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Being Part of the Solution: Fighting the Rising Tide of Antisemitism

Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation - 5/19/2019

Over the last month, I struggled to decide what I would write about for this month's blog post. I wrote about Statewide's history, our current musings and interesting topics pertaining to the insurance industry. However, with many recent headlines about hate crimes and massacres against Jews across the America, I realized that I needed to raise awareness about this rising tide of antisemitism.

It saddens me to report of several Antisemitic hate crimes in the Chicago area last weekend. Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation, a modern-Orthodox synagogue in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, was targeted for arson. In West Ridge, Rogers Park and Uptown, vehicles parked in synagogue parking lots as well as cars parked on the streets of these heavily Jewish areas had their windows smashed.

Throughout the United States, the picture is just as bleak. In the Boston area, there were three arsons at two Jewish centers last week. These arsons and vandalism attacks come on the heels of the massacre at the Chabad Center in Poway, CA that occurred less than one month ago. This terrorist attack left one woman killed and three others wounded including the Rabbi of this Chabad.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that Antisemitic crimes in the US in 2018 were 99% higher than in 2015. This rising tide of hatred in the US is horrific and a manifestation of a toxic culture that has arisen over the last several years. All these reports on Antisemitism are not an exhaustive list of incidents against Jews in the US or globally. The FBI has documented a steady rise in hate crimes in the US especially against Jews, Muslims and African Americans.

Hate never begins with arson, vandalism and murder. Hate begins with ideas and mythologies about our world. Hate starts with a lack of understanding and innocuous ignorance. Antisemitism is the world's oldest societal cancer and is often a symptom of a declining society. When life is going poorly, it's too easy to create a scapegoat. The scapegoat is usually a member of a minority group. With normative bigotry, the out-group (minority) is depicted as subhuman and inferior to the in-group (majority).

In the United States, a 250+ year history of slavery of African Americans by White-Americans lent itself to continued discrimination, hatred and malicious crimes brought against them. In 2019, African Americans still face structural and implicit barriers not faced by any other ethnic, racial or religious minority.

What makes Antisemitism different from other forms of hatred experienced by other minorities is that Jews are not merely seen as subhuman and inferior. Jews are seen in a mythical way as wizards and witches able to perform God-like tasks. Jews are said to have a cabal to decide all decisions in the world. We are told that we "own the banks", "own Hollywood" and "control the government".

In addition, Jews in America face a third form of Antisemitism as we are blamed for the actions of the State of Israel. For better or worse, an average Jew in America or anywhere outside of Israel has no impact on the decision-making of the government of Israel. In spite of such knowledge, Jews across the world are harassed, synagogues are targeted, and personal property is vandalized.

Beyond these realities, there is a growing tide of Antisemitism from the hard-left and the hard-right globally and in our backyard. The hard-left only supports Jewish people that shun Israel or are willing to cover for their hatred of Israeli Jews. The hard-right only supports Jewish people that live in Israel or are willing to cover for their hatred of local Jews through their support for Israel.

The hard-left hides their Jew-hatred behind their opposition to "Zionism" or "Zionists". The hard-right hides their Jew-hatred behind their opposition to "globalists" and "Marxists". The average Jew wants nothing to do with either of these extremes. They want to work, pray and live freely as any other American citizen or countrymen in their home.

As the air in America and globally becomes more toxic and the hate becomes stifling, we must ask ourselves how we can be part of the solution for a growing problem. We must first acknowledge the problem. The problem is a rising tide of Antisemitism and hatred in our country and around the world.

Next, we must seek out the causes of this hatred. This hatred has ancient causes and modern catalysts. Jews hatred was an international obsession for thousands of years through rampant discrimination, segregation and blood libels. In 2019, Israel is used by nefarious actors to justify hatred of local Jews or Israeli Jews. In many ways, Israel is used in place of Jews as part of a coded language by Antisemitic people.

After describing the problem and why it exists, now a solution can be proposed. The greatest tool at our disposal in the fight against Antisemitism is education. We must obliterate ignorant beliefs through increased awareness of Antisemitic tropes to all students from Kindergarten through College students. Currently, Holocaust and genocide education is only mandatory in eight states. This education must become mandatory for students in every state in America.

Education is a great weapon in the fight against hate. However, classroom lessons alone will not stem the tide in favor of greater understanding. We must take the fight to the streets. Nothing positive comes from remaining passive. The average person globally has never met a Jewish person or did not know that they were talking to a Jew. Jewish organizations must continue their outreach with interfaith gatherings, community events and strong relationships with law enforcement and politicians.

If we want others to speak up for us, we must speak for them. An attack on one group is an attack on all Americans. We must stand together in the fight against Antisemitism. We must stand up against racism and fight Islamophobia. We must advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves. We must respect the voices of every community and be an ally.

As a Jew, I realize that individual Jews must reach out to our neighbors. We must share meals with them, we must befriend them to humanize ourselves. If people can picture a Jewish friend or a Jewish coworker, they will be forced to confront their ignorant ideas in a personal way. We must take a genuine interest in learning about other individuals and their cultures. If we take these steps, then people will hesitate before expressing hateful ideas and will be open to learning about our culture.

With all this being said, as Jews, we must stand up for ourselves and be vigilant, but never afraid. Synagogues will need to develop security strategies including special locks on doors and/or armed security. Police departments will need to keep a higher profile in heavily Jewish neighborhoods. We need to be our own advocates. We cannot count on any outside force to keep us safe. As the wise sage Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" - Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14.

One may ask why an insurance agency blog is taking on Antisemitism. Because it's the right thing to do. Individuals, businesses and government must work together to stem this hate. We can be an ally to other businesses that want to stem the hatred in our community in Chicago. Every person must be treated with the dignity and respect that we would wish upon ourselves. Just as when we kill one life, we kill the world, if we save one life, it is as if we saved the world. Let us be a shining light onto the world by living the example we want to portray.

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