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Featured Writer: Sam Kats

Star of David - Creative Nonfiction

I never questioned my Jewish identity until my father started making me take off the Star of David keychain that I always had on my pink butterfly travel backpack. It was never a big deal, he’d just remind me to leave it at home, and the conversation would move on to a spelling test grade or who won tag on the playground that week.

Slowly, as I grew older, I realized that my ethnicity and culture were not parts of me that people liked. They loved my long hair, but not because it was dark, they complimented my name, but not because it was Hebrew. I would always tell anybody who would listen that my name meant “mine”. How my Jewish parents, who escaped the USSR to live in Israel for sixteen years, loved me so much, that they named me something only people of my culture could understand. I was something special.

In fifth grade, I started obsessing over the history of the Holocaust. I read books, watched documentaries, everything to know more about what my people went through. I’d correct facts in my sixth-grade English class when we read Anne Frank; I’d volunteer to do presentations on the topic in seventh. I felt like it was my job to educate everyone around me.

Then there was Spanish in eighth grade. The teacher was sweet, a little lenient even, she’d let me turn in homework late for full credit during Jewish holidays. She had her quirks, however, and one of those was that we were to pick out a “Spanish” name to have for the year. I chose Noa, a nod to my then closeted gender identity, and a peer of mine, Aiden, chose Adolfo.

When we played Kahoot, a review game online, he’d separate the ‘o’ from the rest of his name. During those same class periods, he would joke about the number of people, of Jews, of us, killed in the Holocaust. And when I told him that a mass genocide of my people wasn’t supposed to be the punchline to his joke, he’d tell me, “Don’t be such a snowflake. It’s not a big deal.”

But it is a big deal to the one in every four Jewish Americans who have experienced anti-Semitism, according to the American Jewish Committee (AJC). His jokes about gas chambers aren’t funny to the families of the eleven victims killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. Calling himself Adolf doesn’t affect him, but all those Jewish people whose grave markers were vandalized with swastikas can’t even rest in peace. Where? In Baltimore, in Poland, in Missouri, in Cleveland, in Massachusetts, in Michigan, in Philadelphia, in Slovakia, in Belfast. In 2019, there were an average of six anti-Semitic incidents every day in America as found in a study done by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Still, one in five Americans believe that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust according to another study done by ADL in 2020. I am one of those Jews. Every time Aiden and his friends would make jokes, I would always step up, but it wasn’t effective, and I should have gone to an adult. With all that said, however, I think that I handled that situation as well as a thirteen-year-old kid could. And though it shouldn’t be up to the Jewish community to defend ourselves against anti-Semitism, I will continue to educate those around me so that, hopefully, my kids or grandkids, will not live in a world where they must hide their Stars of David.

Sam Kats is a 16-year-old writer from Jacksonville, Florida. He enjoys writing fiction, spoken word, and journalistic pieces.

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This was so moving I hope to read more of his work soon!!

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