I wrote this message as an op-ed in hopes that it would be published and shared with a wide audience. It was not picked up this time around, but I wanted to share it with you today in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
A reflection from Igor Golyak on International Holocaust Remembrance Day:
Why do you hate my people?
On Saturday, January 15, I received numerous calls and texts as news of a horrific antisemitic act spread through my community of Russian Jewish immigrants. A rabbi and three others had been taken hostage by a terrorist at Temple Beth Israel in Collyville, Texas. The standoff lasted for over 12 hours until all of the hostages were freed.
Shortly after learning of this crisis, I gathered with my team at Arlekin Players Theatre to prepare for that evening's virtual performance of WITNESS, a documentary play about the immigration stories of Jewish people in the face of antisemitism. We kept a television on in the foyer to track the unfolding crisis. As I watched, I could hear an actor in the next room rehearsing a monologue about his character’s inability to escape antisemitism. In that moment, I decided to integrate footage from the Texas crisis into the live performance.
During the final act of the play, an Israeli siren brings all of the characters to their feet for Yom HaShoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust observed on the Hebrew calendar by Jews in Israel and around the world. As the scene unfolded, I glanced at our Zoom audience and saw two elderly women struggling to their feet to stand with the characters in a moment that merged the fear and uncertainty of the live hostage situation with our performance about historic events. The post-show talkbacks that followed were unlike any others I've experienced, as people responded to the real-time footage, discussed the crisis in Texas, and shared comments like, "...including a reference to this weekend's hostage crisis...makes the Jews in the audience revisit the eternal question of ‘where should we run to’...", and "Antisemitism is the ground base prejudice which many people think does not exist."
As a Ukrainian Jewish refugee, I thought I understood antisemitism. I arrived in the United States in 1990 with my sister, parents, and grandparents. I was 11 years old. My parents left everything behind but like generations of Jews before us, we believed we would find freedom in America. I knew about the Holocaust, pogroms, the hardships my parents and grandparents had faced, but I always thought about those as just isolated moments in history. I saw America as a safe haven from antisemitism. Working on WITNESS my perspective has changed. America could be a temporary place of residence for me; I could be forced to flee again.
To create WITNESS we worked with archivists at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and interviewed nearly 100 Jews around the world. As I interviewed American Jews, a surprising pattern emerged. At first, they didn’t want to talk about antisemitism, but after spending time to establish trust, the floodgates would open with an outpouring of one shocking story after another. After one long conversation, one WITNESS interviewee paused and said, “Maybe we are just walking around being paranoid, and it doesn't actually exist." I was devastated, because this is what generations of trauma has done, and what we continue to do to ourselves as Jewish people. We perpetuate self-hatred and create doubt that keeps us silent. Antisemitism is alive and well in America, but somehow we only talk about it privately around kitchen tables, keeping it quiet because it can always get worse.
A rabbi I interviewed for WITNESS told me about meeting a man in an elevator who noticed her kippah and asked, “Why does everybody hate your people?” The rabbi said to me, “I wish I’d had the presence of mind to answer: “Isn't that really a question for you?”
So let me ask the question: Why do you hate my people?
I don’t ask with anger or even sorrow. I ask with curiosity: Why do you hate my people?
We need this conversation in Texas, where Jewish congregants were just taken hostage. We need it in Boston, where a rabbi was stabbed outside of a Jewish Day School last July. We need to start talking, and I welcome the conversation.
Founder and artistic director of Arlekin Players Theatre & (zero-G) Virtual Theater Lab
View our recent talkback with Joyce Kulhawik for more conversation about WITNESS and antisemitism.