10-13 Harrison Epstein (Emily Crooks) (1 of 2).jpg
Harrison Epstein speaks on ancestry and Judaism. (Emily Crooks / The Signpost)

Yom Kippur is the Jewish holiday of atonement, and for the holiday a person will fast from sundown to the next sundown. This year, Yom Kippur began on Oct. 11 and ended on Oct. 12.

Observing this and other holidays in 2016 has led me down long roads of contemplation about the country today. This election season has me thinking about my family history.

When I see the things many of Donald Trump’s supporters say, my mind drifts back three generations. On one hand there is Morris Krantz, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side.

Morris was originally born in Russia and ended up immigrating to the United States in the 1930’s. What makes the story of Morris’ immigration unique is that he initially immigrated to the U.S. illegally.

He snuck on board a Russian cargo ship and got into the United States. So that he would have legal papers, he ended up paying a man in Mexico to immigrate legally with his name and information before giving Morris the papers.

Whenever I remember Morris, I think about those two countries. This was a time where the easiest path to immigration he had was to sneak out of Russia and have a Mexican man use his name and information.

Then there was my great-grandfather on my father’s side, Harry Galowitz. He originally came to the United States from Poland, although he immigrated in the 1920s.

His first attempt at immigrating failed when his mother was told she must return to Poland due to facial blemishes, so he went back with her to make sure she made it home okay.

When Harry left Poland, he had no way of knowing that would be the last time he saw his mother and the rest of his family.

They had to deal with outright persecution and anti-Semitism their entire lives. For decades’ anti-Semitism had become taboo, it is now making a return in the mainstream.

When Trump began his campaign with hate-filled rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims, he opened the gates for members of the “alt-right” to come out in support of him.

In the words of Rosie Gray, a reporter for Buzzfeed, the alt-right uses “aggressive rhetoric and outright racial and anti-Semitic slurs.”

Every time Trump tweets, Twitter is filled with the posts from the alt-right. Most memorable to me was the photoshopped image of Trump as an SS officer (Hitler’s paramilitary soldiers) and showed Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in a gas chamber, akin to the Holocaust.

I have been face-to-face with what could be called “casual anti-Semitism” my whole life: people, who I have known for years, making jokes about the Holocaust, drawing swastikas and throwing coins at my feet.

Even as jokes, the seriousness of their actions was palpable. After hearing the name Epstein, many people’s first question is asking if I’m Jewish.

I have known my entire life that being the Jewish kid made me different. Now, as I feel I am growing closer with my religion and who I am, I face the daily reminders that many people want my kind eliminated.

I am proud of my religion, it is part of what makes me the person I am today.

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