Rethinking a troubling voting trend on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, came with lots of emotion and reflection. It reminded me how fortunate I am to live in a time and place where it is safe to be Jewish.

This is truly a historically rare feat. The Holocaust was essentially the climax of thousands of years of horrible antisemitism – and my family was one of the lucky ones. After facing oppression for centuries, my family left Europe to seek a better life in the United States. The United States afforded them an opportunity that had always been withheld from Jews: safety and the right to succeed and participate equally in society.

So returning to the modern day, it is so upsetting to see the newest direction of our country. Trump ran one of the most bigoted campaigns in decades, preying upon xenophobia, and was ultimately successful. It disgusted and horrified me to see that around one in four American Jews voted for Trump, according to exit polls.

How could a group of people who had been oppressed for so many years now support the oppressors? Jews were called sleazy, money-stealing and dishonest. We were said to have an agenda to topple society and put ourselves in power. And to be clear, we hated hearing this. We never understood why people would throw these accusations at us. Without any basis in fact, our people suffered under these falsehoods.

But when Trump came along calling Mexicans “rapists,” our people did not wholly reject this. One in four even voted for the man proclaiming it. When innocent Syrian people desperately sought refuge, our people did not immediately greet them with open arms. Some of us supported Trump in his bigoted attempt to keep out people who might not necessarily look the same as we do. We betrayed our own history.

When we have a history that is so intertwined with oppression and discrimination, all because of our religious beliefs, we have a duty to fight against oppression, for an open and free United States.

American Jews should know that America’s founding purpose was to be a safe haven for anyone seeking a better life, regardless of race, religion or country of origin. The United States did more than just provide a better life for us, it saved our lives. To forget this principle, and to actively fight against it by building walls and denying refuge to people falling victim to their own governments, is a betrayal of everything the Jewish experience has taught us.

Ryan Steinberg is a sophomore majoring in political science.