yet you feel hallow at the same time. C.J, who lived down the street saw I was upset and came up to see why. As soon as he saw the graffiti he instructed me to get down and get him some supplies so he could clean it up. To this day, I still have never gone back up to that tree house
A few months later, we had a half day from school. I was hanging out with my best friend Mary and a few others when another “friend” called to tell me how much he hated me because I was a chink and how excited he was for me to get home to see the surprise he had left for me. Mary and I rushed to my house.
When we arrived, my mother was crouched over picking up the shattered egg shells, trying to wipe up the egg yolks with the Kleenex she always had in her hand. My entire garage door had been egged and a Chinese take away box was thrown onto my car with food spilling out of it.
Enraged I tried calling everyone I could think of to find out what was going on. Finally, Torren answered, he was laughing. Torren was another person that I had considered a friend. We had classes together, he was dating my best friend at the time, we shared “deep” conversations over AOL messenger. He proudly took credit for the mess that my mother was cleaning up. I was choking on my tears asking why he did this? Why would he egg my house and what did Chinese food being thrown on my car have anything to do with me? It’s been 11 years and I will never forget how and what he said to me,
“It’s because you’re a stupid fucking Jew. I am going to shove rice down your throat and slit it,” he said with such triumph in his voice.
Only 2 years living in America, and I had experienced my first racial slurs, harassment, and later in my teens and early 20’s I would experience assault and discrimination.
I could not understand why people were so hateful. At 15 I didn’t know how to cope, I was heartbroken. Luckily the punk scene at the time was a supportive group that was against racist and bigots, and I thank god for it. I was friends with teddy rude boys, street punks, and ska kids, who stood up for people like me. I learned about racism hard and quick, but I also learned about solidarity with just as much impact.
That’s what we need now more than ever in America. I hope you don’t ever have to endure what I, and so many other’s in our nation have and are dealing with. This is not news, it’s been going on for at least 400 years in the U.S. I am speaking to those that are privileged to never have had a cop kick your calf so hard that it bruised right away, simply because they didn’t believe you, when you were telling the truth (I was 17 at that time). Fortunate are the individuals who are unfamiliar with the fear that rushes up your body into your ears, because you see bald headed guys with red braces and laces walking your way. Stand up with those who are being oppressed. Strength is measured in numbers. Even if you stand up against one injustice, whether it feels like it or not, you are making a difference.
This article has be corrected from it’s previous version.
S. (n.d.). Current Boise, Idaho Population, Demographics and stats in 2016, 2017. Retrieved September 01, 2017, from https://suburbanstats.org/population/idaho/how-many-people-live-in-boise