Angela Epstein is a 25-year veteran British journalist and broadcaster. She regularly writes for the Daily Mail, is a frequent guest on television debates (BBC, ITV), a regular contributor to various radio programs, has been published in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, The Mirror, the Jewish Chronicle, and many magazines. She is also JEWISH. However she does not look it [whatever that means]. This is her [condensed] story.
As conversation openers go, it was a notch above “nice weather”. The chap sitting next to me decided to break the ice by politely inquiring if there was any significance in the strange-looking shapes hanging from my neck.
My options were simple. I could deflect or tell the truth. Emboldened by a large gin and tonic, I did the latter. “It says my name in Hebrew,” I replied, awaiting the inevitable response; which I got: “You don’t look Jewish.”
I have on many occasions written and spoken of my pride in being Jewish, but on my terms. Yes, I wear my name in Hebrew. It’s my little game of cultural peek-a-boo: it telegraphs to anyone Jewish that I’m “part of the club”.
But I can pass under the radar. That’s why, though profoundly proud of my Judaism, I would almost rather eat treife than wear a Star of David, because unadorned, I’m shielded from negative reactions. For proof, look no further than Michael Douglas’s teenage son Dylan who [though not halachically Jewish] fell victim to anti-Semitism. At a hotel swimming pool in Southern Europe, a fellow guest rounded on the 14-year-old. Michael Douglas asked if the boy had provoked the man’s anger by misbehaving, only to be met with his son’s tears. It was then that the Oscar winning actor spotted Dylan’s Star of David necklace: “I had an awful realization …sat down with my son and said: ‘Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.’”
Like many others, Douglas pointed out that hatred of Israel has fueled anti-Semitism. Indeed, in the UK in 2014, anti-Semitic hate crimes exceeded 1,000 separate incidents.
Little wonder then that when it comes to accessorizing, I`ve decided to give the Star of David a wide berth. Many may balk at my position. But we know only too well how this symbol was viciously corrupted when Jews were forced to wear a yellow star. Now we have the freedom to choose and I choose to refrain.
My sons take a different approach. In April my 19-year-old will join thousands of young Jews to march three kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau in an act of Holocaust remembrance. The annual March of the Living will see the former concentration camp transformed with flags bearing the Star of David, as young men, their kippahs on their heads, dance and sing in Hebrew to articulate the survival of our people. It is the ultimate sign of rejuvenation, and not only do I welcome it, I flinch at the very idea of smothering my children’s heritage.
But in today’s hostile climate, I feel we can remain proud of our identity while understanding there are times when it is better to lie low, which brings me to my 16-year-old. Aaron likes wearing his kippah in public, but when he goes into town or a football match, I ask him to take it off. His objection: “You bring me up one way, yet tell me to behave in another”. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I convince him.
Don’t belittle my reservations. Consider that only the other week the Jewish journalist Jonathan Kalmus tested levels of prejudice by walking the streets of Manchester and Bradford wearing a skullcap. He was spat at, stalked by a man taking photographs, and called “Jew”.
Then there are some who consider donning a Star of David a declaration of defiance. American neuro-scientist and actress Mayim Bailik of TV`s Big Bang Theory said that wearing her Star of
David was like putting on armor. She even planned to go to the Emmys wearing a small Jewish star on the cuff of her dress, “even if it’s not noticeable to everyone all of the time”.To those who choose to declare their religion by the trinkets they string around their neck or elsewhere, I salute you. I hope you always wear them in peace and harmony. As for me, well, apparently I don’t look Jewish. So really, who needs the headache?
And your thoughts are….