I have been reading classic books recently from authors like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Orwell. The casual ease of their antisemitism is something I am seeing in a different light than when I was younger. This past weekend, while leading Shabbat services, a rabbi and three others were taken hostage by a terrorist spouting antisemitic rhetoric. As I wrote in a letter to the community last Saturday evening, this has become far too familiar in our current descent into incivility.
While violence, hateful language and antisemitism are not surprising anymore, what does surprise me is the utter silence from almost all my non-Jewish friends, peers and communal leaders. An exception is a few community leaders who reached out that evening and over the last several days. But that was it. Social media is silent except for posts from other Jews.
The news has already turned the page … maybe because none of the hostages were murdered, thank God. Still, it is troubling to see not a single mention of our Puget Sound Jewish communities, nor quotes from Jewish leaders, in any of the handful of articles about the incident, in the local media. When violence is targeted at Jewish people for being Jewish, anywhere, it is targeted at Jewish people everywhere.
As I wrote to one friend, Jews are a remnant of a remnant. The entire state of Israel is smaller than Lake Michigan. I cannot visit my family in Eastern Europe. The graves are not there any longer, let alone the people. It makes me wonder if the non-Jewish community understands how personal these attacks are for some of us. The fear is real. The violence is real. And the silence speaks volumes.
With all the talk about intersectionality and diversity, I find myself asking if we Jews somehow do not count in those equations when it comes down to it. And as an indicator of where we are, there are those who are now comfortable publicly asserting that antisemitism is somehow being weaponized. We are supposed to either fall in line or stay silent. Walk around any college campus, and it is easy to see how normalized this has become. I would rather we start calling it what it really is: Hatred of Jews. Hatred of Jews not for what we do, but increasingly it feels that the undercurrent of hatred is simply because we exist.
It is far too easy for critique of the Israeli government to be used as fodder for assaulting and intimidating Jews and defacing Jewish spaces. When the outcome of those words is violence directed at Jews in the United States and around the world, something is metastasizing. It is also reasonable to question whether critique of the Israeli government — when we see it on social media and hear it among our peers — is rooted in a sincere desire to understand the conflict in its entirety or is just veiled antisemitism. Let us be honest. It is all part of the same cloth — dislike, discomfort, anger, hatred and indifference are all on a spectrum and can be done with a smile as well as a sneer.
I try to teach our kids that we should live by our hopes and not our fears. That we need to work to create the world we want to live in. And yet I am left wondering: Why the silence, and what do we do with it? We can no longer ignore the silence and hatred or allow Jewish people’s response to antisemitism to be dismissed as paranoia or oversensitivity. It is not just the result of intergenerational trauma. It is the result of the current lived experience of far too many Jews around the world.
Personally, I will keep doing the work to serve the Jewish community and beyond. I will do this because this is what it means to be a Jew, a rabbi and the CEO of a Jewish organization. It is also what I believe it means to be a parent and a role model. As a diverse community, we must stay true to our values, our history and our traditions, and teach those things to our children. But equally, we must not be intimidated by the violence and threats of violence directed at Jews and the Jewish community. We need to call this hatred what it is and call on those who are not Jewish to do the same. As history has taught us many times, we do not have a choice.
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