We’ve been disturbed here in Boston by multiple acts of anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas – at schools in Newton and Georgetown, in towns like Marblehead – and by chants of “you killed Jesus” at a high school basketball game. We hear about recent violent assaults on visibly Jewish individuals in New York. We follow news of a plan last week to commit a violent attack against a synagogue in Aventura, Florida, thankfully disrupted before it occurred. We hugged our children a little bit closer this past week in the wake of bomb threats at Jewish schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri.
The list goes on. And after years of worrying for our brethren in Europe as they deal with a tsunami of violent, murderous hate, we’re starting to question a long held self-confidence that nothing of that sort could happen here.
To be clear, we are not approaching anything like ‘the end’ of American Jewry – the normalization of discrimination against Jews and the impossibility of carrying on our daily lives – in the way that some are speaking of life in Europe. But this is a time of tension, some of it specific to the Jewish community and much of it far broader, whether that be the new coarseness of our discourse that normalizes public expression of hateful language; the politicization of ‘fear of the Other’ that so many in our nation are feeling; or, the all too easy slippage from legitimate criticism of Israel into the casual use of anti-Semitic tropes.
As members of the Jewish community discuss this newly acknowledged vulnerability, folks point out that JCRC and others have been vocal in recent months as we moved to denounce xenophobia in our political discourse, hate-crimes targeting local mosques, and those who deny the Armenian Genocide and caused pain for our neighbors in Boston.
And people are asking us: When we are the targets, why don’t we hear our friends in other faith communities and civil rights organizations calling out these acts of anti-Semitism as such?
Of course many beyond the Jewish community have addressed this wave of anti-Semitism. Cardinal O’Malley spoke out swiftly after that basketball game. Officials in Marblehead were quick to address what happened there. The school committee in Georgetown acted to educate about the Holocaust. Friends have reached out to express concern and support.
But the simple truth is that we are feeling vulnerable. For most of us here in Boston this is a relatively new experience. And so, we are at a bit of a loss as to how to respond to this terribly unsettling phenomenon.
The American Jewish community can be proud of the tremendous infrastructure we’ve built over the last century to stand up for ourselves and fight discrimination; both against us and against others. We’ve invested in strong ‘defense agencies’ including ADL, AJC, and – of course – JCRC.
In the post-Holocaust era we’ve internalized the importance of not counting on others to protect Jews from hateful violence. We’ve gotten skilled at making sure that acts of hate against Jews do not go unnoticed or without a vigorous response.
We’ve become so effective at responding to hate that other communities count on us to be in solidarity with them to lift up and address their own experiences of bias. They turn to us as partners to help shine a light on racism and homophobia and we do so because it is the right and just thing to do.
And perhaps some of them assume as they have for so long that when it comes to anti-Semitism, “we’ve got this.” They see the responses in these towns and in the local media and might possibly think that “our friends in the Jewish community don’t need us to help shine a light on this wave of hate.”
And to an extent, that is true. “We’ve got this.”
But do we really? Because this time it will take more than our usual ways of doing business, mobilizing our agencies to raise the alarm and take care of our needs.
We are – like many of our friends beyond the Jewish community – feeling the experience of something new and ugly in this country; this vulnerability, this sense that anyone who is ‘the Other’ is at risk and that we are, again and always, one of the Others. This feeling that despite all we have achieved, this great American moment where Jews lived largely without the experience of hate is coming to an end.
This is not something we’ve had to deal with in this way for a while. Many of us are afraid and hurting.
As Jews, when it comes to protecting Jewish communities, we’d like to think “we’ve still got this.” But as Americans we need to know that we’re not dealing with this alone as Jews. We are yearning for assurance – from ourselves and others – that no Americans, including us, must face hate and bigotry on our own. In this dark time we all need a little reminding that we are not alone.