When I was in elementary school, this was this time of year when my Jewishness was most obvious. For eight days, instead of enjoying my usual peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread, I’d eat it on matza – the cracker-like substance I loathe to term “Bread of Affliction.”
By the end of lunch recess, my shirt and pants were inevitably covered with crumbs. I had also often explained – to those who didn’t know already – that yes, I’m Jewish, and I was eating matza because it was Passover.
I’d always lament the coming of Passover. Not only did it mean that I’d have to eat matza (which I don’t particularly enjoy) and explain to my gentile friends the purpose of the holiday and its prohibition of eating leavened bread, but also that I’d be discernibly different from my friends. Thankfully, nothing bad ever happened to me because I was a Jew, but what fourth-grader doesn’t have trouble embracing whatever makes them different? I certainly did. I wanted to be perceived as normal, like everybody else.
As college students, older and wiser, we appreciate what makes us different more than we did in elementary school. However, I can understand why some Jewish students at UC Davis might not be so excited to observe Passover this year.
With six swastikas found on campus since this academic year began – five within the last month or so, the most recent carved into a hallway bulletin board in the Kearney Residence Hall – it’s hard for a Jew to be totally without concern.
Not to avoid playing Devil’s Advocate, but there’s some truth to the notion that since some of those swastikas were backwards, they could just be Hindu or Buddhist religious symbols. Indeed, a swastika with arms broken in a counterclockwise direction differs from the one adopted by Hitler and the Nazis. Both the counterclockwise and the clockwise swastikas have special significance among a number of Far Eastern religions and spiritual movements.
Let’s be honest, though – this is not the Far East. Just as we generally associate a burning cross with the Ku Klux Klan rather than with historical Scotland’s Crann Tara, or “fiery cross,” we associate a swastika, clockwise or not, with Nazism and anti-Semitism. So let’s assume that whoever perpetrated such vandalism wanted to carve or spray-paint a Nazi swastika, shall we?
Now, not to be alarmist, but what’s to stop these swastikas’ perpetrator(s) from doing something to a Jewish student who munches on some matza between classes or asks for it at the DC from now to Passover’s end next Tuesday evening? Any reluctance to publicly – what with the crumbs and everything – eat matza is rather understandable. As is a queer student’s hesitancy to publicly visit the LGBT Resource Center, itself a recent target of vandalism and hatred.
So what’s to stop it? Eating matza.
A post-World War II story tells of Danish King Christian X’s willingness to don a yellow Star of David should the Nazis force Denmark’s Jews to wear it. Though apocryphal, the legend speaks volumes about the Danes’ factual commitment to not stand idly in the face of injustice. They might not have protested, tried to block freeways or pulled fire alarms, but they’d have helped the would-be targeted victims of cruelty seem just a bit more like everybody else.
This week, we can do the same. Between now and next Tuesday evening, all of us – Jews and gentiles alike – can eat matza loudly (it’s a bit crunchy) and proudly. Besides, the crumbs aren’t so bad when it’s not just you.