Earlier this month, #MyFirstAntisemiticExperience was trending on U.S. Twitter.

I don’t remember my first anti-Semitic experience; I have no idea who pushed me and called me a traitor first.

My first encounter with Jew-hatred had probably taken place before I knew I was Jewish.  It’s likely that I couldn’t process it as such because I didn’t have much language at the time.  All I know is that the schoolyard-bully form of anti-Semitism was a constant feature of my childhood.  I do remember my worst anti-Semitic experience, but I’d rather not share.

Judging by the hashtag above, the American suburban Ashkenazim tend to be sheltered from Jew-hate until college, or even grad school.  It doesn’t mean that I rank above them on the grievance poll, and that they have to shut up and sit down.  However, I think I know a certain kind of anti-Semite.

I can tell you about my wildest experience with anti-Semitism in the United States.  It was in the late 1990’s, when I lived in downtown Oakland.  There was a lonely second-hand dress store in my neighborhood, and one day I decided to check it out.  The owner, a black man with a thick accent and dilated blood-shot eyes, had a row of vintage coats hanging on a rack, but none of them were my size.  I was on my way out when he engaged me in a conversation.  He said he was from Africa, and asked me where I was from.  I don’t know how it came up, but it transpired that I am Jewish—I don’t exactly make a secret of it these days.  At that point he said that he’s not an anti-Semite because when he was living on the streets of New York, addicted to crack, a Jewish man saved him.  Next, he added that the Jews and Illuminati rule the world.

Admittedly, that was nuttier than any charge ever thrown at me in the Soviet Union.  And a few blocks away, at the entrance of the 14th Street BART station, Nation of Islam brothers were selling The Final Call.

So there we stood, facing each other.  Me—white, young, educated, foreign-born (a plus in my case), and him— black, foreign-born (likely a minus, for him), downtrodden.  And I was about to embark on the mission to oppress him, already plotting how I’m going to go to a party and tell every living soul about that little adventure of mine. Which is not going to do much for his business.  Granted, I’m not sure how much of a business it was to begin with: he never seemed to have any customers but managed to stay open.  And what has that fellow done to me?  He didn’t punch me, he didn’t even threaten extermination of the entire Jewish race.

I was thinking of that incident when I read an opinion piece by Ariel Sobel at The Forward.  After admitting that she’d been “gaslit” by her comrades in college, Sobel, who ended up attending the Women’s March last weekend, said:

Many white-skinned Jews insist on being recognized as people of color because when you say you’re under attack for being a Jew, it’s often not enough to warrant protection. All across the spectrum, non-Jewish people feel they have the right to tell us what is anti-Semitic. They tell us we have no license to complain. They claim to be more qualified on the subject of what is anti-Semitic and what isn’t than the people who are harmed by it. This tactic revictimizes us regularly.

 
 
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