Arielle Kaim

Echoes of the Past: Antisemitism in America

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As the daughter of Soviet refugees, I am a bridge between two worlds: one promised freedom, the other appears to retreat from it. My family escaped the Soviet Union’s veiled anti-Semitism for the United States’ sanctuary in the 1990s, yet today, they confront a resurgence of hatred which my father starkly declares has “no close comparison” to their collective memory of the past.

In the USSR, anti-Semitism was a pervasive specter, stifling Jewish ambition and barring entry to esteemed educational institutions and influential professional circles. However, these systemic injustices did not instill the same dread that now encroaches upon the very nation they considered a safe haven.

Today’s brand of anti-Semitism in the U.S. has transcended institutional boundaries, manifesting in a form that is alarmingly explicit and threatening. The discriminatory practices that once thwarted my father’s academic endeavors and clouded my mother’s meritorious achievements pale in comparison to the current climate of fear among Jewish and Israeli students on American campuses. This brazen conduct not only undermines the liberties my family once cherished but also besmirches the nation’s legacy of sanctuary.

The adversity faced by Jewish students and academics in the U.S. has been a shifting landscape of discrimination, often masquerading as anti-Zionist rhetoric in recent times. My experiences at Boston University, while necessitating a staunch defense of pro-Israel identity, did not encompass the apprehension for personal well-being that now casts a pall over that same institution.

The tales of my parents’ resilience against Soviet anti-Semitism now starkly contrast with today’s reality, where the once indubitable assurance of liberty is called into question. The Anti-Defamation League reports a staggering 388 percent surge in anti-Semitic episodes since October 7th. Under the misused banner of free speech, academic platforms are becoming breeding grounds for dangerous rhetoric that imperils Jewish and Israeli students, without adequate countermeasures from those in authority. A history professor at Cornell even went so far as to describe the Hamas attacks with terms like “exhilarating” and “energizing”.

The role of our leaders and media in influencing public discourse and either stemming or perpetuating prejudice cannot be overstated. We are not merely contending with fleeting news stories but with a profound crisis that jeopardizes the sense of security for Jewish families. This situation underscores a grim reality: for many, the hope of Israel represents not just a homeland but remains a singular bastion of safety.

Thus, the echoes of a bygone era resound with an unnerving clarity. The bastions of higher learning, once celebrated as bulwarks against intolerance, now face the encroaching shadow of biases reminiscent of those that once uprooted my family. It is a grave reminder that our vigilance and proactive engagement are paramount to thwart the repetition of history on new shores.

About the Author
The author is a researcher specializing in Emergency and Disaster Management at Tel-Aviv University's School of Public Health, currently pursuing a PhD. She was selected as an Ariane De Rothschild Doctoral fellow from the Rothschild Foundation. Her expertise spans emergency and disaster preparedness, disaster medicine, and societal resilience.
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