Rose Hurwitz – who is working on her PHD in Anthropology.
Your Essay “Hiding in Plain Sight” was poignant and actually heartbreaking.
We are so sorry for the inexcusable anti-Semitic incidents that happened to you since you were just a 9 year old child. You have exhibited great strength In your pain and we believe have an undeniable resolve to change the way people think. You concluded your essay with these worlds “Reconciliation can lead to freedom for all to live peacefully among diverse groups, creating a more just world for everyone. Rose – this is no longer a theory! The reconciliation has started today! We are happy to present The Nathaniel Foundation March of Remembrance scholarship of $2500 to Rose Hurwitz. Congratulations my friend!
2023 MOR Submission
Hiding in Plain Sight
“It’s in your blood, sweetie. I’ll pray for you.”
Even today, Mrs. Jackie’s words echo in my memory. Her prayers for me were not for my well-being, but for my conversion to Christianity and my compliance with greater community values. She prayed for the erasure of my Jewish identity for her own safety and comfort. At just nine years old, this was my first memorable experience with antisemitism, but certainly not my last.
In fourth grade, my dearest friends and I competed in a dance quartet together. After winning Nationals, we excitedly discussed plans for dancing together again the following year in fifth grade. Once school started, I learned the other three girls had formed a trio, excluding me from the routine. The girls told me that my mom had said it was too expensive for me to dance with them this year. Confused, I asked my mom why they would think that. Equally confused, my mom suggested we call one of the mothers, Mrs. Jackie, to clear up the misunderstanding so that I could be included in the routine moving forward. I excitedly dialed her number, eager to be added back to the group and learn the new routine. However, my excited quickly faded and turned to anguish.
As it turns out, excluding me from the routine was deliberate. Unbeknownst to my family and my teammates, my friend’s mothers had agreed that they no longer wanted their daughters associating with a Jewish girl and formed the trio on their own terms. Placing the blame on a fictional financial hardship was a more palatable excuse to share with their daughters than to explain the truth behind their own prejudice toward my family. Mrs. Jackie rationalized to me that our off-stage, pre-performance prayers were tainted by my faith and that she wanted her daughter to walk with followers of Christ instead of ride on the Devil’s coattails with non-believers. Stunned, I blinked through tears. “But we don’t worship the Devil…and I am only half Jewish,” I stammered. “My mom is Catholic.” The lump in my throat had gotten so large, I could barely get the words out without choking. She sighed. “It’s in your blood, sweetie. I’ll pray for you.”
The venom in her voice sharply left her lips and pierced my heart. My nine-year-old self did not understand what she meant, but I knew her words were not sincere. I put my hand over the phone’s mouthpiece and whispered to my mom, “Why did Mrs. Jackie say that? Does this mean I can’t be in the dance?” My mom took the phone and told me to go upstairs. I peered over the banister, trying to hear the conversation between my parents and my friend’s mom. “Do we need to find a new dance studio for her?” my dad asked my mom after she hung up the phone. “All of her friends are there,” my mom replied. “We can’t do that to her.” For the next eight years I danced with the same teammates I had had since childhood, but I cautiously calculated how each of my actions could be perceived as moral failures and excuses for exclusion. For my own safety I spend much of my life hiding in plain sight.
For many years, I lived as somewhat undercover Jew. Laying low has always been easier than explaining my heritage or sitting in others’ discomfort with me, making the balancing act of being myself and being accepted a difficult one. My family, being interfaith, did not attend regular religious services at churches or synagogues, but occasionally celebrated Jewish holidays with the other interfaith families in the community. Many people in my hometown did not recognize Hurwitz as a Jewish surname and when people discovered my Jewish identity, one of the more common reactions was shock that I have “such a pretty nose for a Jewish girl”. Once at SMU, folks were confused to learn that a Jew would choose to attend a Methodist university. In many ways, others’ ignorance and my appearance have kept me safe in a world so eager to find fault with Jews.
Antisemitism, especially in the form of seemingly innocent comments about my nose or my choice in academic institution, largely goes unnoticed by those who do not experience it firsthand. We are often conditioned to laugh off or brush aside distasteful jokes about Ann Frank or controlling Jewish mothers-in-law, because, after all, it’s not a call to action for another Holocaust. It’s not that serious. And yet, it is. It is that serious. The Holocaust did not happen overnight. Sophisticated antisemitic Nazi propaganda infiltrated German media, fostering a climate of hate, fear, and indifference toward Jewish people. The more desensitized we are to hateful messaging, the more justified hateful actions become. In school I learned how the Holocaust was a uniquely European atrocity and that the Jews were saved by Americans. In the United States, Jews had religious freedom and were not oppressed or target. Yet, as I learned about the Holocaust, I understood how deeply antisemitic tropes and propaganda are embedded in our American culture. Anti-Jewish rhetoric is not uniquely European, but a worldwide plague with disastrous consequences.
Today’s American political climate has once again fueled dangerous conspiracy theories about lizard people and world domination, topes rooted in anti-Jewish rhetoric, and given antisemitic figures, like Kanye West and Marjorie Taylor Greene, a platform to spread hatred. Where do we draw the line between ignorant teasing and life-threatening propaganda? At what point do individual’s opinions become movements for the masses? Increased violence against Jewish people is not a coincidence and must be taken seriously. In the last six months, I have feared for my life on two separate occasions because of anti-Jewish violence. In both instances I was dining on restaurant patios when total strangers publicly expressed their hatred for Jews and called for an army to congregate and pick up where Hitler left off. I felt like I was in a movie instead of in my own body. I panicked, looking around to see if anybody would do anything. Say anything. Nobody did. All of us froze in disbelief. Both times. Once again, my ability to hide in plain sight saved me, not just in protecting my identity, but my life.
I do not want to hide anymore. I want my Jewish brothers and sisters to wear their Star of David necklaces freely, instead of tucking them into their collars. I want to celebrate my heritage with my people proudly without fear of being targeted in a violent attack. I want to feel safe, supported, and respected in my community. And most of all, I want others to understand how important it is for both Jews and gentiles to stand united against antisemitism. Through resolution, forgiveness, and education we can overcome manufactured distrust, fear, and inequality that separates us and strive for unification. We must loudly lean on each other to build resilient communities that foster belonging, acceptance, and cooperation. Collective action and collaboration amplify our calls for social justice and can pave the way for more than just strengthening Jewish-Christian relationships. Reconciliation can lead to freedom for all to live peacefully among diverse groups, creating a more just world for everyone.