By Jake Levine
In his declaration that “Hell is other people,” Sartre articulated the power others hold in shaping and determining the perception of us that holds in the public eye. The notion of “Hell” refers to a fear of living within the confines of an inaccurate identification that fails to truly account for the intricacies and nuances we associate with our own personhood. It seems that despite our very best, and most intense efforts, identity becomes subservient to the distinction of others. Moreover, when that distinction is incorrect, who we truly are, becomes lost.
Anti-Semitism in the U.S. falls under this incorrect determination. It’s a dark shadow that permeates throughout America, engrained in a manner that makes it as indicative of the “American Way” as self-reliance. The labeling of Jews as “the other” is manifested in the identification of Jews as distinct from American and reflected in the contemporary increase in anti-Semitism that has, for the most part, been disturbingly disregarded or brushed away.
When you tell someone that you’re Jewish, their perception of you instantly changes. They begin to internalize what that means to them, how it differentiates you from their own perception of self. Suddenly, your identity becomes determined by their reaction. You can usually see it in their eyes. Their expression changes from one of polite, conversational interest to one of considered differentiation and distinction that fails to consider the perspective of the person being distinguished as “other.”
It is from this that the lack of care towards the rise of anti-Semitic actions is understood. As a result of differentiation, of allowing one’s own perceptions to dominate the overall understanding and representation of a people, the truth is clouded. We are all guilty of it, yet it is most harmful in circumstances like this. The Jewish community has historically been regarded as other, even “lesser,” with these labels being brushed aside, with instances of Jewish success dominating the story of Jews in America. Yet, even within these instances of success, the notion of “Jewish dominance” has reared its ugly head.
What all this demonstrates is that for the most part, Jews in America are stuck in a Sartrian nightmare – a permeating and lasting incorrect distinction from being American. This determination has unfortunately weaved its way through the narrative of Jews in America and has stuck, leaving an insidious shadow. Despite the inattention paid to this historical perspective, it still exists. Inaccuracy of representation cannot take away from the truth or reality of the situation. Notions of Jews as distinct fail to demonstrate the reality of the Jewish experience: we are still here and a living, breathing part of the community.
Jake is a sophomore History major with a double minor in Art History and French.