by Jackie Belkin
Events based on a true story. Names and locations are changed to respect privacy.
It was a bit chilly, but I didn’t mind. I was walking back from class with a few of my friends from another building. Excited chatter filled the air- it was time for lunch. We stopped at the lockers to drop off our stuff before eating. I came over to the lockers, and before I could even put my backpack down, my friend Ryan came up to me.
Ryan is like a tiny ball of fire. He and I have a love-hate relationship. He can be very abrupt and opinionated sometimes, which aggravates me. That day, Ryan asked me if I wanted to see a funny joke. Let me emphasize see, not hear.
I said, “Sure!” I’m always up for a laugh. I was especially ready for a laugh after the chemistry test I took last period. He called our friend Jordan to come and check it out. Before I even knew it, all our friends were surrounding us.
Ryan takes out pennies from his backpack and then proceeds to throw them on the ground, right in front of my shoes. There is a moment of silence. I have no clue what the punchline could possibly be. Besides Ryan and Jordan, no one could understand why someone would throw pennies, let alone money, on the ground. If this was supposed to be funny, certainly it had already begun to go downhill. I then hear Ryan say,
“Pick it up, Jew.”
I freeze for a second, unsure if I heard that correctly. “I’m sorry what?” I said.
“You heard me,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “Pick it up, Jew!”
At this point, Jordan held back a slight chuckle, but the rest of the group gasped in astonishment. I was furious. He had embarrassed and insulted me in front of all our friends. Three of the girls that were behind me were also Jewish. They were more religious and vocal about Judaism then I was, and some of them even came from a religious middle school. They were definitely more introverted than I was, and I assumed they didn’t want to cause a scene. I looked at them to see if they would do anything, but they stayed silent. Although they were quiet, I knew I couldn’t just let this slide.
Jews have been persecuted since ancient times. The Holocaust was only about 70 years ago, and antisemitism is on the rise. It’s as if society does not learn from its mistakes. I couldn’t bear to keep letting this cycle of anti-semitism continue. I knew that if I didn’t take a stand for even this act of micro-aggression and hate compared to the atrocities that Jews have had to suffer, it would never stop. I felt like I wanted to punch him, but I knew I couldn’t strike without reason. I looked Ryan dead in the eyes and very calmly stated,
“I could easily tell the principle right now and possibly have you suspended. But instead, I’m going to give you a warning. If you don’t call me by my name, and proceed to call me Jew instead, I will kick you in the nuts. And I won’t get in trouble, because you’re the one who called me a Jew. So if I come down, you come down with me.”
Ryan looked at me thinking I was bluffing. My build is quite small, and I am not known for starting drama or acting in extreme ways. Everyone either burst out laughing in doubt or stood there silent unsure about what to say or do. Ryan has known me for a long time, and he knew that I was not aggressive. Ryan was obviously trying to make a joke, but anti-semitism is no joke. I think what happened next was a test, to see if I would do it. So, he proceeded to test me.
“Okay, whatever you say, stingy Je-”
And at that moment, Ryan was on the floor crouched over, and everyone was laughing. But I didn’t do it to be funny; I did it because Ryan needed a wake-up call. He needed to realize what he was saying was outright hurtful and outrageous. He crossed an unnecessary line just to make a joke, or what he thought was a joke.
As for the kick, it was swift–nothing to make a huge deal out of. It happened. My aim was perfect, and that was all. My friends filmed the incident with their phones, just in case, so they could see Ryan was calling me a stingy Jew before I decided to go full force. No one ended up going to the principle, which I’m glad for, but I think I handled the situation pretty well nonetheless.
I’m aware physical violence should not be the first response to most issues, but I think he got what he deserved. Both of my grandparents are WWII survivors. In fact, they fought for the Red Army. My extended family happens to have either survived or died in the Holocaust. The horrors of WWII and the holocaust sit very deep in my heart. The subject is very sensitive because I couldn’t help but think that if I were to live back then, it would’ve been me who was dying. Just because of my ethnicity. I don’t think Ryan grasped that even hateful words, meant as a joke, can still remind a Jewish person how they have been treated throughout history. I don’t regret what I did whatsoever. I didn’t just do it for me- I did it for my friends. I did it for my family who died in the Holocaust. I did it for all the Jews that have ever been attacked in their lifetimes. If no one takes a stand for even the littlest things, history will repeat itself.
Jackie Belkin is a Junior. Her interests include horseback riding, theatre, reading, and writing.