As a sophomore in high school, I endure many stressful situations throughout the school day that follow me home. Stress can be difficult to alleviate. My main form of stress relief is playing video games. I began playing online video games in the eighth grade. The main difference with offline games is that online, you can play with anyone around the world at the same time, and talk to them in real time via the internet. You get to meet many different people with diverse backgrounds.
I have met people from all over the world, and I have developed really good friendships with a guy from Brazil, a guy from Denmark, a girl from England, and several people from the United States.
Online gaming has enabled me to meet people of different races, ages, national origins, sexes and sexual orientations. Some of my best online friends are African-American, Asian and Middle Eastern. I seem to be the only one in my online groups who is Jewish.
Around the start of Rosh Hashanah, I saw some statistics from the Anti-Defamation League regarding the rise in anti-Semitism. According to the most recent data from the ADL, the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than in 2016. Overall, there were 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents reported, and at least one incident was reported in all 50 states. These included physical assaults, vandalism and attacks on Jewish institutions. I found these statistics to be very disturbing and wished that there was something that I could do about the problem.
Over the Rosh Hashanah weekend, I was playing online with some friends. The people with whom I was playing were Nick from Brazil, Cameron in college in California, Sabrina from Pennsylvania, Cory from parts unknown, and a few others who I do not know well. We chatted as we played, and I told my friends that I had a four-day weekend. Nick asked why, and I told him that it was a holiday and that I did not have school. Nick asked what holiday I was talking about, because he knew of no holidays that weekend. I then explained that I am Jewish and the holiday was Rosh Hashanah, which is something that I had never considered telling anyone online.
After a few minutes, people began telling me their thoughts about me being Jewish. One of the people who I do not know as well said that he had never met anyone who is Jewish. This caught me off guard. The majority of the people with whom I interact on a daily basis are Jewish. I then thought about there being almost 15 million Jews in the world. It seemed so odd that one of the people with whom I play online had never met a Jew. The conversations went on with questions and comments about Jews and Judaism, until we all signed off for one reason or another.
After Rosh Hashanah, I went online to play with my friends, and saw that Cameron was playing. We played and talked. The topics of conversation changed, and we started talking about Jews and Judaism. I asked Cameron if he had ever met anyone who was Jewish because I was surprised that someone had made that comment a few days earlier. Cameron responded that I was the second Jewish person that he knew. I asked him what the first Jewish person that he met was like, and he said that it was his mother’s boss. Cameron described him as a selfish, greedy jerk who did not care about other people. Cameron added, “I really hated that guy!” I then realized that this must be the way that he views all people who are Jewish. I started thinking that it did not help his opinion that the type of person who he was describing fits the common negative stereotype for Jews. The tragic irony, I thought to myself, is that being selfish, rude, greedy, and mean are NOT Jewish traits. Any Jew who follows the teaching and spirit of Judaism would not act like the man that Cameron described.
We talked about Cameron’s mother’s boss further. I told Cameron that the way that his mother’s boss acted is not the Jewish way to treat people. I asked whether knowing that I was Jewish would help Cameron change his mind about Jews and Judaism. Cameron responded, “Yeah, you have,” and went on to explain that “I hated that man, but you are one of my best friends,” and “you are so kind and considerate, and I always get excited to play with you and talk with you.” Cameron went on to say that whenever he thinks of someone who is Jewish, he now thinks about me instead of his mother’s mean, greedy boss. I felt a sense of pride in being able to change someone’s view of Jews and Judaism.
Before this encounter, I thought there was nothing that I could do about anti-Semitism. I now know that each of us has the power to change how people view Jews.
Once people know we are Jewish, they may judge us based upon preconceived Jewish stereotypes. Our bad acts will further support people’s views of us and the negative stereotypes, but acting with the decency, care and consideration that are taught by Judaism will change those negative stereotypes. Of course, I understand that some Jewish people do not care how Jews are viewed by the rest of the world. However, for those of us who do care, I urge you to consider how you interact with others. We should proudly show ourselves as Jewish, and at the same time, exhibit true Jewish values of treating others how we, ourselves, would like to be treated and make positive contributions to society. So, go online, play some games, and as written in Isaiah 42:6, “be a light unto the nations!”