Ending Anti-Semitism

The lack of palpable anti-semitism should not be mistaken with a lack of presence.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The vein of anti-semitism that runs deep through America is pulsing yet again, and hardly anyone is trying to quiet it.

During a morning service at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 27, a deranged gunman walked in and fatally wounded 11 people. Upon entering, he made one menacing statement: “All Jews must die.”

Days after the incident, media attention has dwindled to an astonishingly low level, and the public eye was quick to shift away from the sore sight of mourning Jews in Pittsburgh.

Even more recently, a synagogue in Brooklyn, New York, was vandalized with graffiti boasting a similarly wicked mantra: “Kill all Jews.” A day later, seven hasidic institutions in southern Williamsburg were targeted by an arsonist. Yet the silence of most liberal non-Jewish people, who are usually so quick to react, after these events says something about who they feel is marginalized and deserving of protection.

This is by no means a cry for pity. The Jewish community has always been incredibly self-sustaining. It is beautiful to witness how resilient everyone is and how quickly they come together in times of hardship. But part of the “problem” is undoubtedly that Jews have been so successful—after all, they simultaneously make up 1.4 percent of America’s population and almost 50 percent of America’s billionaires. And to be fair, American Jews have certainly been greeted with relatively high levels of acceptance in the past several decades. Colleges and corporate boards (that their grandparents never would’ve gotten a seat in) have opened their doors to all faiths. Jews can move into mixed neighborhoods without fear of being ostracized; religion has generally ceased to be a defining part of their identity.

But the lack of palpable anti-semitism should not be mistaken for a lack of its presence. According to The New York Times, the Anti-Defamation league “logged a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year—including bomb threats, assaults, vandalism, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses.” Even more frightening is where the epidemic has struck: American youth. On university campuses alone, according to a study by the Brandeis Center, anti-Semitism has jumped by 80 percent. Students report having to consciously avoid wearing any religious symbols such as Star of David necklaces or shirts with Hebrew lettering, in fear of being labeled “Zionist baby-killers” by classmates. In one instance, five Jewish students at Columbia University were harassed by dozens of Pro-Palestinian activists. Unsurprisingly, the administration did little to help.

Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust history at Emory University, likens this reemergence to a herpes infection, which lies dormant and appears at moments of stress. Right now, the political strain on our nation, in addition to copycat attacks, have made these developments all the more unsightly. The vein of anti-Semitism that runs deep through America is pulsing yet again, and hardly anyone is trying to quiet it.

There have been too many instances in my own life when people around me have said blatantly anti-Semitic things without a second thought. I’ve had close friends say things to me that were ridiculously ignorant or scoff at traditions they can’t relate to. I’ve seen horribly offensive anti-Semitic memes shared on Facebook; I’ve had to sit and listen to Holocaust jokes with a blank expression on my face, knowing that speaking up would only make it worse.

And of course, that’s nothing compared to the way some of my Jewish friends have been treated in schools less politically correct than Stuyvesant. And even that is nothing compared to the tragedy which transpired in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

But maybe it isn’t nothing. It bothers me that my brother rarely wears his Star of David necklace because he got fed up with my mom telling him to hide it under his shirt. It bothers me that my parents fled their native countries to evade a hatred that’s followed them here. I’m tired of underhanded comments, I’m tired of being the silent minority, and I’m tired of losing respect for classmates who don’t understand the impact of their words.

But mostly, I’m tired of seeing Jews react to anti-Semitism in the way that’s been instilled in them all their lives: to shut up and take it. They laugh when someone comments on their nose; they take pennies thrown at them on escalators and chuck them right back. They grow so desensitized to it to the point where they convince themselves that anti-Semitism is an antiquated concept, when in reality, it’s pervasive in modern American culture. Casual anti-Semitism isn’t “nothing” at all, and the more we normalize it, the more tragedies just like these will continue to occur. I am not okay with anti-Semitism. And I’m done pretending that I am.