This past Sunday, the Anti-Defamation League of New England sponsored a forum at the Newton Marriott. “The Good Fight” took a daylong look at confronting anti-Semitism “today and tomorrow.” Originally the title of a book the ADL published in 2017 with the subtitle, “America’s Ongoing Struggle for Justice,” ADL is pursuing its century-old mandate to fight anti-Semitism with renewed vigor.
To that end, the almost 500 attendees at the forum received a pamphlet entitled “The Good Fight Tool Kit” to enable people to shape their own advocacy and pursuit of justice. The forum also attracted an intergenerational crowd, which included many high school students.
People also gathered in the Marriott’s ballroom to commemorate the first anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue killings in Pittsburgh. On the Shabbat morning of Oct. 27, 2018, a white supremacist murdered 11 worshippers in a shooting spree.
Throughout the day, conference attendees heard from an array of speakers, including U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who highlighted the importance of community partnerships in combating racism and anti-Semitism, and Gov. Charlie Baker, who sent along remarks in a recorded message. Baker noted that the Commonwealth reinstituted the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes two years ago in response to the ongoing rise of anti-Semitism and hate crimes. “We need to stand up and fight with our friends and colleagues in the Jewish community,” he said.
Rabbi Marc Baker, CJP president and CEO, opened the conference. “One year ago, we stood together in tears on the Boston Common. This morning we stand again together with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh and around the world,” he said. “We mark today with a ceremony of remembrance, solidarity and hope.” Baker then led the audience in reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish.
A lively and informative conversation between Bari Weiss and Deborah Lipstadt entitled, “Combating Anti-Semitism Today and Tomorrow,” anchored the meeting. Robert Trestan, ADL New England executive director, moderated.
In her opening remarks, Weiss declared: “I considered myself among the luckiest Jews in all of history. I was born in America after the mid-century in a country uniquely amazing for the Jews. I spent my life on a bit of a holiday from history. That holiday ended for me on Oct. 27, 2018.” The Pittsburgh native, who celebrated her bat mitzvah at the Tree of Life synagogue, added that her father could have been among the synagogue-goers who were murdered that Shabbat morning.
Weiss is the author of the recently published “How to Fight Anti-Semitism.” In her book, she asserts that anti-Semitism is no longer the exclusive province of right-wing and left-wing extremists and an assortment of bigots. With a nod to the novelist Dara Horn’s theory of anti-Semitism, Weiss said there are two kinds of Jewish hate—“Purim anti-Semitism” and “Hanukkah anti-Semitism.” Evoking Haman, Weiss noted that Purim anti-Semitism is “genocidal thought as expressed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hamas and the white supremacists that walked into the Tree of Life and Poway [synagogues]. It is very clear about its intentions.”
Hanukkah anti-Semitism aims to “make war on Jewish souls,” she said. Historical events like the Spanish Inquisition or the repression that was in the communist Soviet Union, where Jews had to disavow a belief in God and Jewish practice was an anathema, are prime examples. However, in these confusing times, this brand of anti-Semitism “is camouflaged in the seductive language of social justice, anti-racism and equality,” Weiss said. As Lipstadt noted, Hanukkah anti-Semitism is rife on college campuses. More often than not, the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement masquerades as a noble, progressive cause.
Lipstadt, who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, is no stranger to anti-Semitism. She wrote a book about Holocaust denial in 1993 called “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory” that attracted the ire of British anti-Semite David Irving. Irving sued Lipstadt for libel in an English court, alleging that Lipstadt described some of his writings and public statements as Holocaust denial. He lost the case, and Lipstadt wrote another book about the incident that was made into a movie starring Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.
Lipstadt told the audience that although she couldn’t exactly define anti-Semitism, “I know it when I see it.” She observed that the template for anti-Semitism had been the same since the Middle Ages. An anti-Semite, she quipped, is “a person who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary.” The necessary elements in identifying anti-Semitism portray Jews as obsessed with money, and as cunning and attracted to power. According to Lipstadt, a classic anti-Semitic trope is a theory of white Christian replacement. The white nationalists who shouted in Charlottesville, “Jews will not replace us,” were referencing a “brown and black takeover in Europe and America. And who is orchestrating this?” Lipstadt rhetorically asked. “The cunning, wily Jew.”
But for all that is happening in the current administration and in Europe and America, Lipstadt and Weiss are optimistic. Against all odds, Jews have survived for millennia. “I want to leave you with the idea that Judaism is a counterculture,” said Weiss. “Judaism has always been different from its surrounding society, and that difference is such a beautiful, good thing. It’s something we need to embrace.”
“We are here,” declared Lipstadt. “By no historical right should we be here. We represent and carry a wonderful tree of life and wonderful teachings. I don’t want to break the chain, and neither do you.”