Much has been written about the recent rise in anti-Semitic activities and much of the blame has been incorrectly attributed to “white supremacy.” Certainly, the bigots who shouted “Jews will not replace us” are a reason for close monitoring and vigilance. But to ignore the more frequent attacks in Europe and the US that come from Palestinian, Pakistani, and Moroccan radicals for fear of offending is myopic at best and suicidal at worst. It is clear from my observations and those of many friends and colleagues, that the majority of the attacks that we have observed (on Jews dining or walking the streets) have come from Islamists who openly despise Israel, the Jewish state, and were reacting to the recent war with Hamas. Are we to deny what we see with our own eyes? In my years of experience as a rabbi in southern California, I have found that a number of important actions can be taken to battle, ostracize, and defeat anti-Semitic groups and individuals.
Before going into detail, I want to express disappointment in the Anti-Defamation League. While the ADL does outstanding work in our schools with its “No Place for Hate” and “World of Difference” programs, we also need such efforts more than ever on our college and university campuses where non-woke or Israel supporting students are frequently harassed and canceled. ADL joined with Project Moonshot to group and target individuals as haters who simply question or find the goals and objectives of the Black Lives Matter organization to be anathema. As an organization, BLM has publicly avowed socialist objectives, the dismantling of the nuclear family unit, as well as supporting BDS and other anti-Israel efforts. To group individuals under the label of “white supremacy” for simply making a legitimate online search or inquiry is a gross violation and is patently discriminatory. The Anti-Defamation League should be ashamed of itself for engaging with Project Moonshot.
A number of years ago when my synagogue in the valley was defaced with swastikas, I called the local office of the Anti-Defamation League for guidance. I was told not to publicize this event or to bring attention to it as research confirmed that copycat crimes of this nature would be promoted. While not questioning the data, I found this advice to be insufficient and determined that I would use my relationship with neighboring churches to put the criminal on the defense. At my invitation, the neighboring pastors and Catholic priest brought their teen groups to the synagogue and joined in painting over the swastikas. These Christian ministers joined in a press conference and made public statements to the media declaring that this action was anti-Christian and anti-American and urged fellow citizens who may have seen the perpetrator report him and bring him to justice. The media coverage of this event and the impact it had was a powerful example of unity and brotherhood. Instead of cowering in silence, we took a strong initiative.
There are so many Jewish foundations and families that help support the broader community. While that work is commendable, it has a fatal flaw. Recently a member of my congregation shared with me the story of a scholarship he had set up at a business school in memory of his father. He never asked for acknowledgment or his name on a wall. All he asked for was a simple thank you communication from the recipient. He shared with me that for the last three years the first name signed on the note was Mohammed. I asked him if he would consider letting the scholarship beneficiary know that it was a Jewish man that helped him in advancing his education. I felt that explaining the Jewish concept of tzedaka – helping the less fortunate and new immigrants and those in need – is a part of our ethos. Also, it was likely that an Arab-American who received scholarship funds from a Jewish man would be more inclined to refrain from joining in anti-Semitic activities. Just think of all the citywide charities that the Jewish community participates in that help minorities who have no concept that help emanates from a Jewish source. Imagine if Eli Broad had explained to all of those groups and individuals in our city that benefitted from his largesse that as part of his upbringing, he was taught by his Jewish heritage the importance of giving to those in need – what an impact it could have made in shaping opinions about Jewish people.
Lastly, is an important suggestion that we can adopt as individuals. We have a responsibility to combat anti-Semitism in our own neighborhoods. Open your home for a Shabbat dinner with 3 to 5 non-Jews who are neighbors or who work for you in your home or business. Then spend that evening engaged in hospitality and explaining to them the values of your Jewish heritage. Each Passover I invite non-Jews to the Seder to celebrate with me. This has a lasting impact that goes far beyond what you might imagine. Those who come into your home and share a religious meal experience won’t soon forget it and when the haters in the community rally against Israel and Jews, these individuals will, in many cases, stand up to the hatred. Place the haters on the defensive and take decisive action. Inform those who receive your support and your faith and open your home to build understanding and alliances.