Growing up, I could not confidently deny being “a Christ killer”. In third grade, I was told by a classmate I would burn in hell. In my reform synagogue, we had never discussed hell. I didn’t correct him, nor was I capable of standing up for myself.

the author

Now a college student, I experience this behavior on a new level. Friends roll their eyes at my Friday night plans that differ from theirs. When I was in Poland learning about the Holocaust, my best friend texted me, “Don’t freeze to death!” with a laughing emoji. How was I supposed to respond to his insensitive joke? After all, maybe he didn’t mean to offend. In these situations, defending myself seemed unnecessary; it’s not like they were damning me to hell.

Remarks like these weren’t enough to make a scene but they did make my heart sink. In college I was expecting thoughtful discussions with mature adults, not childish jokes about my religion.

Then I began telling myself I was being overly sensitive and tried joining in on the jokes. I quickly rediscovered that ignoring my feelings only made things worse. In high school, I dated a Christian boy for a year and a half. Our religious differences were never an issue because, at the time, neither of us were practicing. One time, the two of us were standing in front of his living room mirror. His mother walked by and said to him, “You have a nice, small nose. You don’t have a Jew nose.” Her comment took my breath away. To make matters worse, my ex laughed at the tasteless joke. Feeling completely powerless, I laughed along.

“Well, you should be afraid,” Tim said. “Your people killed Christ!”

Now I’m learning to stand up for myself and assert my Jewish pride, even when it’s incredibly uncomfortable. A month ago I was celebrating my semester grades with a bottle of wine along with my brother, my mom and a family friend who is a German Christian. Mom and I started talking about how we had felt the few times we had attended church with friends. As children, seeing Jesus on the cross was scary.

“Well, you should be afraid,” the friend said. “Your people killed Christ!

My mom and brother fell silent. The tension in the room was paralyzing but I didn’t skip a beat. I quickly rose from my chair and slapped the table. “What utter nonsense!” I burst out and excused myself from the table.

In my room, I took a few deep breaths to get control of my emotions and think. The next day, I confronted him and explained to him the impact of his words and how offensive they were. Tim opened up and told me that he is the product of two German immigrants, one of whom greatly resented the Jewish people. He grew up in an anti-Semitic home and realizes that he has inculcated a number of toxic ideas that he personally does not believe. Sharing his conflicted upbringing enabled me to understand him better, but I still held him responsible for his anti-Semitic statement.

Offensive jokes, even said with harmless intent, still cause damage and pain. Confrontation can be awkward, but standing up for myself and my people made me feel so much better – and more proud to be a Jew.