By Bryna Sherr, Permanency Coordinator and Therapist, Jewish Family Service
I am the daughter of a Holocaust Survivor.
There are few people my age who can say that, as my mother was a little girl when she and my grandparents escaped the Nazis. She was born in Uzbekistan before she and my grandparents came to the United States via a displaced persons camp, Austria, and Brazil, until they settled in the U.S. when my mother was five years old. My mother and my grandfather lost all of their many siblings except for one on each side.
She said she knew no English when she arrived, so she learned how to speak from singing children’s songs. She retired a few years ago from a career in education where she was the deputy superintendent for a rural school district in Maryland. She is a success story by all accounts.
My grandmother loved to tell stories of war, survival, and perseverance. As a young child, I was not extremely interested in these stories – most of my friends had American grandparents with no accents like my grandparents; but of course, in retrospect, I would have loved to listen more about her experiences.
One story I do remember her telling is that she had bright blue eyes and she said that non-Jewish people would not believe she was Jewish because her eyes were so blue. Also, her nose was quite small, and she was proud of her “pug nose.” She faced unbelievable anti-Semitism from overt Nazism to covert comments about her non-Jewish facial features. I feel like the stereotypes she encountered, small and large, are still with us today.
My daughter who is going to be graduating from high school this spring has come home with some anti-Semitic stories of her own throughout her years in Central Pennsylvania. She has been told that Hitler was good for the economy by a teacher, and taunts of Hitler coming after her when she was taking an elementary school bus. She is exceptionally good at her retorts, and I am proud of her for that.
I was faced recently with a common misperception about Jews. I was talking to an adult about working for Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg as a social worker and how small non-profits do not generate as much revenue as larger ones or private corporations. She asked if it was because Jews are cheap. That was a slap in the face, and I was a bit stunned by that remark. Perhaps I should not have been.
I do think that anti-Semitic stereotypes are not seen as derogatory sometimes. I believe the best my daughter and I can do is educate people, and hope it sticks.
Bryna Sherr wears two hats at JFS: She is the Permanency Coordinator with our Adoption & Foster Care program and a Therapist with JFS’ Mynd Works program. To learn more about either program, contact Bryna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-233-1681.
This article appears in the 1/29/21 edition of Community Review.