My dad’s mother was born in Berlin in 1923 and was one of the lucky ones who escaped before World War II began and the borders were closed. But she still lived through the introduction of a variety of anti-Jewish laws and was there when her synagogue was attacked on Kristallnacht. She experienced one of the darkest moments in Jewish history and rebuilt her life and family in England.
For me, two generations later, growing up in England, her experiences were completely foreign to what I encountered. But there was a sense of vulnerability in the Jewish community. I don’t remember ever going to a Jewish event without security outside the building, both paid professionals and volunteers from the community. There, a requirement of synagogue membership for each family was to be on security for at least one or two Shabbat services every year.
The American Jewish experience has been markedly different; it’s a community that has generally felt settled, accepted and safe. But any study of Jewish history is a reminder that antisemitism has always been there, often lurking in the background. And in the past few years, we have unfortunately borne witness as it has emerged from the shadows and become far more prevalent than at any time in recent history.
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