I am a loud Jewish woman. I was birthed by a loud Jewish woman. I have spent my life surrounded by loud Jewish women. These women are my people.
But while the phrase is often used as an epithet, hurled at the Joan Rivers and Fran Dreschers of the world, I’ve recently come to believe that our reputation for volume is more than an obnoxious stereotype we’re forced to confront. In fact, our loudness may be our survival. Our loudness ensures that our voices are heard. And at a time when an alarming number of Donald Trump-supporting trolls want nothing more than to shut us up, it’s what guarantees we won’t be silenced.
Last month, a male, non-Jewish reporter friend shared a photo on Twitter of a Neo Nazi rallying for Donald Trump in Henderson, Nevada, a city 20 minutes outside of Las Vegas. The image, which featured a man holding a sign suggesting he was a Holocaust denier, was disturbing—and yet, it didn’t pack the same punch as it might have before this election cycle began. In the past year, anti-Semitism has creeped its way back into the mainstream.
But as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, this image filled me with rage. And my rage led me to reply to the tweet—responding that, by some estimates, even more than six million Jews were systematically murdered in Europe at the hands of Hitler’s Nazis. I made the comment so quickly, and so confidently, it escaped my thoughts seconds later.
Then my feed began lighting up with anti-Semitic replies.
While all the responses were stomach-turning, one Twitter user replied with such vicious hate that I couldn’t just take it in stride. She wrote, “Lucky for you, you’re too skinny to make much soap. A standing lampshade though…”
For the unfamiliar, these references are callbacks to myths that have pervaded the post-Holocaust consciousness since the liberation of the concentration camps in the mid 1940s. Legend has it that some Nazis used the fat of murdered prisoners in the production of soap just because they could. Similarly, the lampshade refers to a myth that Nazi doctors removed the skin of dead Jews and used it to fashion lamp coverings. Neither of these myths have ever been reliably substantiated, but they continue to be lobbed at modern Jews as a tactic for making us feel less human—and more like objects.
As a result of these messages, I spent the evening reporting users to Twitter for threats and harassment, and most were at least temporarily suspended. Distressingly, many of the accounts I reported expressly listed their support for Trump in their Twitter bios. They implored others to “Make America Great Again.”
While this experience was horrifying, it was far from unique. Perhaps you’re even reading this piece and thinking, “I feel like I’ve read this exact story before.” That’s because I am in the company of many other loud Jewish women who’ve built a career online, and who know what it’s like to have these trolls lurking behind every tweet.
When freelance journalist Julia Ioffe profiled Melania Trump for GQ back in March, she couldn’t have predicted that a story about the wife of the then-Republican frontrunner would somehow lead to attacks on her Jewish roots. But once Melania expressed she was unhappy with Ioffe’s piece—writing in a Facebook post how it was “yet another example of the dishonest media and their disingenuous reporting”—the anti-Semitic trolls assembled.
Ioffe was hit with a barrage of messages and images right out of what appears to be the Jew-troller’s playbook. All these moves are rooted in Nazi Germany propaganda: cartoon people with hook noses, bags of money, people drawn with their heads shoved in ovens. You’ve likely seen some or all of these before. The purpose of these images is fairly simple: to unnerve, to demean, to instill fear of mortal danger. And while an accomplished and strong woman like Ioffe can handle quite a bit, she’s still human.
“It’s unsettling,” she told The Guardian in March. “I started the day off having a sense of humor about it but by the end of the day, after a few phone calls … with people playing Hitler speeches, and the imagery, and people telling me my face would look good on a lampshade, it’s hard to laugh.”
New York Observer writer Dana Schwartz experienced similar vitriol over the summer when she dared to criticize a photo tweeted by Trump that she and many others viewed as anti-Semitic. The photo showed Hillary Clinton in front of piles of money, and billed her as the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” But as soon as Schwartz called it as she saw it, the anti-Semites came after her in a similar fashion to Ioffe. The experience inspired her to write an open letter to Jared Kushner—Trump’s son-in-law, owner of the Observer, and an observant Jew—asking how he could condone this type of rhetoric. Kushner replied with a letter of his own, absolving himself of blame and claiming his father-in-law was indeed a friend of the Jews.
And just last month, Politico reporter Hadas Gold received a threat so violent that a police report was filed. The threat came from a Trump-supporter in the form of an image that showed Gold with a fake bullet hole in her head, wearing a Star of David marked “Jude” like the ones Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust. The accompanying message read “Don’t mess with our boy Trump or you will be first in line for the camp.” It was sickening.
While I experienced this type of harassment on a smaller scale, I was no less affected. At first, like Ioffe, my instinct was to deflect and not allow these cruel people to get the better of me. I fired off some ironic retweets as if to say “it’s no big deal.” But really, these messages are a big deal. We cannot forget that not so long ago, people just like us were murdered by the millions because people didn’t like what we were saying or doing.
These types of attacks should seem shocking in 2016, but a recent internal investigation at Twitter found that anti-Semitism is rampant on the platform. From August 2015 to July 2016, a staggering 2.6 million anti-Semitic messages were tweeted, with nearly 20,000 of them directed at journalists. Anti-Semitic trolls even use special code to identify Jewish journalists online—most famously, by placing their names in three sets of parentheses, known as “echoes,” like (((this))). This religious targeting has inspired a heartening show of solidarity among Jewish and non-Jewish journalists alike, in which Twitter users voluntarily place the symbols around their own names to render them meaningless—but the need for this response is chilling. And the Trump connection isn’t just anecdotal: Twitter also found that the most common words in the biographies of these Jew-hating trolls were “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative” and “white.” Many of these accounts were anonymous.
Not only is it a tough time to be a Jew online, but as usual, women continue to be a constant target of hate and harassment. In 2014, we saw the proliferation of the Gamergate scandal, in which female gaming journalists were threatened with rape and death by angry men online. From there, the movement grew, with these men attacking any woman (or man) who publicly defended these women. Then there are the less extreme but equally notable insults directed toward women online daily, as trolls attack everything from our appearance to our value as human beings. When you combine how difficult it is to be a Jew online with being a woman online, you get a bleak picture.
But there is a silver lining here: Unlike during the Holocaust, Jewish women like me, Ioffe, Schwartz, Gold, and the many other loud Jewish women on the internet are able to forge forward. We are given platforms to discuss our experiences, or not discuss them. We can continue writing about the topics that matter to us, and don’t need to be defined by our Jewishness, despite the anti-Semites who want to put us in that box.
I vividly remember being forced to watch a Holocaust documentary in high school European history class and running out of the room because I couldn’t handle the horror. The skeletal forms of Jews barely alive were reminders of the great aunts, uncles, and grandparents I never got to meet, and my now 89-year-old grandfather and his sister’s narrow escape. But now I won’t allow myself to walk out of the room, or log off for good, as some trolls implore me to do. This online space is just as much mine as it is theirs.
As fellow Jewish journalists know, this insistence to stick around comes at a price: the risk of being reminded of the horrific past at any moment. But what’s the alternative? Our not-so-distant relatives fought to survive so that we could live. And that’s what we’re doing. Living—loudly.
An earlier version of this essay appeared on Medium.