Facing the Challenges of Anti-Semitism
Keeping Connected February 2019
As a rabbi, it is a blessing, to be able to share the richness and joys of Jewish life with others. As a rabbi, however, it is also my responsibility to talk about difficult subjects. In particular, to address the reality that sometimes being Jewish is hard; that as Jews we can feel under-threat and impacted by forces of anti-Semitism. Sadly, in the last few years, just as hate-crimes as a whole have risen dramatically, the scourge of anti-Semitism has risen as well. As a Jewish community, it behooves us to be aware of these facts and to work to ameliorate any and all forces of hate.
Just three days ago, in Newton, MA, a white supremacist group known as the Daily Stormer Book Club, left disturbing anti-Semitic literature in four book exchange structures. The group that created and distributed these ugly pieces of propaganda is connected to the group of people who also participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA two summers ago. It is important to remember that anti-Semitism spreads only because of the fact that there are people who believe and promote this vitriol. (https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/daily-stormer-book-clubs-sbc)
Sadly, since the rally in Charlottesville, the ADL has identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated throughout the United States in 2017. This is an increase of 57% over the 1,267 incidents reported in 2016. These facts on the ground are something we cannot hide from and as a Jewish community we should confront head on. You can read more about the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the US in the ADL’s 2017 report: (https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents#major-findings) One aspect of the report that I found striking is that Massachusetts, a state that I have always considered to be very tolerant, has one of the highest levels of anti-Semitic acts in America.
Many of these hateful experiences are happening in elementary schools and on college campuses. In the ADL report about school incidents of hate in 2017 they write: “Two hundred twenty-one instances of vandalism were reported in K-12 schools. The vast majority of them (186) included swastikas and were either drawn or scratched into school facilities or drawn on Jewish students’ notebooks. This is more than double the 90 vandalism incidents involving swastikas in 2016. In many cases, the swastikas in 2017 were accompanied by phrases like “Hitler was not wrong,” “Heil Hitler,” “Kill all Jews,” and “No Jews.” In a few cases the swastikas were accompanied by the phrase “white power” or neo-Nazi codes, like the numbers 14/88.”
I believe that it is our responsibility to prepare our children and teens to handle these experiences; to know that they are not alone and that they have allies in the synagogue as well as in the interfaith community. Our children need to be offered opportunities to deal with their concerns and feelings and I hope that they can find such support at Congregation Shalom. I also believe that our children need the skills to build alliances with people outside the Jewish community, so that if and when they face acts of anti-Semitism, they will feel supported and will have people to stand with them saying such hate is wrong. I would hope that any member of our community would do the same for others facing acts of hate.
In the months ahead, our synagogue is hoping to provide programming to address these concerns. As we did last year, our Social Justice/Social Action committee is sponsoring a One Congregation/One Book read. This year our book is Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eli Saslow. It is the powerful story of how Derek Black, a young man groomed to the next leader of the white-supremacist movement, disavowed all he had been taught to believe. By the time that Black was 10 years of age, he had built a children’s website that had more than 1 million visitors. This website was filled with anti-Semitic and racist propaganda. In the book, we learn from Black how these hateful ideologies have moved from the far-right into the mainstream consciousness of America through the mediums of social media, gaming, radio and more. Derek Black’s story is filled with important information and it is an inspiring tale of the power of education, friendship and the ability to change. We are in the process of working with the ADL, who we hope will send a speaker to lead our discussion about the book. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39706735-rising-out-of-hatred)
On Monday night, March 4th, our synagogue will also be hosting a program on contemporary anti-Semitism, sponsored by Facing History, Facing Ourselves. As we receive more information, we will share it with you. I hope you will consider joining us for this program and that you might bring friends from outside our congregation.
Below, please find some articles and resources that I think can be helpful as we grapple with these problems.
Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry