American Jews have witnessed an alarming rise in antisemitic comments by public figures and targeted acts of violence. Despite efforts to push back against the creeping virus of antisemitism, the age-old problem persists. American Jews stand at a crossroads and are faced with a choice: openly confront threats to the Jewish people or fade away into apathy, if not antipathy. The former is what one may call “Jewish Justice,” while the latter is “Jewish self-erasure.”
The American Jewish Committee recently released a survey on the “State of Antisemitism in America.” The results are unfortunately predictable: American Jews feel they are less secure than a year ago. Almost a quarter of respondents reported that they have avoided publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying things that might help people identify them as a Jew out of fear of antisemitism. The survey results are evidence of the fact that a concerning number U.S Jews feel less safe, have seen increased security measures in response to threats against their well-being, and are afraid to publicly display their Jewish identity, both online and in person. For those Jews who have not yet withdrawn from public discourse on the state of US Jewry, or worse yet abandoned their identities for trendy universalist principles requiring self-erasure, the question of where we go from here is vexing, to say the least.
In the meantime, Jews are critiqued in regards to a myriad of hot topics on which others expect them to have an opinion (at best) or fall in line (at worst). Take, for example, the State of Israel. American Jews are often probed by friends or coworkers for their position on Israeli policies and actions, especially during times of conflict. As if having the responsibility to answer to actions by the Israeli government, American Jews are held accountable and punished through acts of violence or exclusion, or are pressured to denounce their support for the Jewish homeland and Zionism. Zionism is the expression of identity and independence of the Jewish people in the form of nationhood. Expression of identity through national identity is too often viewed as taboo, because national identity is allegedly associated with nationalism, and nationalism is falsely equated with fascism. American Jewish supporters of Israel are also seen, erroneously, as having dual loyalty and perhaps undermining American interests.
The path to navigate is evidently complex and littered with traps. For those who are not perfectly content with the world as it is and their place in it, have no doubt, there is an answer and a way. To move nimbly through this path, one must figure out their “why” in order to figure out their “how?”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” We are wealthy in motivational quotes but often lack a clear vision of how we fit in to the story we are meant to write for ourselves. In order to pursue Jewish Justice, you must become a leader among leaders. This is to embrace the principle that within you is the capacity for leadership. To exercise that leadership, you must first examine yourself with considerable thought and reflection to discover your superpower. Are you a great public speaker? Are you an exceptional web designer? Perhaps you are the best brand marketer you know.
Next, decide in which manner that superpower will be best put to use. In non-profit work, we often look to the “three Ts” – talent, time, and treasure – to understand how we are best positioned to contribute to an organization. If you are an established professional with valuable skills, how can those skills translate into advocating for Jewish Justice? You may not yet be aware of your talents, but have the free time to devote to a cause, which may include volunteering for a political campaign. Perhaps you are too busy to devote yourself to matters of concern, but have the capital to donate toward an organization that does work you would like to support financially.
Being a Jewish leader comes in many forms, and is not limited to standing in front of a podium. We are all capable of leadership, and given the dire state in which American Jewry finds itself, it is incumbent upon us to determine where and how we can have the most impact. We will likely not achieve the ideal state of complete Jewish Justice. It is a never-ending fight that calls us to action, which is precisely why there is no time to waste.