First, a joke.
A young couple moves into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. They’re goy, but very gregarious and quickly make friends. As they get to know their neighbors it comes up that they are members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. They’ve started a meeting in their home, and some of their Jewish friends, intrigued, go to a few meetings. Alarmed by this, the mother of a young Jewish man who has been going to the meetings goes to her Rabbi to discuss the issue. The Rabbi listens to the woman and smiles. “I wouldn’t worry,” he tells her, “some of my best Jews are Friends.”
I was around 13 years old, watching Nick at Night, as I generally did, and I caught an episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show. It was the 1970 episode Some of My Best Friends Are Rhoda. Mary is in a fender bender with a WASPy lady named Joanne Forbes. They become friends, and Mary starts going with her to the Country Club. When Mary tries to invite her friend Rhoda, Joanne is unwilling to bring her, because Rhoda is Jewish. I was totally confused.
It was this episode, roughly 25 years after it originally aired, that taught me that antisemitism was a thing that existed.
Of course, I was aware of the World War II. I knew about Nazis and the Holocaust. The thing was, given the universal disdain felt for the National Socialists, and the focus on the Murder of Jews rather than all the other groups, I assumed people really liked Jews. At the very least, people had a baseline level of empathy for them. The notion that there were people that actually feared and hated Jews JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE JEWISH was entirely foreign and absurd to me. Now, to be fair, I was kind of foggy on racism existing at all, but as far as I knew it was against people who were non-white. The idea that white people could be racist against a specific sub-group of white people was really confusing. It still is, really.