California’s San Francisco Bay Area is a progressive hub. However, it was the Bay Area where while growing up, Ha’Am’s own Sarah Fields’ Jewish identity was pushed away from her due to vicious acts of antisemitism.
A young Sarah Fields was being picked up from her Jewish day-school. Several neighbors who lived near the day-school began verbally harassing Sarah and Sarah’s mother as soon as they walked out the doors of the school. Why? Only because Sarah and her mother were Jewish. Sarah was only six years old at the time.
Sarah began fearing her Jewish identity. This fear was intensified by the warnings her mother gave via her horrific stories. For example: When Sarah’s mother was young, her neighbors would set their items on fire and yell derogatory, antisemitic terms at her family. Stories like these about her mother’s life easily turned her away from her Judaism. “I resisted it because I knew about the harassment,” said Sarah when she told me her story.
Throughout the rest of her childhood, Sarah experienced further acts of social alienation due to the fact that she was Jewish. She avoided Judaism more and more over the years; she did not want another reason for the middle school bullies to pick on her. Because she could outwardly pass as someone who is not Jewish, she was able to easily distance herself.
Sarah still considers herself to have been raised Jewish even though she averted herself from it. Her parents encouraged it even though her mother had been through severe antisemitism in her life. Regarding this fact, her mother said: “Being Jewish and raising my child Jewish was important to me, because almost everyone on my grandmother’s side [of the family] got wiped out by the Holocaust”. After interviewing Sarah and hearing from her mother, it appears to me that it was almost as if raising her child Jewish and existing as a Jew is an act of defiance and resistance against years of violence against their family.
In high school, things began to turn around. One of Sarah’s long-time Jewish friends who completely embraced their Judaism encouraged Sarah to come out of her fearful shell. Another friend suggested that once she gets to college, she should check out the Jewish life on campus. That’s exactly what she ended up doing.
Sarah has since realized that she should not live her life in order to please anti-semites. Sarah is now involved with UCLA’s Hillel, as well as Ha’Am Newsmagazine. She has realized that not only has it given her a sense of community, it also reminds her of her family back home and the practices she grew up doing.
Sarah has shocked herself by coming out of her shell and taking those initiatives in the face of past anti-semitic acts. She is extremely brave for doing so.