A Journey Through Antisemitism
by Lili Noah
As I sit down to write this, my heart is heavy with the weight of experiences tied to my identity as a Jew, navigating the unsettling range of antisemitism. As a student and artist at SUNY New Paltz, my Israeli heritage, rooted in having an Israeli father and summers spent in Israel, has shaped both my identity and artistic expression. This past semester has been heartbreaking as I witnessed so many people around me show no empathy towards the antisemitism that engulfed my college campus. I grew up always knowing of the antisemitism that has existed but I never imagined it encompassing everything that surrounds me, through my community, my campus, the people I thought were my friends, and the people I looked up to. I have tried to process the emotions I never wished to face through my art. My art aims at trying to make my audience understand the pain I face as a Jewish student in the United States. It aims at helping me process the fear I feel for my family and my people. In sharing this journey, I hope to offer a guide—a testament to the transformative power of art in the face of adversity.
Acknowledging the Pain:
There's a peculiar ache that comes with the knowledge that prejudice exists, that you might be judged for aspects beyond your control. It's crucial to allow yourself to feel, to acknowledge the pain, anger, and confusion that antisemitism can evoke. Antisemitism on all college campuses in the United States has made many Jewish students afraid. I have felt worried that certain teachers who have taken an apparent political stance would give me a grade I do not deserve. I have been at most times this semester, unbearably afraid. Afraid to go to class, afraid to wear my Star of David, afraid of being censored, and afraid of being penalized by professors that abuse their powers. I have felt alone. I have felt silenced. I have felt without a community.
Judaism isn't just a religious affiliation; it's an array of culture, history, and community. Diving into my Jewish identity became an important act of self-discovery. It became a journey that provided both comfort and inspiration for the art that would follow. The Jewish identity and the culture in which I was raised have collectively shaped the person I am today.
The people that made me who I am today, Jewish history and the struggles of my people embodies the way we as Jews view the world. The resilience of my community throughout time became a light to fuel my creativity with stories of survival and cultural richness. It's important to acknowledge that we have and always will be resilient.
Choosing the Art Form:
For me, art became a sanctuary—a space where I could weave my emotions into something bigger than just my feelings. The manipulation of clay in all forms became a way for me to be expressive through my emotions, to feel, and to showcase those feelings in bigger ways than just words. Clay is a fluid material that moves in whichever ways you push it to. Clay is similar to emotion in the way that it responds to the artist. It responds to the way we feel when we create a piece. It breaks when our force is too powerful. It can be delicate when we are aware of its fragility. Clay as my art form has been a new experience. The fragility and the vulnerability this art form evokes is the reason I have been most drawn to it. The act of choosing your art form is deeply personal; it's the vessel through which you evoke your emotions.
Translating Emotions into Art:
The creative process for me became an outlet. It became a way for me to bear with the internalization of everything happening around me. Each manipulation of material flowed out of me carrying the weight of emotion and struggle I felt.
Sharing the Story:
To share one's story is an act of vulnerability and strength. The vulnerability of this process is what makes it so powerful. Questions begin to arise before showing works that embody such strong meanings. How will people act? Will someone ruin it if I leave it up in a public space? What questions will be asked? I shared my art with the world, inviting others to see through my eyes, to feel the vulnerability of my emotions.
Connecting with Community:
Art, at its core, is a communal experience. Art, fundamentally, is a shared experience. In reaching out to fellow artists and friends amid shared struggles, I uncovered the impact of collective understanding. Crafting art that resonates with others and elicits a sense of shared loneliness reveals the stark reality of feeling unheard. During this semester, the world seemed silent, and I felt an unfamiliar sense of isolation. Despite advocating for various communities in the past, I observed a striking lack of support for the Jewish community. The question arose: Why is there a seeming indifference to the suffering of Jewish individuals, prompting me to emphasize the importance of checking in on one another in my piece where I asked, “Have you checked on your Jewish friends?”
Using Art as Activism:
Art, when used as a tool for change, becomes a force. My creations transformed into a form of activism, fostering dialogue, and contributing to the broader narrative against prejudice. I never realized how much power my art could hold until I saw the way my piece was interacted with. Creating art that allowed students who were so oblivious to my emotions to feel something and become aware and understanding is all I ever wanted. To raise awareness to how silent my community has been was my goal.
I was able to find a balance between pain and creativity in my art. I created a place where my struggles were able to coexist with the beauty of creativity and vulnerability. This journey for me is ongoing, and timeless. This journey will be a continuous exploration of myself through my creative lens. I hope this guide I have created can act as a path for those seeking a sense of comfort.