Josephine Hume describes herself as “spiritually homeless.” Hume, 79, isn’t entirely sure whether any of her heritage is Jewish. Regardless, she is very concerned about the rise in antisemitism she sees in Phoenix and nationally.
“We can never have persecution of people whose legacy is so worldwide,” she said. “We can never let this happen again. And yet, look at what we’re going through politically.”
The FBI recorded the largest number of hate crimes last year since 2008, and the Jewish community was once again a top target of religiously-motivated crimes.
Hume’s parents were both immigrants: her father from Russia and her mother from Europe. She isn’t certain how they both ended up in the United States, met and married, but she is certain she grew up with a strange relationship to Judaism.
When she and her parents lived in Chicago, they lived a Christian life. Hume remembers baptisms, weddings and funerals. “There was no Jewishness,” she said. But her parents were always very friendly with Jews.
“My mother seemed to know more about Jewish religion than she should, having been raised Catholic,” Hume said. “It’s not like she ever pretended to be Jewish, but I never understood this connection.”
Then, a few years ago she heard about a program geared toward people like her — with questions about Judaism and their heritage — and found a local participating synagogue.
She signed up and met other people like herself, with stories of what might be a lost Jewish legacy. She learned about the Diaspora and how much has been lost.
“Frankly, that has not been easy to deal with. I’m grateful for that information, but I’m still a spiritually homeless person. I don’t know how to reclaim a lost legacy,” she said.
She went back to the same temple for a night of solidarity after the 2018 Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh.
About 200 people attended, she said. “I was the only one who couldn’t keep tears from streaming down my face,” she said. “The solidarity that the members of this temple showed involved never breaking down, never reacting in weakness.”
She was so emotionally overwhelmed, she said, she is still processing her feelings from the event.
“I wasn’t crying for the people in the synagogue in Pennsylvania. I was crying for my lost roots in Europe,” she said.
She doesn’t know what the answer is to rising antisemitism. But she knows she has to speak up.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found more than 9 in 10 Jews say there is at least “some” antisemitism in the United States, including 45% who say there is “a lot.” Slightly more than half of Jews surveyed (53%) nationally say that they feel less safe today than they did five years ago as a Jewish person in the U.S.
“How do I speak up against antisemitism without making myself a target?” she asked. “What can I do to prevent the persecution of Jews, gays, everyone that Hitler wanted to exterminate?” JN