Avraham Vofsi, a Jewish artist based in Melbourne, appeared on the most recent episode of Podcast Against Antisemitism where he described how his art had been influenced by his experiences of internal antisemitism.
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“I always knew I was Jewish,” he said, “but I think the way [internalised antisemitism] manifested for me was that I literally couldn’t be around other Jews. There was something about it where some part of it was too hard to face.”
He continued: “When it was just me, I could control it in a way, like, ‘This is what it means to be Jewish,’ and that’s how I’d present myself. But as soon as I’m around other Jews, or I’m doing Jewish programmes, or I’m going to synagogue, or whatever it is, all of a sudden…did I have these feelings of animosity? I don’t know.”
Mr Vofsi went on to describe how at his school, he was one of four Jewish students in his year, a source of great anxiety. Judaism as a subject was understood to be taboo among them.
“We never talked about being Jewish with each other. Ever. And I don’t know if any of us were friends, because we all had to distance ourselves,” he said.
Taking off his glasses to rub his eyes, he said: “Sorry, it just makes me a bit uncomfortable to think about. There was something really intense about it in this hard-to-articulate way…I was so terrified all the time.”
At one point, he considered whether his anxiety about being with other Jews stemmed from the idea that “the more Jews I was around, the more possible it was that [antisemitic incidents] would happen.”
In his most recent art exhibit, B’Aretz: Portrait of a Land, Mr Vofsi used his experiences to focus on Jewish identity and building a connection to Israel, where he spent five months honing a connection with the country for inspiration.
“The show is six portraits and four landscapes…I was like, ‘I need to explore my Jewish identity’,” he told us, adding that the process of creating his newest exhibition was what helped him work through much of his internalised antisemitism.
Mr Vofsi is one of those interviewed in the book Reclaiming Our Story: The Pursuit of Jewish Pride by author Ben M. Freeman, the second instalment of his seminal manifesto of the modern Jewish Pride movement.
Earlier this year, Campaign Against Antisemitism hosted a first-of-its-kind sold-out event, “CAA presents…An evening with Ben M. Freeman”, which attracted a room full of Jewish young professionals to an east London venue to watch a live interview with Mr Freeman, followed by a question and answers session.
Podcast Against Antisemitism, produced by Campaign Against Antisemitism, talks to a different guest about antisemitism each week. It streams every Thursday and is available through all major podcast apps and YouTube. You can also subscribe to have new episodes sent straight to your inbox.
Previous guests have included comedian David Baddiel, television personality Robert Rinder, writer Eve Barlow, Grammy-Award-winning singer-songwriter Autumn Rowe, and actor Eddie Marsan.
Image credit: Avraham Vofsi