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What a Star of David means and what it doesn’t

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Anchorage Assembly meeting goes viral

A man taunts Anchorage Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish, with a yellow Star of David. 

In anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests across the country and across the world, some people have felt justified in choosing to wear a Star of David to express outrage over what they consider to be suppression of their rights. As many of us read recently in the news, the Anchorage Assembly featured several such protesters.

Because Anchorage mishegas (that’s Yiddish for “silliness” or even “craziness”) sometimes trickles north to Fairbanks, I thought it would be useful to explain why using a Star of David in protest is insulting at best, anti-semitic at worst, and generally uninventive. I hope to never see it here. Most of you are probably already on the same page. This for those who want to know more as an ally or who are open to a personal perspective.

Let’s start with what the symbol really is. First and foremost, the Star of David is a religious symbol that has marked synagogues and Jewish prayer books for centuries. It was placed on flags by Jewish communities throughout the world and even on various sports uniforms worn by Jewish athletes. The Magen David, as it’s known in Hebrew, translates as “shield of David,” meant to convey God the Protector. It is a symbol of identity for Jews, to the extent that it is featured on the flag of Israel. In this sense, it’s no different from the cross for Christians or the star and crescent moon for Muslims.

Nazis co-opted the Star of David, twisting it into a mark of shame to tag Jews for persecution and annihilation. That the symbol was corrupted by the Nazis shouldn’t undermine its original intent and does not corrode the dignity with which Jews embrace the symbol today, as a form of expression in jewelry, a kipah (skullcap) or a flag.

Why is stealing the symbol and using it for your political protest anti-semitic? Because it trivializes the slow, well-planned, targeted corrosion of rights and ultimate enslavement and murder of 6 million of one kind of people just because of their ethnicity. Because in ignorance it dismisses the true meaning of the symbol and reduces Jews, repeatedly, to a group too pathetic to fight back as the Nazis destroyed their lives. There are plenty of symbols of oppression in the world. Why do people so cavalierly turn to the Jews to diminish their experience? It’s fundamentally not right.

And why is it insulting? Well, imagine someone took your religious symbol and waved it around as a way to protest whatever particular grievance they felt they were being subjected to at the moment. I don’t pretend to understand the meaning and feeling behind wearing any symbol that doesn’t belong to my own experience. No one should.

Before you head out to the next event where you want to silently or loudly proclaim your victimhood, think wider and deeper. Think about your particular issues and come up with something of your own, a symbol that you can be proud you created instead of stealing something you fundamentally don’t understand.

Elisabeth Nadin is a geologist, science writer and president of the board of Or Hatzafon, the Jewish Congregation of Fairbanks. Her views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the board, the congregation or the rest of the Fairbanks Jewish community.

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