January 14, 2024 marked the 100th day of the hostages being held in Gaza. On this deeply emotional day, Jewish people from all over the world came together to stand united against Hamas’ attack and combat Jewish hatred. Unfortunately, for me, as a Jewish woman, it was also a day my Jewish values were put to the test when I experienced a shocking moment of antisemitism.
I wear a nice-sized gold Star of David around my neck proudly. Since the war started, I made the decision not to take it off — despite all the warnings and concerns from my family and friends. I realized it was a safety concern for them, but wearing the Jewish symbol became a way for me to feel empowered in my Judaism and take pride in who I am despite the rising hostility. If anything, I felt prouder to wear my star than ever before. It was more than just an accessory — it was an extension of my identity. I knew it might put me in a dangerous situation, but I also knew that stepping away from my values and beliefs would make me feel even worse.
On January 14, I traveled to New Jersey with my family. On our way there, we stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts to get some coffee. When we walked into the coffee shop, only two men were working. They seemed very engaged in a conversation with the other customer, so we decided to order through the in-store kiosk. However, as one of the workers finished his discussion, he offered to assist us. My boyfriend went up to him and started ordering first, and as he was finished with his order, I started ordering my drink. As I was speaking, the cashier interrupted me and said: “I would suggest you cover it (my Star of David) up. I personally don’t care, but my colleague over there is from Egypt, and he has very strong opinions on what’s going on (referring to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th). I just wouldn’t want him saying anything to you and making you leave the store.” I was at a loss for words. When I heard other people talk about them experiencing antisemitism, I felt as if it would never happen to me. I guess, somewhere deep in your heart, you truly want to hope these stories aren’t real, that they’re exaggerated or not as rampant.
After he asked me to hide my Star of David, I did it. Immediately afterward however, I felt ashamed of my cowardice. In the moment when my beliefs and values were tested, I simply backed off. However, it also didn’t feel right to beat myself up for it. I was scared and felt like in that second, I could be in danger. This situation made me wonder whether the people warning me about wearing my Star of David were right. Maybe I should’ve taken it off in the first place. But when I got back to the car and told this story to my family, they were enraged. They were mad for me and how this guy had treated me. I was truly shocked by their reaction as I didn’t expect them to feel so strongly about what happened.
At the same time, their reaction reassured me that I’d done the right thing by not taking my necklace off when the war started initially. It gave me newfound strength not to hide in the future. Through the pain and shock, I felt even more grounded in my Jewish identity. While it’s difficult to experience, hate and resentment also build resilience in oneself and strengthen our faith and beliefs.
We called the store afterward to file a complaint and while the manager apologized and offered us a free drink, that was the best he could do. The employee gets to keep his job. It was disheartening. I had no interest in a free item, I wanted justice. It was about the principle.
Being a Jew in New York, New Jersey, or the United States in general feels more dangerous than ever. I moved to the United States from Russia just a few years ago, where domestic antisemitism has always been rampant. When I moved, I set out to wear my Judaism with pride. That mission was successful but now it’s being questioned again. In the current circumstances, being scared of showing your Jewish identity isn’t a horror story our grand or great-grandparents tell us anymore but a harsh reality. It’s existing right here under our noses. Even so, I won’t back down. The Star of David is here to stay.