One of my favorite badge projects as a Girl Scout involved me learning about genealogy. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with learning more about my ancestry as well as where my relatives outside of the United States may be living today. If I had the money, I’d travel wherever I could to track them down and meet them and fill in the little gaps on my family tree–and there are many gaps, especially in Switzerland and Italy and, now, thanks to that deathbed confession from my one grandfather about our last name, France. But, even if I became rich tomorrow, I don’t see those trips happening.
I’d like to say “Screw all the haters!” I’d like to claim that I’d get on the next flight over to Paris or Geneva or Rome or wherever my research would take me and brazenly wear my Star of David necklace. I want to claim I’d have a prayer book in my carry-on luggage so that I could say the traveler’s prayer at take-off. I’d like to claim that I’d go to services at a Masorti synagogue and even ask for an aliyah at the Torah scroll during services. I want to claim I’d be just as Jewish in Europe as I am here in America.
But, I can’t.
And I don’t claim that not because I don’t think I can be a Conservative/Masorti Jew in Europe. That’s hardly the case. I’m sure being linked up with such synagogues before traveling would be fairly easy. I’m good at researching that sort of thing. The thing is, I can’t say all the above with full confidence because quite frankly, I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea of traveling as a Jew in Europe, not as the kind of Jew that I get to be here in New York. Being anyone other than the woman I am here leaves me feeling like a sellout and like I’m spitting in the face of every Jew before me who fought to just… be.
This is not a new feeling that just came up in the wake of the kosher market shootings in Paris, mind you. I’ve felt this way about traveling as a Jew in Europe since… well, when did it start? Was it with the quenelle, the anti-Semitic salute crafted by a French comedian which became so popular that French tourists were doing it on the sly next to IDF soldiers in Israel as a “joke”?
Maybe it was hearing about Marine LePen thinking it’d be fun to force Muslim and Jewish children to eat non-kosher lunches in the public schools each day.
Perhaps it all started with the Danes pushing to ban both glatt kosher and halal meat slaughter, saying that animal rights trump religion.
Let’s be real now, though, we know what it’s really about: they hate who eats the meat, and they’re having bacon for breakfast as they talk about the whole thing.
And then there were the Christmas carols on public television about burning Jews alive in Romania.
Let’s not get started on Hungary, they’ve been scary for years, and they may win the award for who made me nervous first…Oh, actually, let’s, since the latest bit is just too good to pass up.
I won’t start on whether or not the culprit for scaring me away from Europe first was Russia, Ukraine, or Austria, though. I mean, come now. Let’s not get too carried away.
Maybe Italy’s different? Please tell me that my beloved Italy is different??
Oh, for crying out loud!!
Well how about England? I mean, I guess I can try to track down some cousins there and see some Doctor Who stuff…Right?
Oh, well, I love you guys, too!
Ireland?? I’ve heard rumors of it being extremely anti-Semitic, but…Hrm.
So, basically, if I travel abroad to Europe, at best I might be tolerated by some, detested by many, get my butt kicked in by a good violent handful. That sounds like such a fun time. Part of me, a sizable part of me, feels just so beyond uneasy with the idea of visiting Europe. It would take mad convincing that I’d be safe and with a group that would protect me from harassment or worse. And honestly, I just don’t like hanging around where I don’t feel welcome, certainly not on my leisure time. My idea of relaxation doesn’t involve trying to put on a brave face and worrying about who amongst my peers might be a hater. Sure, I have haters in the United States, but I was born here, and I know how to deal with all of that stateside. I know who my legal allies are. And even though I converted, I’ve dealt with plenty of haters as a woman and even while I was a Catholic. I can stand on my own two feet and deal with a hate crime in my own country. I don’t know how to deal with it on a continent where even the governments don’t seem to give a damn about the people who they’re supposedly elected to serve.
There are Jewish groups, of course, that lead trips to Poland so that people can see Auschwitz and other concentration camps. I couldn’t see myself going on a trip like that.
I’d be with other Jews to learn about a significant point in Jewish history. It’s not, however, the same as me going, say, touring through London or Rome or Paris. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a “fun” trip, and it wouldn’t be the aforementioned genealogical research quest that I’ve dreamed of since childhood.
I keep thinking to myself, it couldn’t be that bad going with a friend or small group to one of those countries that my family hails from, could it? And I have to keep reminding myself, “You’re Jewish now, and yes, it could“. And that, quite frankly, is sad. More so for the people of London and Rome and Paris than it is for me, though.
All because I’m Jewish now, I can’t come home to visit because I no longer feel safe. But it doesn’t suck to be me, and it’s not my fault. Sucks to be those countries.
Shame on them.
Gavriela hails originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but now resides in Forest Hills, New York. She has a Masters degree in clinical social work from Temple University and is a dedicated volunteer in the animal rescue community. Gavriela is a major science geek and finds that her love of science strengthens her belief in G-d and vice versa, contrary to what others might expect.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.