Strength in the Face of Hate

It has been a difficult three years for the American Jewish community. In August 2018 white supremacists marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Only a few months later a shooter killed 11 and injured 6 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, followed months later by another synagogue attack in Poway, California, and a shooting at a kosher grocery in Jersey City in late 2019. Now we are dealing with yet another rise in anti-Semitism following the war between Gaza and Israel.

This week, the Princeton University president issued a statement condemning anti-Semitic incidents when “passing motorists have on at least two occasions heckled identifiably Jewish students, accusing them of hostility toward Palestinians.” Sadly, these anti-Jewish attacks are not isolated. All over the country, Jews feel threatened.

We live in an odd situation. The American Jewish community is arguably the strongest in the history of the diaspora. We have unprecedented religious freedom and political and cultural power, and yet we have not been able to eradicate anti-Semitism. In fact, it has only seemed to have grown over the years.

Unlike in the past, anti-Jewish sentiment does not come from official circles in America, but rather from groups and individuals, often on the periphery. The deadliest attacks have come from the right of the political spectrum, while the latest round has emerged from the left. Perhaps we can feel a sense of darkly comic accomplishment in managing to unite both far extremes.

It’s hard not to be discouraged by this ugly rise in anti-Semitism, and it makes me wonder why the Jewish people have for centuries be the target of such virulent hatred. There are always reasons, always excuses, however bizarre and mendacious: the Jews killed Jesus, Jews drink Christian blood, Jews control the world, Jews are dirty, Jews oppress the Palestinians. For some reason people need an object of hatred, a group that can be vilified. It is much easier to paint a people with a large brush than try to discern complex detail.

So how do we reconcile our peculiar position in 2021: well-established in America but under attack. First, we must stand up for each other as Jews and come together as a community. Next, we must educate ourselves because how can we defend Judaism if we know nothing about it? The synagogue is the place for us to do both. Our Jewish institutions are where we feel support, where we can be there for each other, where we find strength in the face of hate.

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