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Emmanuelle Chriqui on Speaking Up Against Antisemitism in Hollywood: Maybe One Day I Can Play a ‘Complex and Fierce’ Jewish Woman

By October 23, 2023Article

Read the original article here.

By Emmanuelle Chriqui

I was born in Montreal and raised in Toronto to a traditional French, Jewish and Moroccan family. My parents emigrated from Morocco with my older brother in tow in the mid- to late- 1960s. As with so many immigrant stories, they came with very little and built a life for themselves that enabled my siblings and me to want for nothing.

My parents left Morocco because it became unsafe for Jews, a place my family had lived for hundreds of years.

Jews lived in Morocco since 70 CE, after they fled there once the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and Jews were exiled from their homeland. A second wave emigrated to Morocco with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal starting in the late 1400s. Throughout the centuries, the Jews of Morocco faced periods of prosperity mixed with periods of severe persecution and pogroms, such as the Bloody Days of Fes in 1912, where 50 Jews were killed, and hundreds of their homes and shops were destroyed and damaged.

Despite being treated better in Morocco than in many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, animosity towards the Jewish population increased after Moroccan independence in the 1950s, especially after the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab countries in 1967. What was once a thriving community of over 350,000 Jews now consists of just 2,000 today, with most Moroccan Jews emigrating to Israel, Canada, France and the United States.

As a child growing up in a small town outside of Toronto, we were one of two Jewish families; the Levys and us, making us the only Sephardic family around. We celebrated the Sabbath every Friday, and during the winter months, it was my duty to race home, light the candles, plug in the electric water heater, turn the oven on low and get ready for Shabbat, which started so early at that time of the year.

Our family’s biggest fights were about going out on Friday nights and, in my older brother’s case, being unable to attend the concerts of his favorite bands because they fell on the High Holidays. At the time, being Jewish felt unfair and a burden on our social lives. But as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them! And I did just that and invited my friends over on Friday nights to celebrate Shabbat with me.

My friends became obsessed with the soft challah bread and my mother’s amazing cooking. It was a win all around. I got to hang with my friends, and they got to enjoy delicious Moroccan cuisine.

Still, I had a rebellious streak and hated that I had to do anything without a say in the matter. Additionally, I cringed when my parents would talk about how Jews were hated in the world. It would drive me crazy, and I would tell them to stop exaggerating. It would be another 25 years until I finally understood what they meant.

Throughout my early life, being a Sephardic Jew was cool, even exotic. I never thought much about it. My friends accepted me, and when I came to Los Angeles, I was blessed with a wonderful career. I have played so many different nationalities, though never a Jew. I didn’t fit the stereotype of what a Jew looked like. My character in the television show “Entourage,” Sloan, was supposed to be half-Jewish, but I don’t think many people watching even knew that. Being Moroccan, though, I could play just about any other ethnic character.

Then two years ago, when the war erupted between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, antisemitism reared its ugly head on my social media feeds. I was truly faced with it for the first time. In the age of social media, antisemitic hate, conspiracy theories and misinformation were now rampant.

Throughout my career, I have publicly advocated on behalf of many causes. I am proud of this, and it has given my life a sense of meaning, to use the platform I was fortunate to have to help others.

Being an actor is very self-involved, so it felt good to give back and use my platform to amplify important causes and stand in solidarity with other persecuted groups. So, when Jews came under attack online and in the streets of Los Angeles and New York, I didn’t hesitate about advocating on behalf of my own people, but man, I was not ready for the backlash and absolute nastiness that ensued.

For the first time in my life, I understood what my parents meant. Many people in the world still hated Jews. But instead of retreating, instead of staying silent and avoiding the blowback, I got louder and prouder.

I never hid the fact that I was Jewish, but I took it a step further and started posting weekly about Shabbat. Not wanting to alienate anyone because I have incredible fans of all backgrounds, I posted about having a #happyfriday and #shabbatshalom. I made videos encouraging tolerance and speaking out against hate and injustice, including antisemitism.

Unfortunately, initially I noticed that speaking up against hate wasn’t always reciprocal. When it came to antisemitism, for some reason, Jews don’t always count. Hatred against Jews seemed up for debate.

Many people steer away from speaking out against Jew-hatred. Jews and non-Jews alike. It’s deemed a “touchy” and “confusing” subject. But to me, hate is hate, and it must be called out in all its forms whenever and wherever we see it!

Meanwhile, antisemitism continues to spiral out of control, whether that is Kanye West going “death con 3” on Jews or Jews being murdered at synagogues in Poway and Pittsburgh.

It breaks my heart to know that in America, there are more hate crimes per capita against Jews than any other minority, overwhelmingly more religious-based hate crimes against the Jewish people than any other religion, and more hate crimes against the Jewish people in New York City, where a majority of American Jews live, than any other minority.

But it also motivates me to keep fighting hate with love and to stand up proudly for who I am and who I was raised to be. As with most challenges, I see a silver lining. For the first time in my life, I am finally seeing the Hollywood Jewish community coming together, pride in being Jewish and allies coming forward and speaking up.

There are also organizations passionately and tirelessly educating and advocating about antisemitism. Two of my favorites that I am proud to be a part of are Creative Community for Peace, which comprises prominent members of the entertainment community who have come together to promote the arts as a bridge to peace and to educate about rising antisemitism within the entertainment industry, and the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance, a grassroots effort to bring the two communities together in solidarity, to support each other in their struggles, and to understand each other’s plight and narratives better.

It’s funny, for all the moaning, groaning and rebelling I did as a kid, I am now so grateful for the pride of being Jewish my parents instilled in me. It has given me strength of character and resilience to find success in the entertainment industry and stand up against hate.

I now look forward to celebrating Shabbat and lighting candles on Friday nights, and I have rarely worked on the High Holidays. It holds deep meaning for me and reminds me of who I am and where I came from. I know my parents looking down on me from above, would be proud.  And who knows, maybe one day I will have the honor of making an incredible film where I can tell an important story and play a complex and fierce Jewish woman.

Emmanuelle Chriqui is an actor and activist.

This article is part of Variety’s Antisemitism and Hollywood package and was written before October.

Cover photo: Emmanuelle Chriqui at the Art Of Elysium’s 11th Annual Heaven Celebration held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, USA on January 6, 2018.Tinseltown

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