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The following op-ed was authored by Saralyn Mark, MD, a Washington, D.C.-based physician and founder/president of iGIANT (impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies) and SolaMed Solutions, LLC. She is a frequent media contributor and author of “Stellar Medicine: A Journey Through the Universe of Women’s Health” and host of the “Always Searching” podcast.
I was raised in a multicultural Denver neighborhood, where as a child one could hear Spanish, Yiddish, and other languages just walking down the street — our own Tower of Babel. Many friends and neighbors from all backgrounds would enjoy Sabbath and holiday dinners in our family home. Our door was always open to everyone who needed a safe haven and a warm meal. The dining room table would miraculously grow to accommodate our guests.
Education was also very important in my family, especially since my parents did not have opportunities to attend college. I was sent to religious school on the weekends to study Jewish history and Hebrew.
But much to the dismay of my parents, I was expelled when I was 12 years old.
I was not allowed back because I told the rabbi that he was a chauvinist for not allowing me on the pulpit with my twin brother to study the Torah. As part of my punishment, I was not permitted to have a bat mitzvah which signifies that a young woman has attained adulthood under Jewish law.
It was a confusing time for me. On one hand, I was taught to be an advocate for those who did not have a voice and now I was penalized for exercising my rights. I’ve come to understand that people have the right to protest, to share their views, but not at the expense of other’s safety and well-being.
Though I was banned for few years from religious school. I was able to participate in an educational tour in Israel as a high school student. I studied at Hebrew University, explored archeological sites, lived on a kibbutz, and pondered the existential question of whether I was an American Jew or a Jewish American. That question was put to rest once I returned back to the United States.
Being a proud Jewish American was ingrained into my upbringing, into the very fabric of how our family lived our lives and served our nation. My father, a child survivor of four concentration camps, came to Colorado because it reminded him of his home in Hungary, but with bigger mountains. He joined the U.S. Army out of a sense of gratitude and loyalty for his new country which he wanted to defend and protect, especially our freedom to practice any religion without fear of retribution or death.
Recently, Senator Chuck Schumer spoke about antisemitism on the floor of the Senate and about how Jews feel alone and even afraid to be identified as Jewish. He discussed the primordial need to know that there is a State of Israel — a safe haven for any Jew in the world so that there would never again be another Holocaust. I’ve been grateful that it existed for others, but I never felt that I would have that need as an American … until recently.
I’m now circumspect in posting my publications on antisemitism and careful to whom I talk about these issues, especially as the Israeli war against Hamas rages.
Over the years, I asked my father why his family didn’t leave Europe when the war started? Hungary was one of the last countries to have its citizen deported to concentration camps. From May 15, 1944 to July 9, 1944, more than 400,000 Jews were taken away and most were killed in gas chambers.
I couldn’t understand how he and his family didn’t think that this was not going to happen to them. He told me that they couldn’t believe that what they were hearing from other countries was true! That denial or perhaps the unwavering belief in the generosity of the human spirit led to his entire immediate family and almost 100 relatives being tortured and murdered. He never thought that his neighbors would turn against his family, that the community he cherished would not protect them.
My father died in 2016 and I can’t imagine what he would say today. Would he warn us or would he still believe in the kindness of neighbors?
I’m an American Jew. The United States is my home and I want to feel safe. I want everyone to feel safe. It was how I was raised.