Stop asking me if I’ve ever tried bacon

Being liberal doesn’t excuse you from wronging others


Katherine Mayo

Caroline O’Connor

By Alya Simoun, Collegian Correspondent

As The New York Times reported at the end of 2017, anti-Semitic incidents surged 57 percent across the globe from the previous year. In my own life, they surged 100 percent.

Before starting college, I knew anti-Semitism was a real threat and problem in the world. My parents, Jewish friends and grandparents who were living in Eastern Europe during World War II reminded me of this constantly. I preached the need to do something about anti-Semitism to those who doubted its reality, but I did not fully understand the actuality of the issue because I had never experienced it firsthand. This all changed when I started college.

I told myself that because I was Jewish, I was different, a mere repetition of words I had heard throughout my life. Funnily enough, this was not true when I heard these words, and now that I have stopped hearing them, it suddenly is. I was not different in any way. Most of the people surrounding me throughout my life were Jewish and there was not a moment in my life when I felt marginalized for my Jewish identity, until I came to the University of Massachusetts.

A year ago, at the start of my freshman year, I knew I was entering a more diverse community than any I had ever been a part of (though still not all that diverse). Inevitably, I expected change and challenge, but I did not realize the form this would come in. It did not so much as come into my head that the challenges I would face in college would be because of my Jewish identity.

Is this anti-Semitism or just authentically experiencing the Christian-centric world for the first time? I found myself asking this throughout my first month at UMass. I soon realized, however, that UMass is not a comfortable (and questionably safe) place for Jewish students. A year later, I realize, this is not a campus-wide issue, this is a global issue.

Before starting college, my perception of anti-Semitism was based exclusively on violent acts, name-calling and stereotyping. I have found, rather, that it weaves into my every day in disguised ways. When someone finds out that I’m Jewish and decides to weigh into my people’s background because they “have a Jewish friend back at home,” when I’m asked if “I’ve really never tried bacon” or when they ask if I’m “really Jewish” since I have Aryan features. Anti-Semitism is present when I am told that my dual Jewish-and-atheist identity is simply “impossible.” And, most shockingly, it was present on the day that my non-Jewish friend saw a swastika flag hanging on the wall of someone’s dorm room through the window. It saddens me to know that the rare case of anti-Semitism that I saw in the news prior to starting college was not all that is out there. More so, it embarrasses me to know that I thought this was the extent of perpetuating anti-Semitism in the modern day.

Ignorance of the other does not nearly stop with the case of Jewish students at UMass, nor is this its worst instance. Students, and this definitely includes me, need to understand that membership in a liberal campus by no means allows you to minimize others’ identities. As college students, but furthermore as people, we must educate ourselves beyond our coursework and learn about what cannot be taught in a classroom. This may seem obvious, but is has become apparent in my own life that UMass students, and people all over the world, need to be reminded that being liberal doesn’t excuse you from wronging others or diminishing their identities.

And, to answer the question I have inevitably left lingering in your mind – no, I have never tried bacon. But, before you begin to use this to reaffirm your misconceptions, let me assure you that my never having tried bacon is not representative of all or even most Jews; I simply grew up vegetarian.

Alya Simoun is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]