ISSUES OF FAITH: Stand strong against anti-Semitism

“Anti-Semitism is the hatred that never dies. Violence that begins with the Jews never ends with them. All of this is true. What’s also true is that anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred in the world because individual people have sustained it in every generation. It cannot be defeated until we look these people and their ideologies in the face,” (Bari Weiss, American writer).

Once again, we are seeing violence against Jews in American cities.

Swastikas and other anti-Jewish graffiti have again been scrawled on synagogues, Jewish centers and schools.

Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized.

There were 193 anti-Semitic incidents in the last week, up 47 percent, where words like “Kill all the Jews” were shouted.

They reflect the same sentiments as those spewed in Charlottesville in 2017, when the chants of “Jews will not replace us” echoed off the local synagogue walls.

Indicating not-so-subtle encouragement, the former president said many of those chanting were “very fine people.”

In the last week, the Anti-Defamation League has recorded 17,000 anti-Semitic tweets, many saying “Hitler was right.”

Politicians and others are likening vaccinations and mask requirements as equivalent to the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied countries. Equating life-saving actions to those who killed 6 million Jews is despicable.

To Jews, that yellow star is a sacred object representing the loss of millions of our people.

For the over three decades I have been writing this column, I have lost count of the times I have written about the scourge of anti-Semitism and other ethnic and racial hatred.

I wonder, what more I can say?

I look at the words I spoke at the vigil for the victims of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue three years ago and see how little has changed.

Over the last six years, hate groups and hate crimes have skyrocketed against not only Jews, but Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and any others who are vulnerable and seen as “the other.”

This happened because words matter.

These groups swelled in recent years because they identified with the hateful rhetoric spewed from the leaders in power.

They acknowledged they were thrilled they were finally being seen and heard.

Suddenly groups that had been festering under the radar felt emboldened to come out and proudly shout their angry slogans for all to hear.

Whereas other groups are targeted because of observable external characteristics, anti-Semitism crosses all national, cultural and racial lines.

One cannot readily identify who is a Jew, but the hatred exhibited against them has endured for centuries, with multiple reasons given — religious, financial, cultural or political, and in the last 70 years, the existence of the State of Israel.

Whatever suits at the moment is an excuse to target Jews.

Anti-Semitism is a phenomenally complex subject, beyond the scope of a single column, but in every instance the underlying desire is to destroy the Jews.

So how can we begin to break this cycle of hatred and violence?

First, every person of good will must refuse to be silent.

Every time you hear an anti-Jewish slur, a denial of the Holocaust or a repetition of Jewish stereotypes, you must speak up.

Silence enables such lies to spread.

Secondly, people must be educated as to who the Jews are, the history of the Holocaust and Israel, and what Judaism stands for.

Recent polls have revealed an appalling ignorance amongst Americans about the Holocaust.

Half of Americans asked, including two-thirds of young people, did not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, 41 percent did not know what Auschwitz was, and 1 in 10 believed the Holocaust is a myth.

Knowledge of the Holocaust and how it happened is important, because it can happen to any group.

Once hateful words and actions become acceptable and groups are depersonalized, we are in danger of it happening again.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said, “Hatred is the root of evil everywhere. Racial hatred, ethnic hatred, political hatred, religious hatred. In its name all seems permitted. For those who glorify hatred, as terrorists do, the end justifies the means, including the most despicable ones.”

In order to heal our world, this baseless hatred must end.

We must see that everyone is created b’tzelem elohim, in God’s image.

Those spreading fear and hate should be called out for the bigotry they are encouraging, both ordinary citizens and political candidates.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar teaches that we can put our shattered world back together “by following Godly imperatives like giving, compassion, justice, and acts of loving-kindness. If the world is broken, the mystics say, fix it. In this way you mend your spirit and eventually the world” (God Whispers).

We cannot rely on others to do this work.

It is up to us to bring about a world where all can live free from fear of violence and hatred because of who we are or what we believe.

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.

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