Read more about Shared Targets and Shared Bad Identifications

On Fear

by Safia Karasick-Southey

My mother filled my childhood with blatant biases disguised as enlightened truths. With icy glares towards anybody in a hijab (“terrorists”) and a visible shudder at the sound of people speaking German (“Nazis”), she made it clear that the world was out to get her and her faith.

“That’s where I went wrong with your father,” she would remind me, “he wasn’t Jewish. Always marry a Jewish man, they love their mothers.” Family conversations were stuffed with uncomfortable jokes (“You can never have enough food; you never know when there’ll be another Holocaust!”) and misused Yiddish phrases at arbitrary moments, in order to solidify her image as an edgy, Jewish single mother. My mother wasn’t religious; she was more invested in the mystical aspects of Kabbalah and the cultural portion of Judaism than the idea of a God. She liked the kugel and the matzo, the sound of Hebrew, the family gatherings, the Klezmer music, the Shabbos candles, but most of all, the idea that she was part of an elite and superior, yet helpless, group of people that was continuously being attacked by stronger, scarier groups. Click-bait news articles and cursory sound bites from biased sources made up her entire knowledge on history and current events, and combined with her Jewish identity, led her to truly believe that Israel is the peaceful and always fair, shining homeland for Jews that those dirty Palestinians keep trying to steal from us.

My mom would pull me away from Muslims in the Manhattan streets, teaching me at a young age that I was supposed to be afraid of them. Looking back, I can’t assign all the blame for my misconceptions on her, seeing as I grew up surrounded by the United States’ distinctly pro-Israel stance in media and international policy. I remember growing confused as I passed a protest in Union Square that aimed to bring attention to Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians in the building of new settlements. I simply wasn’t able to understand—I was taught that Israel was the victim. As I began to do research instead of just listening to my mother, I noted that the United States provides Israel with more financial, military, and ideological support than does any other country, and never recognizes or penalizes them for human rights violations. How could Israel be in the wrong if the US supports them so strongly? It seems that due to decades of close ties with Israel, our media continues to perpetuate an idealistic image of Israel as a kind, democracy-loving, open-minded country, while the Palestinians are displayed as the ones who refuse to agree to any peace resolutions.

In recent years, the question of who is the aggressor and who is the victim has been further investigated, leading to an ideology shift among US youth that Israel is in fact more culpable in these conflicts than was previously acknowledged. Despite this, older generations remain fixed in their pro-Israel views, most likely because they maintain the belief that Israel, a democratic country, is superior to neighboring autocratic Middle Eastern nations Further, Americans are often afraid to speak out due to a constant fear of seeming anti-Semitic, although in no way does not supporting Israel equate to hating Jews. These antiquated ways of viewing the conflict are still being passed down, with racist mentalities taught by people like my mother who simply do not know any better.

My mother tried to teach me to be afraid. She wanted me to think that I was superior due to the color of my skin and my religion, and that identity politics is more important than historical fact. Luckily, I knew better than to believe her. These issues are not clear-cut, and I’m still constantly struggling with my own views in an ever-changing international political climate. I embrace and appreciate the Jewish culture that my mother raised me with, and I don’t have to accept her hate as a part of it. Most people will simply listen to the loudest opinion around them, but in order for there to be an actual change, people must be always listening, and not just to the views that they want to hear.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

In On Fear, Safia rejects her mother’s attempt to get her to share the hatred she has for certain targets. What might be some reasons that the author’s mother tried to convey these beliefs to her daughter? Are any of them legitimate?

Compare this writer’s experience to that of Man to Man’s author. How do they both, in a way, “come out from under” their parents’ beliefs?