When Rina Goldstein, GSS ’21, graduated with her MSW this May, her mind was elsewhere. As she heard her name read aloud, her thoughts rested on the safety of her family, her brothers, and her grandparents. A Jewish person in a time of rising anti-Semitism in America, Goldstein couldn’t help but fear for the ones she loved, and for herself.
This fear, Goldstein said, persists today — and she voiced her concerns to GSS.
“I have remained so silent for so long, not wanting to attract attention to my pain,” she wrote in an email to GSS administration. “I don’t know what the solution is, but… I have always appreciated Fordham’s progressive stance on fighting injustice.”
GSS as an institution does not tolerate hate of any kind, and stands in solidarity against all forms of prejudice, oppression, and violence. We sat down with Goldstein to make sure her story is heard.
A Learned Perspective
Growing up in New Jersey, Goldstein said she regularly faced discrimination due to her religious beliefs. She encountered slurs, threats, and harassment on several occasions.
“As a little kid, I wanted to believe people liked me,” Goldstein said, and added that her younger self also wanted to believe there was no religious bias involved.
On encountering microaggressions throughout childhood, Goldstein thought people may have had their own explanations for acting in such a way. “I’d think to myself, it’s justified, and I would come up with excuses for them.”
Goldstein saw her family as a group of loving, harmless people. But there were others around her who didn’t, and it became more apparent as time went on. She recalled a scene from childhood: A passing car fired paintballs at her family as they stood on a NJ street corner. The shooter’s motivation? Goldstein believes it had to do with her family’s traditional Jewish clothing.
“At first I laughed at someone shooting paintballs at us, and then it occurred to me once we were home — that was kind of dangerous,” she said. “We were little kids. I wondered why they’d do that.”
As she got older, these incidents appeared in a new light. Goldstein stopped making excuses for her tormentors and recognized targeted malice.
“Over the years it started occurring to me that these weren’t isolated incidents,” she said. “They weren’t coincidences. There was a reason these things would happen.”
A Constant Fear
For years, Goldstein saw her older relatives suffer from post-traumatic stress brought on by the Holocaust. Her great-grandmother would wake screaming in the night, and had cried about her childhood world being “wiped out.”
The hate Goldstein experienced in her own life blended with this secondhand trauma from her grandparents. Growing up, Goldstein feared the possibility of another Holocaust.
“I used to think to myself: Which of my friends could I rely on to save me? Which part of my house would I be able to hide in? Which one of my siblings would I save first?” she said. “These are the thoughts that played in my head.”
Goldstein said now she can’t open a social media app without facing some sort of anti-Semitic message.
“I see teens on Tik Tok making fun of Anne Frank,” she said. “I see them joking about ‘giving the Jews a shower.’”
The research supports that this isn’t an isolated experience. In an article titled “Addressing Anti-Semitism in Social Work Education” written by GSS Professor Carole Cox, Ph.D., a state-by-state survey in the US found that nearly half of all respondents aged 18-35 had seen social media messages related to Holocaust-denial.
“Such denial is particularly troubling, as in itself, it spreads and justifies anti-Semitic beliefs, hate, and acts,” Cox wrote.
Goldstein sees stories on the news of violent hate crimes right outside her door, and it makes her act with extreme caution. She said she is not comfortable with the idea of her siblings wearing religious head coverings in NY.
“Because I see the looks they get,” she said.
A Persisting History
Cox details in her article the history of anti-Semitism dating back to the Old Testament. Her findings show anti-Semitic hate crimes in the US jumped 48% from 2016 to 2018. Additionally, a 2020 poll found 61% of Americans agreed with at least one anti-Semitic statement.
Goldstein said it’s this type of mistreatment that caused her to pursue an MSW degree. She wants to help others who also experience inequities.
“I can never fully put myself in someone else’s experience, but I think I can visualize it a bit better having experienced discrimination of my own,” she said. “I can understand the fear for being different.”
Advocating Against Hate
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, released a message to the University community denouncing the anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim acts taking place in our country. In the piece, Father McShane detailed the story of Joseph Borgen, a Jewish man attacked by protestors in Times Square.
“Violence inspired by anti-Semitism (as is apparently the case with Mr. Borgen), or because of any kind of racial or religious hatred, is especially appalling,” Father McShane wrote. “I know you all join me in opposing the violent actions of mobs inspired by the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, and in working toward a world in which justice and understanding prevails among the warring factions.”
Goldstein understands people will have differing opinions on foreign affairs. But when she sees a picture of a sign on the R-train that says, “No Jews”, the situation has gone much further than a difference of opinion. She is asking the broader community to stand with her and oppose these acts of hate as we all work toward a more just and understanding future.
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