A high school senior on the fight against antisemitism

Legislation can be passed to identify and condemn antisemitism and antisemitic elected officials must be called out.

The North Carolina State Capitol building in Raleigh, N.C. Credit: Jill Lang/Shutterstock.
The North Carolina State Capitol building in Raleigh, N.C. Credit: Jill Lang/Shutterstock.
Eric Willoughby. Credit: Courtesy.
Eric Willoughby
Eric Willoughby is a senior at W.A. Hough High School.

As long as I’ve been aware of being Jewish, I’ve also been forced to be aware of antisemitism. My mother always encouraged me to be proud of my Jewish identity and to use it for good. However, she also told me not to advertise the fact that I was Jewish.

My mother was raised in Kernersville, N.C. Her father was always aware of the antisemitism that permeated the American South. This forced him to find ways to hide his and his family’s Jewish identity, including changing the family surname from “Katzberg” to “Carson.”

All of this came home to me on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel and killed 1,200 people. It was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. In the wake of the massacre, antisemitism skyrocketed around the world, even here in Greater Charlotte and North Carolina as a whole.

I am currently a senior at W.A. Hough High School in Cornelius, N.C., just a few miles outside of Charlotte. Every day, I am confronted by hateful and threatening messages directed at me and other Jewish people on social media.

I recently visited the University of North Carolina for a speaking event. While there, I witnessed a group of students chanting “globalize the intifada,” a pro-Hamas slogan calling for the genocide of the Jews. A representative of the school administration was following the group. When I asked them, the representative did not know what the slogan meant or how to respond to it.

The antisemitic hate I experienced growing up taught me that staying silent is never the right answer. To fight hate, we must speak out when we see it and educate others to recognize it.  

When I was 13, my mother’s work required us to move to Chicago. I attended a Catholic school, where I was, once again, the only Jew. In this new environment, I witnessed discrimination against LGBTQ+ students. I had to speak up to stomp out the hate I witnessed. I organized protests and lobbied the Illinois General Assembly to strengthen student speech rights and protect marginalized communities across the state.

I spent four years in Chicago, but I never felt the same connection I had with my home in North Carolina.

My family and I moved back to North Carolina in July 2023. Having been here for several months, we have come to find that the Greater Charlotte Jewish community is beautiful and vibrant. Organizations like the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, which is a hub for Jewish activity, and Temple Beth El, where I attend services, have provided a space for me to continue growing as a person and as a Jew. 

Since returning to Greater Charlotte, I have continued to be active in local and state politics. I am involved with the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party and recently spoke out against illegal redistricting at the state legislature. I have been lucky enough to travel across North Carolina to interact with voters and learn about the issues they are facing. I have seen firsthand how important it is to speak up and take action when the things you love are threatened. 

This is just as important when it comes to the Jews. Today, local communities and governments need to work harder to fight antisemitism. Legislation can be passed to identify and condemn antisemitism, and antisemitic statements from elected officials must be called out and marginalized.

My grandmother was a North Carolina teacher for decades and taught me the power of education. I have attended numerous events and workshops sponsored by the Jewish Federation’s “Outshine Hate Initiative,” which works to educate the Charlotte community about antisemitism and teach ways to fight it. Courses like these are open to the public and should be instituted in public schools. 

Next year, I hope to attend college in North Carolina. I know that wherever I go, I will continue to be part of this state’s vibrant Jewish community and work together with my peers, mentors and public officials to ensure that our state is free of antisemitism and any form of hate.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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