Story By: Katya Agatucci | The Broadside (Contact: email@example.com)
Perspective on hate from an Israeli immigrant living in Central Oregon
For Guy Berryman, a first year student at Central Oregon Community College, dealing with prejudice is nothing new.
“I used to wear a Star of David necklace, and I was in a parking lot in Redding, California. This area is fairly conservative. I was walking out of a parking lot, and some guys saw the Star of David necklace and they proceeded to tell me to get out of here and I refused,” Berryman explained.
This confrontation occurred when Berryman and his older brother were walking outside of a grocery store. Once Berryman refused to leave because of his religious garment, he said “We got in a physical confrontation and we ended up leaving. It was definitely shocking. Although, those sorts of things happen all over the country, but it’s the sort of thing that you wouldn’t expect to happen to you.”
Berryman explained that the men who harassed him for wearing the Star of David necklace took a double take after glancing at him, looked at the appearance of him and his brother, and then asked if they were “Jews” before telling him to leave.
“One of the interesting things, especially with anti-Semitism, is we think of racism and bigotry as something that you would find in a way that is politically insular and somewhere that is homogenous, like the south. But, anti-Semitism as is much from the left as is it from the right. It’s prevalent across a lot of communities that you wouldn’t necessarily pinpoint,” Berryman noted.
Within the views and politics today, Berryman explained that the problem with anti-Semitism is the fact that people are unable to distinguish between Israeli persons and Jewish persons: “Israel is a very politically and ethnically diverse country, but here is this monolithic view of Israel that all Israelis are pro-Palestine settlements even though it’s very divisive just in Israel. So, there’s an inability to distinguish between the policies of Israel and Jewish people.
The problem with anti-Semitism today with younger generations is coming from [the inability to separate the two]. You can tell someone you’re Jewish and they will say ‘Yeah what about the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza’ or ‘What about the building of settlements in the West Bank?’ when I never said I was Israeli, I said I was Jewish. The two have become, in the eyes of your average American, inseparable,”
In Berryman’s opinion, being Jewish becomes your ethnicity in a way, and a lot of people do not necessarily see it that way. “I actually don’t practice Judaism in any capacity,” he said. “I practice Dadawadi-Buddhism, but that doesn’t mean I’m not Jewish. There are probably people who would disagree, though. I was born in Israel, I speak fluent Hebrew, I’m ethnically jewish.”
Berryman was born in Israel, he speaks fluent Hebrew, and he considers himself to be ethnically Jewish.
“My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. You can’t just convert away from Judaism and not be Jewish anymore. It’s more of a racial identity now a days than it is a religious one. Because of that sort of gray area, a lot of protection for things like discrimination, that doesn’t apply to Jewish people. There are probably people who would disagree, though,” Berryman added.
Berryman was born in Haifa, Israel, and lived there until the age of two. He moved to Botswana until the age of six or seven, to Oakland California for most of his life and then to Central Oregon to attend school at COCC.
Traveling back to Israel to visit extended family is a fairly frequent thing for Berryman.
“My mom knew that she wanted to leave Israel when my oldest brother was an infant. Everyone has gas masks and for infants, they have devices for threats of chemical attacks. There are air raid sirens often, and when they go off, everyone goes inside and you put on your gas masks and getting oxygen flowing to infants,” Berryman said.
Haifa is near the Lebanese border, and there was an Iraqi scud missile that was originally aiming for the Haifa nuclear reactor and hit a shopping mall under construction in the middle of the night.
Due to that incident, everyone was on high alert the next day, and once an Iraqi military plane flew too close to the border, alarms sounded for a chemical attack.
Berryman’s mom was with his older brother, and he was an infant at the time. Everyone is required to wear gas masks when alarms sound or have an oxygen device for infants. Once the alarms sounded, she put on her mask and started the oxygen to his brother.
The oxygen going to his brother had a limited amount of pressurization, around an hour worth of oxygen. She was waiting for the relief sirens to go off to let her brother off of the oxygen.
“The release sirens sounded at 58 minutes. My mom was losing her mind because she had this infant who was in this oxygen chamber and it was two minutes before my older brother would have started suffocating before the alarm finally sounded. That was sort of the moment when she decided that she didn’t want to live around that. She wanted us to make a choice on whether or not we wanted to go back,” Berryman explained.
His mom wanted him and his sibling to have the choice to go back and live in Israel if they wanted to, along with whether or not they wanted to participate in the mandatory conscription in Israel because of what their cousin had experienced being in the military.
Berryman’s cousin has first-hand experience with combat ten miles from Haifa city on a patrol jeep. His vehicle was hit by an IED explosion and he ended up losing his right arm.
“That’s just the things that happen to people in the Israeli defense forces because there is always an inherent danger. My mom didn’t want us to be forced into that if we didn’t want to,” Berryman explained.
Berryman has direct experience with prejudice in America and only wants to better himself as a result of those experiences. As he asserted, “Solidarity and unity against [discrimination of any kind] is the best thing that we can do at this point.” ■